02/27/2019, 18.40
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Egypt celebrates Oscar winner Rami Malek, best actor for Bohemian Rhapsody

The 37-year-old Egyptian-American won for playing Freddy Mercury. Relatives and neighbours in his family’s hometown of Upper Egypt are ecstatic for the victory. The Coptic actor is celebrated as a national hero, like Muslim footballer Salah. Emigration and anti-Christian violence loom in the background.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Celebrations continue in Egypt after Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which looks at the life and times of the lead singer of the British rock band Queen.

In his acceptance speech, the 37-year-old actor noted that he was "the son of immigrants from Egypt. . . . I’m a first-generation American", but proud of his Middle East roots. “As I got older, I realised how beautiful my heritage and my tradition are,” he said.

In Egypt, people welcomed the Academy’s choice with joy and satisfaction, hailing Malek as a new "pharaoh", comparing him to another favourite son, Liverpool footballer Mohammed Salah.

Egyptian Migration Minister Nabila Makram congratulated Malek as “the first Egyptian ever to win an Oscar".

Unlike Salah, who is Muslim from a Muslim majority country, Malek’s parents are Coptic Christians who once worked for the Egyptian government and in the tourism industry.

The actor’s family hails from Faltaous, Minya province (Upper Egypt), 265 kilometres south of Cairo. In 1978, his parents decided to move to Los Angeles, in the United States, where the future Oscar winner was born in 1981.

After his victory, relatives in Egypt called the actor's mother to congratulate him. Rami’s 24-year-old cousin, Fadi, said uncles, aunts and their children had gathered at the family home in the Faltaous, to watch the Academy Awards ceremony live from Los Angeles, celebrating the event as if it were a victory by Egypt’s football team at the World Cup.

When Malek’s name was announced as best actor, the family erupted in jubilation, hugging each other and dancing for joy. Eventually, neighbours joined in. Young people took to the streets, dancing and lighting fireworks, women cheered.

“The village and our family were joyful when we heard his name. We felt proud,” Fadi told media. "It's a win for all Egyptians."

"Auntie Nelly [Rami's mother] said she and Rami were eager to visit," said Rami, another of the actor’s cousins.

In recent weeks, Rami Malek had emerged as a favourite for the Oscar after winning Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Britain’s BAFTA awards for playing Freddie Mercury.

Malek’s talents were already evident when he visited Egypt as a high school student in the 1990s.

“Although he has not been visiting a lot, we felt close to him and to the journey of his family,” said Awad Nakhla, a Faltaous resident, speaking to The National. “He represents one of the many Copts who emigrated to find decent jobs and life.”

Still, not all Egyptians celebrated their award-winning countryman. Film student Samy Saed, 22, said he thinks that had Malek not grown up in the US and had played the part of Freddie Mercury, "he would have been criticised, demonised, and may be persecuted for playing a gay man".

Trisa, a political activist from Minya, also warned against only celebrating Malek and said the other side of the story should be represented as well.

"We have to acknowledge that he is from a Coptic family in Minya, a minority that is often persecuted,” she explained. “In addition, he [plays the part of] a gay man,” something that would have been the source of a lot of problems in Egypt.

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