'I don't want to live in fear': Canadian filmmaker brings Americans to Egypt to change their 'racist' views

FREE TRIP TO EGYPT, Tarek Mounib (center), Adam Saleh (right), 2019. © Fathom Events / Courtesy: Everett Collection

As the perceived threat of “mass immigration” continues be discussed across Canada, one Canadian-Egyptian entrepreneur is trying to move away from the “us-and-them” way of thinking.

“I feel a lot of times we sell out our values to protect them,” Tarek Mounib told Yahoo Canada.

“A lot of times we become what we’re not because we’re afraid of losing our Canadian identity and because of this fear, that’s what makes us lose our Canadian identity.”

Near the end of 2016, Mounib saw the “demonization” and “polarization” happening in the world and felt worried. As a Canadian from Halifax, now living in Switzerland, he watched a lot of U.S. news and realized that he was starting to “fear” Americans.

“That was really weird for me because, you know, growing up in Canada you think Americans are just like us,” he said. “I realized, well I don’t want to live in fear because if I start being afraid I’m just going to get angry, I’m just going to judge people.”

‘Free Trip to Egypt’

That’s when Mounib started thinking about what would happen if he went to the people who were afraid of him, Americans who were worried about Muslims, Arabs and the Middle East, and offered them a free trip to Egypt.

The film Free Trip to Egypt documents the adventures of seven Americans who got the opportunity to go to the country, to meet and learn from the people they have feared.

“I think it’s based more on a misunderstanding and not hearing each other than it is a real threat,” Mounib said.

But the idea for the film didn’t initially get positive feedback from Americans.

“We started...promoting the idea and asking Americans to go on this trip through social media and...I couldn’t believe how much hate we received,” Mounib said.

“I thought people might ignore us but I didn’t think we would get as crazy…[some said] I don’t want to be kidnapped or beheaded, just horrible things.”

At the beginning of the film, Mounib talks about his personal experience from growing up in Halifax and being the only Muslim family in the neighbourhood.

“Even back then, in the 70s, there was a suspicion of Islam so it wasn’t something I would be proud of...there were times I would try hide it,” Mounib has said.

“At the same time, I was really influenced by Canadian society...so there was already this kind of antagonism or split between my Islamic identity and my Christian identity.”

FREE TRIP TO EGYPT, Ellen Decker (left), 2019. © Fathom Events / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Terry and Ellen Decker went on the trip after Ellen submitted a video to Mounib, explaining that she used to regularly protest intolerances in the world when she was younger, including the Vietnam war, but admitted that after 9/11 she became “so racist” and later voted for Trump. Their son was in Saudi Arabia at the time and the couple wanted to go on the trip in hopes of reverting to their previous mindset and get closer to their son, who described Terry as a xenophobe.

The Deckers spent their time in Egypt with Ahmed Hassan, a cinematographer and activist. He takes them to meet his family, including his mother, who wore a burka, and the two formed an unexpected bond.

Another participant, Brian Kopilec, came on board when Mounib went to a rally for U.S. President Donald Trump in Kentucky. He was a Corporal in the Marines and in the film, explains his view that Trump’s idea of a border wall is moving in the right direction, with regards to preventing illegal border crossings.

Kopilec spent his time in Egypt with Salma Salem, a woman who is very proud to be Egyptian and loves riding motorcycles. The two found that although they live in different countries, with different political views, they can still have a lot in common.

#PledgeToListen

Following the release of the film, the #PledgeToListen campaign emerged, which promotes the idea that even if two people have differing opinions, they won’t demonize one another but will listen to each other's perspective and still share their conflicting arguments.

“This isn’t just a problem in the United States, it’s a global problem ... We tend to get up in arms and don’t listen to each other, we can no longer allow for different points of view and don’t try to solve things constructively anymore,” Mounib said.

For Canada, Mounib does not believe “everybody and anybody” should be accepted into the country, but says that it is still possible to maintain Canadian values while still thinking of diversity “as a strength.”

“We’ve always been open, we always see diversity as a strength and there’s a difference between being open and just being nieve,” he said. “We just simply need to be human and open our eyes and look at things from a place of our own values... Canadian values.”

“I think it’s important for us to keep out Canadian identity and our shared values, and I think if people agree on that and trust on that, they wouldn’t fear the influx.”

Free Trip to Egypt has been shown in theatres across Canada and the U.S., with the next Canadian screening taking place in Calgary, Alta., on Oct. 4.