Rami Malek's Oscars win is a victory for all Egyptians, his hometown says

Social media was filled with praise for the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' star

TOPSHOT - Best Actor winner for "Bohemian Rhapsody" Rami Malek poses in the press room during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019.  / AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN

The area of Faltaous in Egypt’s Upper Nile was known for little more than its rich history until an Academy Award and a moving speech in Los Angeles propelled it on to the international stage.

This week, the 27-year old Rami Malek became the first winner of the Best Actor category at the Oscars who is of Egyptian heritage. When they heard the news, his small familial village of Minya delighted in celebrations.

Young people took to the streets, dancing and lighting fireworks, the women cheered. "The village and our family was joyful when we heard his name. We felt proud," the actor's cousin Fady Essam, 24, told The National. "It's a win for all Egyptians."

The Oscar was the latest in a string of trophies for Malek this awards season, joining a Golden Globe, Screen Actors' Guild award and British Academy Film award for Best Actor for his role as the lead singer of British rock band Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Minya, Egypt - November 3rd, 2011 : Traditional village in a palm grove at the outskirts of Minya

Overnight, the town around Faltaous buzzed as international media outlets searched for family members of the famous Egyptian-American.

Malek's parents, a Coptic couple who worked in government and the tourist industry, migrated from Upper Egypt in 1978 to Los Angeles, where Malek was born in 1981.

“I am the son of immigrants from Egypt, a first-generation American ... and part of my story is being written right now," Malek said in his Oscar acceptance speech.

"All of a sudden, Faltaous became a popular destination and people from Cairo are coming to visit,” said Hamada, a waiter at a local cafe.

"Although he has not been visiting a lot, we felt close to him and to the journey of his family. He represents one of the many Copts who emigrated to find decent jobs and life," Awad Nakhla, one of the residents of Faltaous, told The National. "People may not have watched the film, but he is still our son."

Egyptians on Monday hailed Malek as a new "pharaoh" on social media, joining another favourite son of the nation, Liverpool footballer Mohamed Salah.

Amid heightened nationalistic furore, pro-government media has reported the win as a victory for Egypt. Local papers have dedicated pages and cartoons to Malek and his Oscar award.

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

“We are proud of Egyptians abroad. They are always able to succeed, and make achievements in different fields," Ms Makram said.

But 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, 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. In addition, he [plays the part of] a gay man,” she said, asking that her full name not be used.

Through the years, Minya's Copts have been the target of violence. In 2018, gunmen opened fire on a convoy of three buses carrying Coptic pilgrims, killing at least seven people and wounded more than a dozen others. The attack was believed to have been carried out by ISIS.

“He will not be another Salah, a devout and conservative Muslim, but he is as humane and talented as Salah,” she added.

In Faltaous, locals hope the attention will stay on them and will spur on development projects for ageing and damaged infrastructure.

“We need better roads, nearby schools and better distribution of water,” Alfouns, a tuk-tuk driver said. “As you will see, many of the village’s residents are elderly people. Dozens of young people travelled to get better jobs abroad."

Nevertheless, he is still hopeful. 
"Who knows, maybe one of them becomes another Malek."