Egyptian athlete creates social media storm after lifting Saudi flag in Rio

Hatem Maher , Saturday 6 Aug 2016

Hamada Talat
Screenshot for Egypt's athlete Hamada Talat during Rio opening ceremony

An Egyptian athlete has triggered an on-line storm after lifting a Saudi flag during the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games on Friday.

Shooting athlete Hamada Talaat caught the eyes of Egyptians during the Parade of Nations when he raised both the Egyptian and Saudi flags, prompting a wave of criticism on social media.

An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for Talaat to be expelled from the Egyptian delegation quickly trended, with many users expressing their dismay at what they called an unprecedented action by any Egyptian athlete.

Some have also alluded to the recent controversy surrounding an Egyptian-Saudi deal which if ratified will see Egypt hand over two Red Sea islands to the Gulf kingdom.

Some have supported the state's narrative that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt was only protecting them for decades while others took to the streets to voice opposition to the deal in April.

Talaat was quoted by local media as saying that his action had nothing to do with the deal, saying he simply picked the flag up because it was lying on the floor.

Hesham Hatab, the head of the Egyptian National Olympic Committee, also said that Talaat had apologised.

"I summoned him after his surprising action, which put us in an embarrassing situation," Hatab told Al-Hayat TV in a phone interview on Saturday.

"He said he lifted the flag because it's inscribed with the Allah word," he added, referring to the Arabic sentence that reads "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger", which is known in Islam as the Shahada.

"He apologised … And we will sit down again to reach a decision over this matter."

Many Twitter and Facebook users said they hope Talaat will lose when he begins his Olympic campaign in the qualifying round of the men's 10m air rifle shooting on Monday.

"He brought shame on us. I hope he will lose if he isn't expelled," said one user.

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