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!

Ehab El-Agamy Appologises for El Sherif/Aboul Naga “Gay Prostitution Ring” Allegations

In autumn 2009, Egyptian newspaper Al Balagh Al Gedid published a reportage naming veteran Egyptian actors  Nour El Sherif, Khaled Aboul Naga and Hamdi El Wazir as part of a gay prostitution ring. Quelle scandale.

The paper’s editor Abdou El-Maghraby and “journalist” Ehab El-Agamy were sued for defaming the actors. El-Agamy claimed that he only wrote a short article about a gay prostitution ring, but never included or approved the inclusion of the names and photos of those actors. Eventually, Al Balagh Al Gadid was banned. (Read @Zeinobia’s blog-post on the issue here, as it includes some interesting details and thoughts.)

Anyway, El-Agamy went off to become chairman of another newspaper, Nabd Al Sha’b, which despite being in its fourth year still has no website (?). The November 2011 issue featured a sort of apology to the actor(s) affected, right on the paper’s frontpage.

To be frank, I could not be bothered to read the whole article, as El-Agamy’s style makes me ill, and anything he says is an insult to whatever little intelligence I possess. Reading a few sentences here and there, the article seems to me to be aimed towards those who doubted El-Agamy, and his ability to rise from the ashes of the scandal, like a beautiful phoenix, his head held high, and his journalistic integrity intact, than actually an apology to the actors.

Here is a scan of this front page article, in Arabic. I think El-Agamy’s photo (on the left) speaks volumes about his character, which I will leave to you to ponder on your own time. Not that I suggest that you waste any time pondering over El-Agamy.

The National Day of Egyptian Gays… Again

Want to know what I really think of the National Day of Egyptian Gays (previously blogged about here)?

None of the LGBT activists “on the ground” know who is organising it. That is enough to raise a few eyebrows. And no-one in the community is taking it seriously. (If anyone knows the organisers personally, please let me know).

Everything about the Facebook page is suspicious, though advocating conspiracy theories is not something I am apt to do.

The page’s admins have previously refused to be in touch with media, claiming that media attention on this issue will only create a “balbala i3lamiyya”– such a beautiful expression that is so difficult to translate! Perhaps we can call it a “Media Hullabaloo”.

I wonder, isn’t having a Facebook page calling for a National Day for Egyptian Gays and a demonstration in Tahrir already creating a media hullabaloo?  If the admins/oragnisers really wanted to take Egypt by surprise with this march, and not alert the media beforehand, would it not have been better to organise it by word of mouth???? The LGBT community is wide, but we are all connected somehow…

A public Facebook page is not the platform I would use should I need to discretely organise a gay revolution.

Deciding not to join this march is not a sign of my weakness and “un-revolutionary-ness”. I prefer not ride every single wave. There is always next wave!

This is not the end of what I have to say about this National Day of Egyptian Gays. I will get around to writing a post about the rich discourse the page is creating about LGBT’s “existence” in Egypt. Once I got over the initial shock of the hateful comments, some of which are compiled and translated here, I started finding some of them fascinating… absolutely fascinating.

A National Day of Egyptian Gays

(This post was initially published on my first blog, on 15 November, 2011).

My attention was recently drawn to a Facebook page calling for “A National Day of Egyptian Gays”. The page is a brave attempt to rally Egyptian gays to stand proud, and “not bury one’s head in the sand for longer”. What (to me) seems like hundreds of Egyptians commented on this page and mentioned it on twitter. Although there were a few positive comments, the rest were hateful, ranging from use of offensive language, all the way to calls for our execution.

I see the future of LGBTs in Egypt as grimm. I do not want to be naive, thinking that we will be recognised as equals, accepted and given rights without a fight. There will be a fight, and this will start by us coming out, demanding our recognition as humans. The fight for our rights will be bloody, and lives will be lost. It does not require any extrasensory perception to arrive at this conclusion. I hope that as we enter this battle, we are prepared.

And I voice my concern, is this national day of gays in Egypt a good idea? Is shocking people this way going to support our cause, or harm it? Is the time ever “right”? I think that there is never a good time for anything, so do not respond to me saying it is not the time for it. But I do think there are times that are more appropriate than others. There are also ways more appropriate than others. How to measure this “appropriateness”? I have no idea.

One of my dearest tweeps drew a very suitable comparison. Remember the march in Tahrir square for International Women’s Day last March? Women, who are mothers, sisters, daughters, breadwinners and much much more, were harassed mercilessly during this march. If women received that kind of harassment, I do not want to imagine what a National Day for Homosexuals will be like. But I do know that, just because the women and women rights supporters were harassed, does not mean one should stop protesting or fighting for their rights.

It is also imperative that we not only rally gays to stand up, but also our straight friends, family, and allies. It will be easier if we have support of as many people as possible.

I hope this day is not orchestrated, or twisted to become, another opportunity for our beloved government and security apparatuses to crack down on a minority, and to present itself as the upholder of Egyptian morality, in an attempt to garner back the public’s appreciation.

I am proud of being gay, just as I am proud of everything that I am. I do want to stand and fight for my rights, but I refuse to put myself in a vulnerable position, and present myself and my friends on a golden platter for the government to attack. Not in this way.

When do I think is a good time for us to come out? Now is as good a time as any. How should we come out? I think coming out to those who are around us, those to already know us and know that we are not “freaks”, might be a less threatening and more successful endeavor. But this topic is a whole other post.

Constructing Ancient Sexuality

(This post was originally published on my first blog on 23 August, 2011)
Any “thing” we interpret is a direct application of who we are, how we experience the world around us, how we contextualize this “thing” within our limited understanding, where we come and where we are going, and of course what we want to be true.

The Blog Formerly Known as A Gay Girl on the Nile on the Blog Formerly Known as A Gay Girl in Damascus*

(This post was originally published on my first blog, on 15 June, 2011).

I am gay and I exist. I am hidden from almost my entire world. Tweeting, and occasionally blogging, provides me with a looking glass to not only look out into the world, but to also tell my world – or whomever is paying attention – that I am here, I live, I feel, I am alive, and I am hidden right under your nose. (more…)

Gender Bending Part 1: Stop. Think. Accept

(This post was originally published on 8 April, 2011 on my first blog).
It was a nice summer afternoon. My girlfriend and I were invited to a gay friend’s party, a different crowd than we normally hangout with. As we walked into the door all guests– who were all gay men –  stared at my girlfriend, their eyes full of interest, curiosity, and lust. They were pretty much undressing her with their eyes.
Something wrong with this picture? They’re gay, why are they lusting after my woman?
Because they think she is a young sexy man, just their cup of tea.
My girlfriend can be classified as butch, although she is such a girl beneath the tomboy exterior. People on the street call her “Mr”. Wherever we are, I hear people asking each other “is this a man or a woman?”
It does not bother my girlfriend, but it drives me mad sometimes. I get upset that people regard her as a freak show. They give themselves the right to point and snigger amongst themselves. They give themselves the liberty to laugh at what is different, and at what they do not fathom.
Their responses baffle me when they find out she is a woman. For example when women try to kick her out of the women’s carriage on the metro, they always give two reasons for their confusion about her gender: She has short hair and no earrings. Is that all it is to differentiate between a man and a woman? Hair and earrings?!
It intrigues me that, in Egypt at least, people are not able to explain why they really think she is a man and not a woman. Earrings and hair is just an excuse to vocalize what they are unable to comprehend and digest. Their gender perception is very narrow.
My girlfriend friend really pushes the gender boundaries. Does this affect how LGBTs are accepted? Perhaps a blurry line between genders can indeed make our acceptance more difficult. All over the world, transgenders often fall of the LGB”T” wagon as they are thought to give “LGB”s a bad image. Tolerance amongst members of the LGBT “community” is worth a post of its own!
I know we are not about to be accepted today or tomorrow, but on the long run, people fear and dislike what they do not understand, and would probably have a harder time accepting our gender-bending brothers and sisters, and by default the rest of us.
Regardless of annoyances, my girlfriend has no problem being accepted by whom she works with and the straight community she lives in. She is successfully shattering images of what women should look and dress like. She makes people think about how they perceive genders, and although the average citizen might not have the mental mechanism to really think it through analytically, they still give it a thought.
She makes people stop, think, and eventually accept. This is what we really need.