BY ANDREW TOBIA, BUSHWICK DAILY
The New York Times profile on Hatem El-Gamasy, a Ridgewood bodega owner who moonlights as a political pundit on Egyptian TV, made a media splash in the city. Three weeks after the article was published, however, El-Gamasy no longer appears on any Egyptian news shows.
“Nobody officially fired me,” El-Gamasy told Bushwick Daily. “But I haven’t gotten any calls [to appear on TV] since.”
After the Times article, Al-Jazeera, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated TV station based in Turkey, and a variety of independent news websites all jumped on the fact that Hatem El-Gamasy is a bodega owner, a “sandwich guy.” They jumped on the headlines and didn’t bother to read the story, El-Gamasy explained.
“The people I used to piss off picked up on the story immediately,” said El-Gamasy. “They called me a phony, they called it a scandal.”
Then the slander and misinformation started. Although El-Gamasy went to college and did additional graduate-level coursework, the audiences of these shows didn’t care about the details.
“One site claimed I only have a high school degree; another site said I live in California and only pretend to live in New York City,” he said. “One site said I report from my bathroom—I never reported from a bathroom!”
Not all of the responses were negative. While some outlets raged against El-Gamasy, others came to his defense.
“One guy on a show said, ‘If you watch all the videos, you’ll see he knows what he’s talking about,’” El-Gamasy said. “I’m getting visits and calls from people saying they read the New York Times article and they’re really proud of me. This is really encouraging and motivating.”
But there’s one person who still doesn’t really understand what the fuss— good or bad—was all about. It’s El-Gamasy himself.
“The New York Times found me themselves,” he recalled. “I didn’t seek them out; they told me they think I’m New York’s most interesting guy—I couldn’t stop laughing! I’m a regular guy. I work seven days a week, 16 hours a day. I pick my kids up from school; I pick my wife up from work.”
El-Gamasy, who enjoys following politics, has long written opinion pieces on America and American issues for Egyptian newspapers. Before the U.S elections, he wrote a piece predicting a Trump victory. The article caught the eye of Egyptian news executives, who had him on air for an interview.
Soon he was retreating every other day to a homemade studio in the back of his bodega, Lotus Deli at 1070 Seneca Ave., to discuss American politics on live Egyptian news shows. Until, that is, his New York Times profile story was published.
“I try my best to inform my viewers. I don’t try to take sides; I state facts for the viewer and leave them to make their own conclusion,” El-Gamasy said. “But when you speak politics, you’re definitely going to piss somebody off. Somebody somewhere will be mad at you.”
El-Gamasy says he has no regrets, and in fact, on some level he even understands the rationale.
“I know sometimes people have trouble trusting the guy in the suit and tie looking serious. How do you think they’ll feel about a guy who makes sandwiches?” he remarked.
El-Gamasy is now “just” a sandwich guy once again, but he reaffirmed that he had no regrets.
“I’m not giving up my store for anything,” he said. “I’m working here, and I’m happy doing it. I’ve come to meet a great group of people. And I didn’t give up—I’m still writing, I’m still reading, I’m still discussing politics.”
He may not appear on Egyptian news television any longer, but everyone who knows him would agree that we’re better off for having him as a neighbor all the same.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on BushwickDaily.com and is being shared with permission.