The actor, activist, and member of the legendary Sharif family gave a talk on being Egyptian and gay.
Omar Sharif Jr. recently gave a speech at the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum, a global platform for human rights defenders to share their stories. When he came out in a 2012 letter published in The Advocate, Sharif directly confronted the homophobia in his home country of Egypt. “This part of me was something I kept hidden because it was something that didn’t fit into the Egypt I knew, the Egypt that scoffed at human rights and persecuted people who were different,” he explains.
It’s challenging for people living outside of Egypt to comprehend the level of fame surrounding the Sharif family name. “I was often referred to as Egypt’s favorite son,” says Sharif. “Growing up a Sharif in Egypt is almost like being born a Kennedy.” Sharif’s grandfather was the legendary Doctor Zhivago on screen, and his entire family was diligently kept in the public’s eye. But celebrity status in a conservative country proved to be immensely stressful.
“As I gay man I felt isolated and lonely, and I felt like I didn’t have a place in my own country. Maybe the only force of solace I felt came from Hollywood films and TV shows…They taught me being different isn’t bad.”
Sharif soon came to an internal resolution: “I was given a voice, but with that voice was a responsibility to do good.”