The grandson of Egyptian "Lawrence of Arabia" actor Omar Sharif has what he calls a confession to make. Actually, more than one.
"I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay," Omar Sharif Jr., wrote in a recent article titled "Coming Out Story: We're Not in Cairo Anymore," printed in the LGBT-themed magazine The Advocate.
"That my mother is Jewish is no small disclosure when you are from Egypt, no matter the year," the 28-year-old said. "And being openly gay has always meant asking for trouble, but perhaps especially during this time of political and social upheaval. With the victories of several Islamist parties in recent elections, a conversation needs to be had and certain questions need to be raised. I ask myself: Am I welcome in the new Egypt?"
Sharif Jr. made his comments as politician tensions mount in Egypt, whose population is mostly Muslim, following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak last year. Street clashes between security forces and citizens angry about corruption and poverty have made headlines in recent months. Egypt is preparing for a presidential election in May.
Sharif Jr.'s full name is Omar Joseph Sharif. According to Orthodox Jewish law, he is techinically fully Jewish because his heritage is from his maternal side. He was born in Canada and has worked as a model, appearing in ads for Calvin Klein, and as an actor. He played Oliver Briscbois in the French-Canadian series "Virginie" in 2006. He attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
Sharif Jr. currently lives in Los Angeles, while many members of his family live in Egypt, where homosexuality in itself is not illegal but unplatonic displays of affection between people of the same sex in public are. People have in the past been sentenced to prison for homosexual acts.
"I remember growing up knowing gay men and women who were quietly accepted by those around them in everyday society," the actor, who called himself a "patriot," wrote in The Advocate. "The motto was simple: "Stay quiet, stay safe." Today, too many are staying quiet as the whole of Egyptian society moves toward this monolithic entity I barely recognize."
Sharif Jr. was seen on national television last year when he appeared on stage at the 2011 Oscar ceremony with Kirk Douglas. He mocked-wrestled a cane out of the hands of the Jewish "Spartacus" actor, who was 94 at the time.
Sharif's grandfather, who is also known for his role in the movies "Dr. Zhivago" and "Funny Girl," which starred Jewish singer Barbra Streisand, had revealed that one of two of his grandsons' mothers is Jewish in an interview with the Associated Press in 2005. Sharif himself was born Michel Shalhoub to Christian Lebanese-Syrian parents and converted to Islam.
"I have a grandson who has a Jewish mother and I have a grandson who has a Muslim mother," the veteran actor said. "I love them the same and they love each other. And everybody should love each other."