Saudi sensation and YouTube star Abu Muteb visits Northwestern University in Qatar as a prospective student


Jueun Choi

Photo by Paulo Fugen

Photo by Paulo Fugen

A prospective student lunch and tour of Northwestern University in Qatar was held yesterday for YouTube star Joshua Van Alstine, 25, whose pro-Saudi Arabia videos are particularly popular among Saudis and others in the Gulf. The blond American, who said he moved to Doha two months ago for his education and career, was wearing a traditional Arabian thobe and headgear. Throughout his brief visit to NU-Q, he frequently switched between his American-accented English and flawless Saudi-accented Arabic.

Van Alstine is more famously known as “Abu Muteb,” which was also the nickname of the late Saudi ruler, King Abdullah. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Van Alstine said his Saudi friends began calling him that while he was a student at the University of North Texas. It stuck, and he now goes by that name in his videos.

Van Alstine gained attention in Saudi Arabia in late 2011 when he posted a video in fluent Arabic that challenged, in Van Alstine’s opinion, American vlogger Corissa Chantelle’s “stereotypical” view of Saudi Arabia. At the time, he was studying international relations at North Texas, with no expectation of fame. Then, one morning during his winter break that year, he woke up and saw his video had gotten some 2 million views. In early 2012, at the invitation of the Saudi royal court, he went to Saudi Arabia for a visit, during which he got the opportunity to meet the current ruler of Saudi Arabia King Salman, senior princes and to pray in Mecca, according to his interview in The Washington Post. In May 2013, he got a job offer from the Saudi Ministry of Education to help set up a TV channel called Aali TV. Though he had only been in college for two years and had not completed his degree, he accepted the offer and left Texas to live his dream there.

Van Alstine said he is obsessed with Saudi Arabia because of its Islamic culture. “I really love Saudi Arabia. I love its people, the country. It’s a country that completely changed my life,” he said. He added that some people say he is “a puppet for the government” and that he fakes his passion for the country. Those claims are far from truth, he said: “Love is not enough. I’m infatuated with everything she [Saudi Arabia] is.”

Born and raised as Muslim by his Turkish mother and American father, Van Alstine said he often faced rejection in the United States because of his faith, which led him to want to change Americans’ perceptions of the Middle East. He said being a white American makes him more relatable to American audiences. “I really wanna get America to see what’s it like on the ground and not like some documentary that makes it [the Middle East] either very like a utopia or some ghetto. I want people to see the reality,” he said.

Though Saudi Arabia may be his first love, he wants to settle down in Qatar because the media industry is “not really growing” in Saudi, he said. “I left Saudi Arabia because the media opportunity is greater here [in Qatar] for people like me,” he added. He moved to Doha after his work contract in Saudi Arabia ended. Last month, he helped produce content about the country’s National Day celebrations for the government-run television channel, Qatar TV; on camera, he interviewed expats attending the day’s events at Darb Al-Sai. Currently he is covering a falcon competition for the channel.

“I love Qatar. Qatar seeks the world, and the world is going to eventually seek Qatar. I wanna be there when it does,” he said, adding that he appreciates the friendliness of the local people, the country’s balance between Eastern and Western values, and its history and potential future.

NU-Q student ambassadors, who were on hand to give Van Alstine a tour of the university, said he would make a good addition to the campus. “Having someone like Joshua as part of NU-Q will be very enriching. He already has background working in the field of media with Qatar TV. Having him study at NU-Q will give him the tools needed to learn more about media in the region and it will give us a unique addition to the student body,” said student ambassador Najla S. Al Khulaifi, who accompanied him on the tour. She is also the president of NU-Q Student Union, the university’s student government organization.

“His genuine appreciation and admiration towards Saudi Arabia and its culture is quite fascinating. What most surprised me was how fluently he spoke Arabic and how effortlessly he blended into the Arab culture,” said Ibtesaam Moosa, a student ambassador and communication student at NU-Q who met Van Alstine during a lunch held for the prospective student’s visit.

However, one student had some concerns about how Van Alstine’s visit was handled. “What I heard was that he’s a prospective student. So why are they [the university] rolling out the red carpet for him? Do other prospective students get similar treatment or must they also have 100 thousand social media followers for that to happen? Why all the pomp and circumstance?” said Nicholas Wong, a journalism sophomore.

The Office of the Dean at NU-Q arranged the visit after learning about Van Alstine through the local media. “The university encourages all prospective students to visit the campus. When we read in the newspaper that he was interested in attending NU-Q, we invited him to come and visit, to meet with our students, so that he could see what the university had to offer,” said Nanci Martin, the director of strategic media and marketing at the university.

Van Alstine said he is planning on applying to NU-Q’s communication program. With a degree in communication, he said he plans “on being an advisor for a government entity in Qatar.”

 

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