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.

عم محمد

عم محمد كان دائماً يرتدي قميص لبني، وطاقية لا أتذكر لونها، هزيل وعجوز ولكن عيناه الرماديتان تلمع بحيوية الشباب، فكثيراً ما أثار دهشتي بقوته حين كان يحمل أثاث، أو شنط سفر أو صناديق مليئة بكراكيب سكان العمارة.

كان يُدعَى عم محمد… زيه زي أي »عم محمد« آخر… هادئ، وإبتسامته لا تفارق وجهه، حتى وهو يترنح تحت ثقل الشيل. حين كنت صغيرة كان دائماً يناديني »يا دكتورة«، حتى عندما كنت بالكاد في العاشرة من عمري.

كنت كثيراً ما أفكر، هل سيأتي يوم ويختفي عم محمد دون أن ألاحظ؟ دون أن أعرف إذا كان له أولاد أو عائلة؟ دون أن أدردش معه؟ دون أن أعرف أين يقطن، حيث كان دائماً موجود في شارعنا، ليلاً ونهاراً؟

جاء اليوم الذي كنت مترقباه، فلاحظت إنني لم أرى عم محمد لأكثر من عام. شعرت بالخجل الشديد من نفسي، حتى إني لم أستطع أن أسأل حارسي العقار أو والدي عنه. فكنت متأكدة أنه إختفى، إنه توفى. وإلى اليوم أشعر بالخجل، لا أعرف إذا كان مرض عم محمد قبل وفاته أم مات »موتة ملوكي«. فإذا كان قد مرض، لرغبت في مساعدته. وإذا كان قد مات »موتة ملوكي«، لكنت قد رغبت في مساعدة عائلته بعد وفاة عائلها. على الأقل كنت أحب أن أقوم بالواجب مع عائلته، وأعزيهم… إذا كان له عائلة.

مر على »إختفاء« عم محمد أكثر من عقد من الزمان. هل من الممكن اليوم أن أحاول أن أبحث عن عائلة له، إذا كان له عائلة؟ أو أزور دفنته لأقرأ عليه الفاتحة وأوزع »شريك« على الغلابة؟

كم منا يعرف شخص بهذه المواصفات؟ شخص دائماً متواجد لمساعداتنا مقابل »فكة«، دون أن نعرف أي شئ عنه. ننام في دفئ بيوتنا، دون أن نعرف إذا كان له بيت من أساسه. نمر من أمامه، ونلقي السلام عليه، دون أن نعرف أي شئ عن حياته، وأحلامه. ليس من الضروري أن تربطنا علاقة حميمة مع كل من يعمل بشارعنا، ولكن على الاقل نعرف الأساسات عنهم، حتى نستطيع أن نساعدهم، ونقدرهم، وان نعرف متى يمرضوا لنساعدهم، ونعرف حين يرحلوا عن دنيانا حتى ندعو لهم بالرحمة والمغفرة، ولتظل ذكراهم معنا بعد وفاتهم.

الله يرحمك يا عم محمد.

Was Tahrir Ever Utopia?

The sit-in in Tahrir the first time around was nothing short of Utopia. Or so it seemed to many of us.

People from all classes and backgrounds of a segregated, elitist, and classist society stood side by side, shared food, discussions, and jokes, and took bullets for one another.  Everyone looked after everyone else (though it got a bit chaotic during the larger protests on Fridays and Tuesdays). Women were not harassed. People were cleaning up after themselves. Medics volunteered their time and risked their lives to save lives and help those who have been injured.

I had hoped that we would be able to take this unspoken code of ethics we developed in Tahrir out into our everyday lives. Making our everyday lives utopia was not what I was expecting or hoping for, but I was hoping for a drastic improvement, a few steps towards a more permanent utopia.

Soon after, I realised that I was looking at the world through rose tinted glasses. We need another revolution specifically to clean the garbage and stop littering, and another revolution just for sexual harassment.

We took to Tahrir again, and I was looking forward to reliving this utopia. But I have not been able to find it. I am disappointed now that we are back to the square, we are unable to achieve the utopia we once had there.

I was harassed several times in Tahrir the last days. Even carrying supplies to the field hospitals, I was harassed. Now,  are these thugs or police in civilian clothes, or normal agenda-free Egyptians (those who only have the “harass-women-agenda”)? I could not tell.

I wonder today, was Tahrir ever utopia? Or did we just want to see and experience utopia, and we thus imagined it? I feel that perhaps it was not as perfect as I remember it being. I just remember the perfection because of the circumstances then. Was I blinded by hope and optimism?