Photo courtesy of Andrew Riad

Spotlight — Andrew Riad

The rising TikTok star shares glimpses of his life beyond the cameras and Cosmopolitan features, discussing his struggle with identity, sexual assault and toxic masculinity.

Nov 8, 2020

On Nov. 2, Andrew Riad, Class of 2022, was featured in Cosmopolitan Middle East as one of the Middle Eastern TikTokers “you need to follow right now.”
“Fame is everything I wanted, from a very young age. I always told my mom I was born for fame,” said Riad, laughing. “But not fame for the sake of fame. I want to evoke some sort of societal or cultural change, and I think in order to do that, I need to have a pretty big platform.”
Riad’s TikTok page has been a giant leap towards his dream of fame. In a short seven months, his platform has gained almost 80,000 followers and 4.5 million likes, with an audience ranging from kids as young as eight years old to adults older than 50.
Born in Egypt, Riad has lived in Jordan and currently resides on campus at NYU Abu Dhabi, but considers Dubai home. During what he describes as the “melting pot of lockdown” in April, he gave into his desire to create a TikTok account. One of his first videos gained 200,000 views overnight, marking the beginning of his TikTok career.
But TikTok was not the beginning of his career. His Youtube journey started at 11 years old, filming prank videos and skits, acting as his mom and sister. He has not permitted The Gazelle to link his channel here, but the videos are still online — if someone were to look for them.
Compared to other social media platforms, Riad views TikTok as a unique, up and coming platform that allows for a large amount of interaction with followers — who he humbly calls friends, not fans. “TikTok is immediate, it’s very on the spot, you get thousands of interactions within minutes,” he said. “I think that’s what’s very powerful about it.”
Being under a growing spotlight means that his personal life has become one with his online presence. “I think a huge pro of [private life being online] is that people definitely feel comfortable coming to my page, and people listen when they’re comfortable,” he shared.
A con, he explains, is that people tend to be a little nosy. “There’s only so much that I can give of myself online,” he said, adding that his self-perception was also impacted. “I didn’t expect to be so insecure.”
The content of his TikTok page pertains to themes common in the Middle East, and began with what he describes as one dimensional Arab humor. But the topics discussed on his page evolved quickly, creating a blend of humor, discussions on sociocultural issues and personal struggles such as mental health and questions of identity.
“I transgressed into more personal things, I connected more to home in Egypt, my African identity and Nubian roots, but in that also I connected to a lot of social changes in the MENA region. I think that’s the crossover I really wanted.”
Two topics that are particularly important to him are toxic masculinity and sexual harassment. “In the context of the MENA region, I really do believe in change, and change being incremental,” he shared.
Riad recognizes that there needs to be a sense of relatability and understanding between creators and viewers. Being Coptic Christian, a minority in Egypt, a third culture Afro-Arab and a self-described “flamboyant male,” Riad hopes to be the representation he never witnessed.
“We have a lot of Arab-American representation, but with my intersectionality, there’s a lot of layers to it where I haven't seen people like me. Many things can be home, but also nothing can be home,” he shared. “I feel displaced and I feel different from everything, but at the same time, I can tap into so many different countries and cultures and feel home.”
The young Egyptian has also grown his presence on other social media platforms, particularly Twitter, where he has almost 5,000 followers. Distinct from his humor-oriented TikTok, Riad takes a more direct political stance on Twitter. This summer, amid the ongoing #MeToo Movement in Egypt, he started a “White Flag Movement” where people would put a white flag emoji in their profiles in solidarity with victims of sexual assault.
As a survivor of assault himself, he was moved by the way in which the movement he started manifested across platforms, particularly within the Egyptian community. “White flag means we are surrendering to a safe space to enable a conversation to happen, so we can have change, so survivors can feel safe,” he said.
Looking forward, Riad wants to work on producing art, including cinematography and poetry, with the aim of exemplifying voices from the region and portraying the diversity, particularly within the Afro-Arab community.
A long term project focuses on what he refers to as the decolonization of the Arab world. “I’m tired of this rhetoric pushed by the West and of people self-orientalizing, and self-exotifying,” he said. “Because we are so diverse and unique and there’s so much potential and beauty in the Arab world that goes unnoticed, especially within the diaspora.”
Sarah Afaneh is a Senior Communications Editor and Features Editor. Email her at
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