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In what’s being hailed as “the first time many people in the Arab world have heard directly from a gay person,” openly gay Egyptian actor Omar Sharif Jr. gave an interview this week on the Arabic program Shabab Talk, a youth-oriented political talk show with over four million weekly viewers.
Sharif Jr. appeared on the program in part to discuss the recent passing of his grandfather, Omar Sharif — an actor best known for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Funny Girl — as well as his upcoming film The Secret Scripture in which Sharif and Sharif Jr. both appear. Sharif Sr. died in July 10, 2015 after a long bout with Alzheimer’s Disease.
— Omar Sharif Jr. (@OmarSharifJr) July 30, 2015
“Before anything, in the eyes of my grandparents, I was their grandson,” Sharif Jr. said. “It was a never a topic of conversation in our relationship and it never changed. We never spoke about it and to them, I was just Omar.”
He continued, “I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m a coworker, I’m a friend,” he said. “I’m not a fact, or a figure, or a statistic. I’m not a moral or an ethical debate.”
He later had this advice for young LGBT people struggling with acceptance:
“Be open enough to be who you are. Don’t pay attention to the conversation happening around you. Pay attention to the conversation happening in your heart and in your head because that’s the only thing you can control.”
The interview marked Sharif Jr.’s first appearance on Arabic TV. In addition to acting, Sharif Jr. is also a spokesperson for Gays and Lesbians Allied Against Defamation (GLAAD), a group that “works with print, broadcast and online news sources to bring people powerful stories from the LGBT community that build support for equality.”
LGBT rights in Egypt are nearly non-existent. Same-sex marriage and non-discrimination protections are a fantasy in the predominantly Muslim country, and while there’s no law explicitly criminalizing homosexual relationships, gay men are sometimes arrested on charges of prostitution under a national “debauchery” law, even when prostitution has not actually occurred.
In 2013, Egypt does have an increasing number of gay bars and in 2013 statewide media covered various commemorations of the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia; nevertheless, in 2014, eight men charged with “indecency” got sentenced to three years in jail for participating in a same-sex marriage (the sentence was later reduced to one year). That same year, TV host Mona Al Iraki helped orchestrate the raid of a local bathhouse; all 26 men arrested during the raid were later acquitted.