After Attack, Muslim Street Vendor Becomes A Viral Hero In Brazil

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The Egyptian had his humble food cart destroyed by racists. Now, he's known across the country — and his meat pies are more popular than ever.

Muslim vendor prepares traditional sweets.

When a Muslim street vendor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was attacked, the footage went viral. But as many wondered if the country had become a hotspot for haters, we now know that the tragic encounter was nothing but an isolated incident.

Mohamed Ali Abdelmoatty Kenawy, 33, was selling hummus and Arab-style meat pies from his street cart in the center of Copacabana when a bald man carrying sticks showed up, yelling at Kenawy. “Get out of my country,” the man lashed at the Egyptian citizen with Syrian roots who arrived in Brazil three years prior. “I’m a Brazilian and my country is being invaded by these miserable human bombs who kill children,” the attacker continued.

Known by everyone as simply “the Syrian refugee” despite having moved to the country from Egypt in search of a better life, Kenawy was shocked. Up until then, he had never experienced this kind of hate. In no time, the man attacked the refugee's cart, pushing his food off to the ground. Kenawy didn't fight back but as bystanders stopped to see what was going on, 19-year-old Beatriz Bastos de Souza stepped in. As she filmed the enraged man kicking the cart and then Kenawy, others joined him in the attack.

“There were three or four of them, not just one, and I went into the middle saying, ‘Please stop,'” she told reporters.

Unfortunately, it was too late. The assailant had been successful at breaking both the vendor's cart and his spirit, even if Kenawy wasn't injured.

Because of the pain he went through, Kenawy didn't show up to work for a couple of days. “He broke my happiness,” he told reporters.

After having attempted and failed to get the food vendor to report the crime to the police, de Souza went to the local law enforcement department and showed them the video. They told her that “nothing [would] come of it,” to just delete the footage.

Unconvinced, she sent the video to the country's number one news organization, Globo. While it wasn't picked up by the network right away, a smaller, local outfit saw the footage and immediately shared it with its viewers. In no time, the film was being played all across the country.

After being interviewed, the street food vendor became a celebrity and thousands were organizing to buy his pies.

His story had appealed to so many that Mayor Marcelo Crivella promptly arranged for the Egyptian to get a legal vendors' license. But perhaps, what was more touching was what happened next.

On Thursday, Rio state's legislature passed a resolution making Kenawy an honorary citizen.

“[Kenay] displayed the desire for peace and prosperity that is shared by all those seeking refuge in Brazil,” said Rio state lawmaker Wanderson Nogueira, the man responsible for the resolution.

After turning into a local folk hero and getting a sweet award from the Rio state, Kenawy couldn't believe how lucky he was.

“I knew Brazilians were kind, but after this, wow. I can’t express my feelings,” he said.

Now, Kenawy is being showered with love. Some people stop by to take photos while every now and then, a passerby or a driver shouts out, “Congratulations, Mohamed!”

Singer Juli Mariano, 50, thinks this tale is a story of “two Brazils.”

“I think what happened was a portrait of the different Brazils — the welcoming Brazil and the prejudiced Brazil,” she said after buying a pie from Kenawy. “I think the welcoming version won.”

If anything, this is a wonderful story showing how solidarity and hard work truly pay off in the end. 

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

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