State and Society vs. Gays

The Egyptian society generally remains unaware – whether by choice or not – of the existence of LGBTs amongst them. Some people might crack jokes about gays, use offensive terms, but not realising that there is a community of those who identify as homosexuals around them. The wider society therefore does present a pulsating threat to homosexuals, though our traditional enemy is usually the state and security apparatus(es).

Many (most? not sure) of the documented incidents of persecution and bullying of homosexual and seemingly homosexual men in Egypt have been spearheaded and carried out by Egypt’s security apparatuses and their civilian arms. Although Egypt does not actually have a law that outright criminalizes homosexuality, an article of the “Law on the Combating of Prostitution” is used to persecute homosexuals or those suspected of homosexual conduct. (For more details, see Human Rights Watch 2004 Report “In a Time of Torture”). But we all know that Egypt’s government and security apparatus does not need a law to arrest or try whoever it pleases – when there is a will there is a way. Often, mass arrests – whether of “homosexual prostitution rings”, “devil-worshipping rings” or the like, are a tool used to distract the public from whatever the state does not want the public to think of, and to also present the state and government as the saviour that protects Egypt and its people from debauchery and moral threats.

Sporadic arrests of men suspected of homosexual conduct had been going on in Egypt for years before the Cairo 52/Queen Boat case in May 2001, but these arrests drew the public’s attention to LGBTs more than ever before. Newspaper headlines focused on them for months, whipping up quite the frenzy, publishing photos, names and personal information of the arrested men, stigmatsing them and their families forever. Egyptian media rallied the easily distracted public to stand against those who threaten the otherwise pristine moral fabric of the Egyptian society. The public fed on the case and the scandal.

Here we have two bodies that threaten us: the security apparatus and the government on one hand; and the public on the other hand. The government traditionally used media to rally the public, but now the public is perfectly capable of rallying itself through social media. A new wave of bullying and persecution of LGBTs can start, this time at the hands of the Facebook-ing and tweeting Egyptians.

To me, the threat the government’s security apparatuses and the police present to us is perhaps not as frightening as that presented by the public. There is no subduing today’s public (not that the police, SCAF or government can be controlled, but civilians vastly outnumber police and military personnel). There are also many cases of civilians harassing homosexuals – or those they perceive as homosexuals; and the story of Egyptian men being beat up and robbed after (or before) “sex-dates” with other men is a very common occurrence.

The aforementioned Facebooking and tweeting Egyptians have given us a taste of what to expect when we raise awareness. Their comments on the National Day of Egyptian Gays Facebook page (some of which are compiled and translated here) were horrific, but not surprising. They even set up a Facebook page against the National Day of Egyptian Gays.

I conclude with three (more) thoughts:

Are LGBTs in Egypt safe in Egypt as long as we as long as we remain in the shadows? Do we jeopardize our safety by raising awareness for LGBT issues, and coming out to those around us? (For the record: I already have my view on that, but I would like to hear what others have to say about this).

Which of the two entities – the state or the society – are more threatening in the coming phase?? The two Islamic parties, Freedom and Justice (Muslim Brotherhood), and the Al Nour (Salafis) have gained the majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament. With the future heavy involvement and presence of religious parties, is it still possible to separate the threat of the state from the threat posed by the public? Have they become one threatening entity? “Freedom and Justice” will apparently be afforded to all Egyptians., except homosexuals, where the line gets drawn.

Thanks to @3awadalla for some thoughts and references that helped with this post!