“Does a person who advocates the right to choice deserve respect when he does not stand up to pressure from his family and society and denies his feelings for the woman of his heart because of what she does for a living…, I don't think so,” writes political activist Amr Hamzawy in his daily column in Al-Shorouk newspaper Thursday.
In an act that many describe as “political suicide,” Hamzawy used his daily op-ed to write a personal declaration of love, rather than his usual analysis of the political scene. Have a love connection to an cinema star in Egypt is known to be one sure fire way to kill a person's political future, but for the couple in question, Hamzawy and the young cinema star Basma, the issue is an even more complicated.
Hamzawy has been criticised several times before for declaring his public support for the introduction of civil marriage to the Egyptian civil code; he was accused of being a Jew and of pursuing foreign agendas. Now, the fact that Basma had a Jewish grandfather has given even more ground for reactionary and bigoted responses.
The fragrance of the love story that started more than six months ago was only noticed widely last week when the local media published news of Hamzawy and Basma having their car stopped early morning by highway robbers, who seized their car along with a number of personal effects. The news report, which was invariably put in sensationalist, innuendo-laden terms, drew a barrage of attacks from readers who expressed themselves enraged that the unmarried couple could be caught together in a car well past midnight.
“I used to respect him, and now he is losing his popularity. Is this the liberalism and the freedom he is trying to impose in Egypt?”commented one reader on the item published by the Arabic Al-Ahram’s web site.
But Hamzawy's Thursday column, “I doubt it”, has in turn drawn a massive positive response, with many praising him for his courage. “Dr Amr, this is my first time to comment on any article, no matter how much I wanted to. This time I just cannot stop myself from wishing the best life [to you] with the woman you love. You are a great [and] honest person. I am a huge fan of your broad mind and your liberal orientation. Egypt can really be great with [a] few people like you. We are proud of you. Please keep it up no matter what the pressure. God be with you and give you more wisdom,” commented one reader of Al-Shorouk daily newspaper, which publishes Hamzawy's daily column.
Twitter was also full of comments on Hamzawy’s column, among which was that of Hend Sabry, a cinema star of Tunisian origin, who tweeted “#TahrirTale: A beautiful old-fashioned brave pure love story, we had forgotten love could bring such hope. Thank You @HamzawyAmr @bissobasma.”
Meanwhile some were somewhat more cynical over Hamzawy's declaration of love, arguing that it was a clever political career saving PR move. “This was Hamzawy’s only way to win the Egyptians’ hearts back; he is fighting for his political life now,” Noha Lotfy, 27, told Ahram Online.
The political future of Hamzawy after this love story is revealed is yet to be determined, but he has declared in his column that being true to himself and to others is more precious to him than anything. “I am not worried about a public or a political role that comes [at the expense of] being true to myself ... I won't feel sorry [losing such a] possible role, so long as the only way to keep it would be through betraying my humanity and giving up my feelings to a magnificent, honourable and beautiful human being,” writes Hamzawy in his column.
Hamzawy is a founding member of the Egyptian Freedom Party, (Masr Al-Huryyea). During former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik's government has was offered the post of minister of youth but declined. He previously worked as research director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Beirut. During the revolution he was a member of the Committe of Wise Men, established to provide support to the revolutionary youth. He has been one of the most prominent spokespersons for the revolutionary demands and the democratisation of Egypt.
Basma is the granddaughter of Youssef Darwish, a prominent Jewish leftwing lawyer, who played a crucial role in building the Egyptian trade union movement in the forties of the last century. He was one of the founders of the Egyptian Communist Party. He was anti-Zionist and was detained several times. Over the past few years Basma's acting career took off earning her cinema star status . She is currently hosting a television talk show “Men Antom” (Who are you?) on Al-Qahera We el-Nas TV channel.