Egyptian swimmer dives into major UN role

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CAIRO: Egyptian swimmer Mohamed Al-Husseini has been named spokesperson of the UN High Commission on Disability in Egypt and abroad.

Al-Husseini is the first Egyptian and Arab, as well as the first person with Down syndrome, to be appointed as the organization’s spokesperson.

The swimmer will attend global conferences where he will share his life story, struggles and goals, according to Reda Abdel Aziz, the commission’s director.

Al-Husseini was picked due to his swimming achievements, Abdel Aziz said.

In 2017, the 18-year-old became the first swimmer with Down syndrome to cross the English Channel after training for more than 10 hours a day in preparation for the marathon swim.

“For every 1,000 children with Down syndrome, maybe only one or two are recognized for their achievements,” Mona Bassel, of the American University in Cairo, told Arab News.

“Some schools offer programs for children with Down syndrome, but there is a lot of ignorance among society in general. Realistically, we have a long way to go in terms of stigma and dealing with people with the disability,” she said.

The UN selection of Al-Husseini comes at a time when Egypt is empowering people with disabilities, and the swimmer’s story is an inspiration to many.

In March, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi established the National Council of People with Disabilities, an independent body that encourages participation in decision-making processes.

Up to 10 percent of Egypt’s population is made up of people with special needs, El-Sisi said in a speech celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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