Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Social media star Mustafa Hfnawy dies, aged 25: a relatable voice of Egypt's youth

'A lot of the time we pray out of fear that something may happen to us. Why don't we pray because we know it will benefit our lives and give us real peace of mind?'

Mustafa Hfnawy is mourned by generations of fans. Instagram
Mustafa Hfnawy is mourned by generations of fans. Instagram

Egyptian social media personality Mustafa Hfnawy has died at the age of 25.

The Instagram and YouTube star passed away in a private Cairo hospital on Monday. He was buried the next day.

Hfnawy sought medical treatment last week and was admitted to hospital after he complained of stomach pains. He then suffered from a stroke and ended up in a coma, from which he did not regain consciousness.

The news was met with heartbreak from his fans and admirers, who had flooded his social media pages to share prayers for his recovery. Fellow celebrities also payed tribute to Hfnawy, including Egyptian pop stars Tamer Hosny and Hany Shaker.

Hosny said Hfnawy had "a pure and beautiful heart".

Actress Hannah El Zahed said she felt bereft by the loss of her friend. "This is the first time I ever felt so angry,” she wrote. "God loves you Mustafa, in that He allowed those who know you and don't know you to pray for you."

Illustrating El Zahed's point, veteran singer Shaker acknowledged Hfnawy’s star power among Egyptian youth. "With a sad heart, I offer my sincere condolences to the family of this beautiful young man,” he wrote. “I have never had any knowledge of him, but his sudden death hurt everyone's hearts. I call on him with mercy and forgiveness."

He was relatable and devout

Hfnawy’s road to social media stardom all began as a bit of fun. He was at home with a few friends in 2014 when they decided to do a rendition of a pop song by Egyptian singer Hakeem.

"I just put it online and never thought about it," he told Amr Gadallah last year on Gadallah's online series The InfluenCar. "And the next few days people started viewing it, mentioning me and enjoying it. The funny thing about it was that I totally forgot about the video a few hours after I posted it."

Buoyed by the reception, Hfnawy started posting more off-the-cuff videos, including messages of encouragement, skits on Egyptian youth culture, religious advice and miming the occasional Mahragant hit song in the car.

Hfnawy’s YouTube page was home to 198,000 subscribers, and what resonated with the public was his radiant personality.

None of the videos exhibited the shrewd calculation that comes with some social media personalities. Instead, they were fun, improvised and heart-warming.

In a way, he embodied the characteristics of Egypt's youth: fun, vibrant and ambitious, but also devout.

Hfnawy said he wanted to keep his material fun and personal. “When I first started, there was only five or six of us,” he told Gadallah. “Now you look out the window and everyone is a social media star. So I just wanted to focus on making videos that were different and not just dropping something online just to get followers. No thanks, that's not for me."

A relatable star

Hfnawy found a greater audience, resulting in a lucrative career, when he turned his attention to Instagram (where he amassed 1.5 million followers). His posts on the platform blend the personal with the professional.

Among smiley-faced photos with friends and family, complete with captions about encouragement and finding your “comfort zone,” there are several brand endorsements.

Over the last two years, Hfnawy extended his brand into the culinary world by opening up five branches of his burgeoning Cairo restaurant chain, Tawlah, which serves Egyptian and western street foods.

His fans were with him all the way, with posts supporting and admiring his ambition and zeal to succeed. It was that mix of relatability, despite his increasing popularity, that allowed Hfnawy to maintain a cross-generational support base.

For the youth, he was that normal "Cairo kid" who found success through talent and hard work. For parents, he was a role model because of his respectful and devout nature.

That he has died so young, and at the peak of his career, has left many in the country reeling. "His life was only at the beginning," said Farah Saeed, co-host of Egyptian morning show Sabah Al Balad. "He began his career on social media and in a short amount of time he managed to reach the hearts of so many people because of his kindness and lightheartedness."

Hfnawy’s last online post was released yesterday by his family. Because he'd been focused on Instagram, this was his first YouTube video in 18 months.

It contains a poignant parting bit of spiritual wisdom from a young Arab whose star shone brightly, but for far too short a time.

"A lot of the time we pray out of fear that something may happen to us," he once said. "Why don't we pray because we know it will benefit our lives and give us real peace of mind?"

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Updated: August 12, 2020 04:41 PM

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