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Digital Cover Featuring Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Arabian Moda x Ahmed Shihab-Eldin x Paul Smith

Arabian Man Moda’s Fearless Issue features Emmy-nominated journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin.

Controversial? Maybe… Daring? Most definitely! The American-Kuwaiti television personality talks about his career milestones, the impact of social media on the public sphere, and fashion preferences.

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin wears Paul Smith and Daniel Essa from Level Shoes.
Cover story includes looks from Michael Cinco and Zaid Farouki.

Fashion Editor & Stylist: Victor Concepto
Photographer: Shiva Rasti
Filmmaker: Malek Alrshaidat
Makeup Artist: Natalia Bokan
Location: Dubai, UAE
AM: When did you first know that you wanted to become a journalist?
I grew up moving between East and West, which is in of itself a privilege that invited me to constantly be trying to make sense of shifting norms and value systems, as well as ways of being. I remember at an early age trying to adapt to each new environment, constantly learning, observing contrasts and similarities, contradictions and hypocrisies. It wasn’t until I got to university where I started studying advertising, that I started practicing journalism, getting my first taste of the reporting process, and realizing it’s something I had been doing more or less as a curious boy, confused about the world, and my own identity. Through discrimination and prejudice observed and experienced, I developed a passion for justice and freedom of expression. Whether through writing poetry, speaking, singing or dancing, I’ve always been very expressive and wanting to understand why things are the way they are here and are the way they are here, and how despite us and them seeming at odds. I had never set out to be a journalist. It just sort of happened.
Arabian Moda x Ahmed Shihab-Eldin x Michael Cinco
AM: In your own words how would you describe your glorious career?
My career was the culmination of a curious little boy searching for meaning and belonging in a world that constantly found profound ways of reminding me that it was not fair. After 9/11, the year I moved to the US to study, I found myself hungry to change people’s perceptions of many things, I was very affected by the sense of social and racial injustice in the US. I was hopeful that the Arab world could evolve socially as well. In hindsight my career was always getting ahead of itself. Jumping from place to place, trying to push boundaries of what was allowed or accepted within the field. I started as a digital media geek, worked a bit in the film industry, worked for mainstream news organization, launched an entire network, won some awards, and eventually finding myself questioning the industry’s interests and began searching for opportunities in fields that also study the human condition and manifest in storytelling — like acting, screenwriting and filmmaking — and only recently have I given myself permission to explore suppressed passions like singing and song-writing. It’s always been a belief of mine that music is the most universal way to deliver an impactful and lasting message. Hope the glory finds me succeeding in sharing authentic stories through film and song and other creative mediums.

AM: Being politically correct doesn’t define you. Why are you keen on challenging the status quo in the MENA region?
Because to put it simply, the status-quo is not sustainable, and being politically-correct has facilitated corruption and blinded us to truths about ourselves that limit us and cause widespread suffering in our societies. For too long politicians and religious figures have leveraged political-correctness or tradition to limit possibilities for success, authentic expression and joy for subsequent generations. The intention should not be to offend or be politically-incorrect for the sake of it. It should be to criticize authority constructively when it does harm.

Arabian Moda x Ahmed Shihab-Eldin x Michael Cinco
AM: With the spread of fake news and pseudo-journalists, do you think that social media is degrading the profession?
I think like any tool, social media has done a lot of damage to journalism, and at the same time it also has done an incredible amount of good. In this decentralized media environment, I think social media has had a net positive impact. I was in Dubai, at The Arts Club last month Where I argued for the motion that social media is good for journalism. They have a podcast readers can check out if they want a deeper idea of why I believe so.

AM: In 10 years from now, what are some specific rules and regulations you would like Arab governments to apply on a social level
It would bring me a lot of joy to witness a move towards more social freedoms, and more transparency and accountability in decision-making on the government level. I’d love to see more tolerance generally towards others, whether based on their different religious beliefs, gender identities, or sexualities. I’d love to see less taboos, more constructive conversations. In 10 years I hope civic institutions are growing. I hope for less opportunities for shame to be used to control people whether in the family, society or government level. I’d love for more equality, particularly for women to have the choice how to live their lives and what to do or not do with their bodies. Also, for all minorities in our societies. For those rights to be protected and enshrined in laws. In general, I’d love to see a shift towards regenerative rather than extractive ways of being.
Arabian Moda x Ahmed Shihab-Eldin x Michael Cinco
AM: And what would you say is your proudest career moment so far?
Reporting in Puerto Rico alone on the ground after Hurricane Maria, only with an iPhone and no electricity or plan or team. I learned a tremendous amount in those two weeks about journalism and life and myself. Although perhaps the real answer is when I chose to finally leave a job despite an incredible salary and great colleagues because the position I was in was not allowing me to grow. At the time I was personally and professionally stuck and also very disillusioned, and my proudest career move to date may very well have been quitting that job. Let’s see, time will tell!
AM: You are also a fashionable persona. How would you describe your style? And where do you like to shop?
These days, I’d describe my style as casual and chic. Less is always more for me when it comes to fashion. The fun for me is in mixing different things together in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. That’s always a winning look. It’s less about what you wear and how you wear things to me. I love photo shoots because it’s an opportunity to be playful with yourself and the photographer, and we all need to nurture our inner child. In these looks for Arabian Moda, Zaid Farouki was my absolute favorite. I felt like Disney’s Aladdin … gone right. I think fashion is most fun when it has an element of fantasy. Most of my clothes I've bought in boutique shops or clothing stands in the places I’ve travelled too. There is a Dries Van Noten jacket I bought a decade ago for a steal that I love more than anything I own, because when I wear it, it transports me to a fantasy world right away.  My mom is my fashion icon, to keep it real.

AM: Finally, what are you currently working on?
I am currently wrapping up a documentary that I have spent much of the pandemic working on despite many delays and difficulties. The project with a major international broadcaster is bold and I hope will generate new conversations about a very taboo topic and a very misrepresented and too often exploited community. It should be released early this summer. Other than that, I am studying music and acting in my down time, while also slowly building together a draft of a book that is half-memoir half-manifesto.  I have also been working on myself — treating myself with more compassion and exploring patterns of behavior to help me through chronic physical and emotional pain. The mind-body connection fascinates me.
Arabian Moda x Ahmed Shihab-Eldin x Zaid Farouki