By most measures, Maged El Rabeiy is an unlikely hero: But at a conference last summer this wiry, unassuming Egyptian with a degree in literature stunned his countrymen when he became the first person in Egypt to publicly announce they were HIV-positive.
Unlike Magic Johnson, whose similar announcement in 1991 helped attract empathy and awareness, Maged, 32, was further isolated after sharing his status: “In other countries, you can openly say you have HIV, and then go to a hospital and be treated and provided with services: in Egypt, you cannot,” Rabeiy tells Egypt Independent. “Here your community will shun you, and most of the doctors won’t work with you, as they’re afraid of the virus, and the nurse will ask you to leave. So you have to stick to a small network of people out of the limelight, and I knew that nothing was going to improve that way.”
Rabeiy, who was already active in AIDS awareness when he disclosed his status, has been busy ever since. He is a prominent speaker on the conference circuit and was recently awarded Germany’s Annemarie Madison Award, which honors special service in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Despite the fear and insults he faces in his homeland, Rabeiy says opening up about having HIV has shown him who his true friends are: “On a personal level, it has changed everything, because I know that the people who love me accept me for who I am, and not because of a lie.”
And though he might not seem appreciated, he soldiers on knowing that he is doing the work he was meant to do. “I don’t know how long I will be alive but I hope that I have opened the door in Egypt for children of the future to one day say, ‘I am an Egyptian with HIV. Here I am, and I also deserve to live equally.’”