Famous People You Probably Didn’t Know Had MENA Roots

The MENA region is full of innovators, celebrities, and sports icons that are known globally, with Dr. Ahmed Zewail and Mohamed Salah being the easiest examples. However, with immigration, the world became a closely knit community where cultures are exchanged and those with MENA roots made their mark in countries other than that of their forefathers. With that in mind, we are highlighting some famous people who made and are making their mark today that you probably didn’t know had MENA roots.

Steve Jobs

The late Apple co-founder, CEO, entrepreneur, and visionary is still one of the biggest names in tech even though he passed away over ten years ago, and yet, if it weren’t for Middle Eastern immigrants, he wouldn’t have existed.

Jobs was half Syrian from his father’s side, Abdulfattah Jandali, who met Jobs’ mother, Joanne Carole Schieble while studying to get his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Even though they loved one another, her parents forbade her from marrying an Arab, but they decided to stay together nevertheless.

In several previous interviews, Jandali revealed that Schieble didn’t involve him in the birth of his son and that she traveled to San Francisco, USA, on her own to give birth and would later put their son up for adoption.

If Jobs were to have been born in Syria or stayed with his original parents, he would have had the name Abdul-Lateef Jandali, according to his father. Unfortunately, Jandali stated that he didn’t contact his son for years so that Jobs wouldn’t think that he was after his fortune, and Jobs died before meeting his father.

Imaan Hammam

While most people think of Gigi or Bella Hadid when it comes to international models with Middle Eastern roots, Imaan Hammam is another huge name in the modeling scene who also has ancestry from the same region. 

Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Hammam has an Egyptian father and a Moroccan mother and is also very proud of her origins and culture, identifying as an Afro-Arab due to her features.

Hammam is a rising star within the modeling community, appearing 18 times on the cover of Vogue magazines in all of the major international versions of the publication, including the American, French, Italian, British, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, and German.

The fashion starlet also hopes to inspire and become “a role model for young girls who are struggling with racism or struggling with their looks, or with their skin color.” 

Juliana Awada

State leaders mostly have to be from the country they’re ruling, but the First Lady doesn’t have to be, and that’s exactly what happened in Argentina during the reign of former President Mauricio Macri, whose First Lady was Juliana Awada.

Awada’s origins don’t go back to any Argentine roots but rather Middle Eastern ones, as her father is actually from Baalbek, Lebanon, while her mother is from Syria. Growing up, she travelled the world with her mother, going on trips to the USA, France, and the UK, where she looked for fashion collections and learned about the world.

She met Mauricio Macri before he ran for presidency in 2009 and got married a year later. She later played an important role beside her husband in 2015 when he ran for the Argentinian presidency, winning it the same year.

Via Flikr

Zinédine Zidane

Football is an international sport, with most European and Latin American countries getting most of the attention due to their players’ impressive skills. France has had several impressive players over the years, but none as iconic as Zinédine Zidane, whose ties to the Middle East are as deep as blood.

Born Zinédine Yazid Zidane, he was the youngest of five siblings, from Algerian parents who traveled to France before the Algerian War of Independence began. Zidane would live a hard life at first, moving from one place to another as his parents looked for work before settling in the suburb of La Castellane in Marseille, where he was also introduced to the world of football.

Zidane would go on to become one of France’s and Europe’s most prolific players, remembered the world over thanks to his elegant footwork, and marksman-like accuracy when scoring goals. However, he never forgot where he came from, stating in an interview with Esquire magazine that he has an affinity with the Arabic world, has it in his blood through his parents, and is very proud of having these roots and this diversity.

Nasri Tony Atweh

The band “Magic!” took over the airwaves in 2013 with their hit song “Rude” which would easily get stuck in your head as soon as you hear it, but we bet you didn’t know that the lead singer for the band has Middle Eastern roots.

Nasri Tony Atweh was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but both of his parents immigrated there from Palestine. Eh started singing at a young age, joining the school’s choir when he got older.

He didn’t start in the singing business straight away, but rather started songwriting for other artists early in his career, winning some awards in the process, and collaborating with several notable artists, including Shakira, Akon, Jason Derulo, Christina Aguilera, and more.

Ariana Grande

Singer Ariana Grande has always attributed herself to being Italian, but all that changed in 2014 when she surprised the world with a now-deleted tweet where she revealed that her grandparents were heavily Greek and part North African.

When her fans kept asking which part of North Africa, she couldn’t state where exactly from, so she said she might either be Moroccan or Tunisian, which sent her fans (and those from the region) into a frenzy. While there aren’t any confirmations about the news besides Ariana Grande’s tweets, we’re going to have to take her word for it!

Honorable Mention: Keanu Reeves

Although Keanu Reeves doesn’t have any Middle Eastern roots, he still gets an honorable mention thanks to him being born in Beirut, Lebanon. Yup, we’re cheating a little bit with this one.

Interestingly, his mother, who is of English descent, met his father, a native Hawaiian, when she was working in Beirut. They both fell in love and would later have their son, Keanu Charles Reeves on September 2, 1964.

Unfortunately, he didn’t stay long there, leaving for the US and then Canada, where he got his nationality. Just Imagine if NEO had stayed in Lebanon!

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