Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

I Have a Feeling We're Not in Cairo Anymore

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

I Have a Feeling We're Not in Cairo Anymore

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

With this essay, Egyptian multihyphenate Omar Sharif Jr., grandson and namesake of the screen legend, comes out both as gay and half Jewish. He worries that his country's fledgling government will persecute others like him

I write this article in fear. Fear for my country, fear for my family, and fear for myself. My parents will be shocked to read it, surely preferring I stay in the shadows and keep silent, at least for the time being.

But I can't.

Last January, I left Egypt with a heavy heart. I traveled to America, leaving behind my family, friends, and compatriots who were in the midst of embarking on a heroic journey toward self-determination. Despite the sound of gunshots in the streets and the images of Anderson Cooper being struck repeatedly over the head on CNN, I left hopeful that I would return to find a more tolerant and equal society. While I benefited from a life of privilege being Omar Sharif's grandson, it was always coupled with the onerous guilt that such a position might have been founded upon others' sweat and tears.

One year since the start of the revolution, I am not as hopeful.

The troubling results of the recent parliamentary elections dealt secularists a particularly devastating blow. The vision for a freer, more equal Egypt--a vision that many young patriots gave their lives to see realized in Tahrir Square--has been hijacked. The full spectrum of equal and human rights are now wedge issues used by both the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Islamist parties, when they should be regarded as universal truths.

I write this article despite the inherent risks associated because as we stand idle at what we hoped would be the pinnacle of Egyptian modern history, I worry that a fall from the top could be the most devastating. I write, with healthy respect for the dangers that may come, for fear that Egypt's Arab Spring may be moving us backward, not forward.

And so I hesitantly confess: I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay.

That my mother is Jewish is no small disclosure when you are from Egypt, no matter the year. And being openly gay has always meant asking for trouble, but perhaps especially during this time of political and social upheaval. With the victories of several Islamist parties in recent elections, a conversation needs to be had and certain questions need to be raised. I ask myself:

Am I welcome in the new Egypt?

Will being Egyptian, half Jewish, and gay forever remain mutually exclusive identities? Are they identities to be hidden?

While to many in Europe and North America mine might seem like trivial admissions, I am afraid this is not so in Egypt. I anticipate that I will be chastised, scorned, and most certainly threatened. From the vaunted class of Egyptian actor and personality, I might just become an Egyptian public enemy.

And yet I speak out because I am a patriot.

I am a patriot who remembers a pluralistic Egypt, where despite a lack of choice in the political sphere, society comprised a multitude of beliefs and backgrounds. I remember growing up knowing gay men and women who were quietly accepted by those around them in everyday society. The motto was simple: "Stay quiet, stay safe." Today, too many are staying quiet as the whole of Egyptian society moves toward this monolithic entity I barely recognize.

Last month I went for an afternoon run outside my home in Cairo. …

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