The Egyptian authorities have been quick to applaud Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek’s Oscar for Bohemian Rhapsody but they continue to oppress LGBTQ people.
Following Malek’s win for portraying queer music legend Freddie Mercury in the hit Queen biopic, Egypt’s Immigration Ministry congratulated the actor on Twitter.
It also quoted part of his acceptance speech in which he stated: “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m a first generation American and part of my story is being written right now.”
The ministry failed, however, to quote the portion of the speech in which Malek said: “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself.”
Neela Ghoshal, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, accused the Egyptian government of hypocrisy. She pointed out that Malek’s full speech “has not and could not be reported in Egyptian media.”
She noted that, “Bohemian Rhapsody is not just a film that happens to be about a gay, or more likely, bisexual celebrity – Malek’s performance celebrates Mercury as unabashedly, flamboyantly queer.”
Ghoshal further said that Freddie Mercury himself, if he were alive and living in Egypt today, would face arrest and a forced anal exam; a form of torture that is used by oppressive regimes to “prove” same-sex sexual activity.
While homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, LGBTQ people are routinely targeted and jailed through “immorality” and public indecency laws. According to local rights group Bedayaa, 76 people were arrested in Egypt last year on this basis.
Mercury would also not be allowed to be interviewed as a queer person in the Egyptian media, and any journalist that gave him exposure could be jailed.
That’s what happened to Mohamed al-Gheiti, a popular television presenter, who in January was sentenced to a year in jail for daring to interview a gay man on air. In 2017, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation banned the appearance of homosexuals or “their slogans” in the media.
In September of that year, the act of waving rainbow flags at a music concert in Cairo sparked a vicious media and state hate campaign against LGBTQ people. Dozens were arrested on charges such as “debauchery” and “homosexual activity” in the ensuing clampdown and many were sentenced to up to three years in jail.
“Rami Malek took home his Oscar because he gave life, joyfully, to a queer icon,” said Ghoshal. “But Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi would not allow either a Mercury to thrive on its soil, or a Malek to celebrate him.”