Rio 2016: Outrage after Egyptian Olympian waves Saudi flag

Rio 2016: Outrage after Egyptian Olympian waves Saudi flag
3 min read
07 Aug, 2016
An Egyptian athlete competing in the Rio Olympics has been flagged up for waving Saudi Arabia's flag - and not the Egyptian banner - during the opening ceremony on Friday.
Talaat raised the Saudi flag during the Parade of Nations [Twitter]

An Egyptian athlete competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has sparked controversy after waving Saudi Arabia's flag at the opening ceremony on Friday.

Hamada Talaat, who is expected to compete in the men's 10-metre shooting event on Monday, raised the Saudi flag during the Parade of Nations at Rio's Maracana stadium.

The traditional opening event of the Olympics sees athletes parade with other athletes from their country. Most wave their national flag and sometimes wear national dress.

Talaat's decision to wave the Saudi flag - at a particularly sensitive time for Egyptians - caused angry reactions from his countrymen and women on social media.

The incident came just a few months after Egypt signed a controversial maritime border demarcation deal with Saudi Arabia. The agreement saw Egypt hand over two uninhabited islands in the Red Sea to Riyadh's control, causing outrage among Egyptians.

The agreement was signed when Saudi Arabia's King Salman visited Cairo in April.

But it triggered mass protests that saw hundreds arrested as people described the act of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as "high treason".

Egypt claimed that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir originally belonged to Saudi Arabia but were under Egyptian protection for decades.

This narrative - however fanciful - was taken up by some regime loyalists who took to the streets waving Saudi flags to support the embattled president.

Saudi Arabia is believed to have played a key role in the rise of Sisi to power following a military coup. Riyadh has also been one of the chief financial backers of the regime as Egypt's economy teeters on bankruptcy.

Translation: Perhaps Hamada Talaat who raised the Saudi flag was originally a citizen of Tiran and Sanafir? Translation: This is not an individual case, but an atmosphere of hypocrisy and cheap submission to the [Gulf's money]. We either wake up and fix this or reap more of it.

After Talaat faced a wave of criticism on social media the president of Egypt's Olympics Committee Hesham Hattab came to the athlete's defence.

He claimed that the Olympian found the Saudi flag on the floor and picked it up to avoid anyone stepping on the word "Allah" written on the green banner.

Talaat spoke out against the backlash, insisting he would not apologise.

"Anyone else would have done the same," he said in a phone interview with a local TV channel.

The Arabic-language hashtag #SendHamadaback quickly became a top trend, with hundreds calling for the athlete's expulsion from the tournament.

Translation: If Hamada Talaat carries a medal, he did not win it, he found it on the floor. Translation: The shooting federation says Hamada Talaat picked up the flag because of the word "Allah" on it. Who should you be loyal to? Your home country or your religion? What if it was the flag of Daesh?

The tweet referred to the flag of the Islamic State group, which also has the name of Allah written on it.

Translation: Hamada Talaat will receive quite a humiliating reception at the airport (in Egypt) because Egyptians will never forget. His career in sports has just become shorter. He can now go to Saudi Arabia and work as a driver.

Others sympathised with the athlete, arguing that no matter what he did, he did not deserve to be disqualified from the tournament.