Islam and Homosexuality
Behind the Mask website for LGBT Africa
Human Rights Watch: In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct by Scott Long, March 2004
Gay Middle East Web Site: http://www.gaymiddleeast.com/
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah
7th January 2008, pinknews.co.uk
A lesbian sex scene in an Egyptian film has outraged religious scholars, who are telling people not to watch the ‘sinful’ movie. An Islamic Studies professor at Cairo University wants the Egyptian authorities to prosecute the director and both actresses involved in the scene, Ghada Abdel-Razeq and Sumaya Al-Khashab. Dr Abdel-Sabour Shahin believes the film, Hina Maysara (Until Further Notice), promotes homosexuality and debauchery and destroys morality in society. Muslim teachers at Al-Azhar University have also slammed the film and support Shahin’s indignation. One professor at the University, Elwi Amin, claimed there was no lesbianism in Egypt. He also said that watching scenes of a sexual nature, whether homosexual or heterosexual, was a sin. “Many people in Egypt do not even know what the word ‘lesbianism’ means. This is the influence of immoral Western culture which controls the media,” he told the Al Arabiya News Channel.
One of the actresses, Sumaya Al-Khashab, does not regret making the scene and highlighted it was important to the narrative of the movie: “Whoever watches the movie will realize that this scene was important to the storyline and is not included just to be sensational,” she said.
This was not the first homosexual scene in Egyptian cinema, although the previous scene involved men instead of women. Director Khaled Youssef asked people to watch the film before they made up their minds: “I will not respond to those who criticise without even watching the movie. Lots of people accuse me of apostasy and immorality based on seeing the film poster.”
Although Egyptian law does not explicitly forbid homosexuality, the practice is considered taboo in what is a conservative and mostly Muslim country. Most Egyptians look down on homosexuality, which leads very few Egyptian LGBTs to come out of the closet. Furthermore, the Egyptian government has been known for arresting homosexuals on the grounds of “offences against public morals and sensitivities” or “violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity.”
Any group or meeting of LGBT people is entirely underground and secret.
6th February 2008, pinknews.co.uk
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
Four men convicted last month by a court in Cairo of consensual homosexual sex are the victims of state prejudice against people with HIV, according to a leading human rights organisation. A series of arrests began when one man, challenged by police during a street altercation with another man, told officers he is HIV positive. Both were arrested and investigated for homosexual conduct, assaulted while in custody, forced to sign false statements and then had to undergo anal examinations that would be used as “proof” they had sex, says Human Rights Watch.
“These shocking arrests and trials embody both ignorance and injustice,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at HRW. “Egypt threatens not just its international reputation but its own population if it responds to the HIV/AIDS epidemic with prison terms instead of prevention and care.” HRW contends that forced examinations are both medically spurious and constitute torture.
Two other men were arrested after their phone numbers because their photographs or telephone numbers were found on the first two detainees. HRW reports that the Egyptian authorities subjected all to HIV tests without their consent. All four are still in detention. The first two arrestees, who reportedly tested HIV-positive, are being held in a Cairo hospital, handcuffed to their beds and only unchained for an hour each day. Although Egyptian law does not explicitly forbid homosexuality, the practice is considered taboo in what is a conservative and mostly Muslim country.
The men were prosecuted for the “habitual practice of debauchery.” The Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested homosexuals on the grounds of “offences against public morals and sensitivities” or “violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity.” According to defence attorneys, the prosecution case was based their case only on coerced and repudiated statements taken from the men, and neither called witnesses nor produced other evidence to counter the men’s pleas of not guilty.
On Saturday a Cairo appeals court upheld their one-year prison sentence. HRW reports that one of them is held in a Cairo hospital, chained to his bed 23 hours a day. Most Egyptians look down on homosexuality, which leads very few Egyptian LGBTs to come out of the closet. Any group or meeting of LGBT people is entirely underground and secret.
“These cases show Egyptian police acting on the dangerous belief that HIV is not a condition to be treated but a crime to be punished,” said Mr Long. “HIV tests forcibly taken without consent, ill-treatment in detention, trials driven by prejudice, and convictions without evidence all violate international law.”
HRW has written to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor to express grave concern about the arrests and their consequences for Egypt’s efforts against HIV/AIDS and urged the authorities to drop the charges, end the practice of chaining detainees in hospital, and ensure that the men receive the highest available standard of medical care for any serious health conditions. It also urged Egypt to undertake training for all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV, and to halt immediately all testing of detainees without their consent.
15th February 2008, pinknews.co.uk
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
Cairo police have arrested four more men suspected of having HIV, signaling a wider crackdown that endangers public health and violates basic human rights in Egypt, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in a joint statement. The recent arrests bring to 12 the number of men held in a campaign against people police suspect of being HIV-positive. Four have already been sentenced to a year in jail and eight are still in custody. The most recent arrests occurred after police used information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Programme of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Two of the newly detained men tested positive for HIV. One had his detention extended by 15 days at his 12 February court hearing, with the prosecutor and judge both claiming he was a danger to public health. Another has a hearing scheduled for 23 February. As in all previous cases, authorities forced the new detainees to undergo HIV testing without their consent. All those testing positive have been held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds.
Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said: “Arbitrary arrests, forcible HIV tests, and physical abuse only add to the disgraceful record of Egypt’s criminal justice system, where torture and ill-treatment are greeted with impunity.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also called on Egyptian authorities to respect the men’s human rights and to immediately release them so as not to cause lasting damage to the country’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, said: “In their misguided attempt to apply Egypt’s unjust law on homosexual conduct, authorities are carrying on a crackdown against people living with HIV/AIDS. This not only violates the most basic rights of people living with HIV. It also threatens public health, by making it dangerous for anyone to seek information about HIV prevention or treatment.”
The current wave of arrests began in October 2007, when police intervened between two men having an argument on a street in central Cairo. When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct. Police demanded the names of their friends and sexual contacts during interrogations. The two men told lawyers that officers slapped and beat them for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them.
The men spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, and were left to sleep on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct. Such forcible examinations to detect “evidence” of homosexuality are not only medically spurious, but also can amount to torture. Police then arrested two more men because their photographs or telephone numbers were found on the first two detainees. Authorities subjected all four men to HIV tests without their consent. All four are still in detention, pending prosecutors’ decisions on whether to bring charges of homosexual conduct. The first two arrestees, who reportedly tested HIV-positive, are still being held in hospital, handcuffed to their beds. A prosecutor reportedly told one of the men who tested positive for HIV: “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”
March 6, 2008, Behind the Mask
by Nthateng Mhlambiso (BTM Senior Reporter)
HIV positive status is still being associated with homosexuality in Egypt, hence punishable. This came in the wake of arrest of twelve men after one of them disclosed to police that he was living with Aids, and was instantly condemned for homosexuality.
As in many countries in the world, homosexuals – particularly gay men – were commonly seen as HIV and Aids carriers. In Egypt they are still perceived like that and HIV and Aids is also associated with drug users according to sources. These arrests began in October last year when police stopped two men jostling each other on a street in central Cairo. After one of them told the police officers that he was HIV positive, he was then immediately taken with the other to the Morality Police Office and a case of homosexual conduct was instigated against them.
The men told human rights defenders that they were slapped and beaten for refusing to sign statements the police wrote.
They spent four days at the Morality Police Office handcuffed to an iron desk and sleeping on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to prove that they had engaged in homosexual conduct. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), such examinations to ‘detect evidence’ of homosexuality are not only spurious but constitute torture.
Furthermore, police arrested two more men because their photographs and telephone contacts were found from the detainees where they were all forced to undertake an HIV test without their consent, and one of them tested positive. Those tested positive were sent to Cairo Hospital where they were handcuffed to their beds for some days.
Later on, on 20 November, police raided an apartment and arrested four men in connection of homosexuality. A Cairo court convicted these four men on 13 January this year under Article 9 (c) of Law 10/1961, which criminalises the ‘habitual practice of debauchery’.
On 15 February, Cairo Police arrested four more men suspected of having HIV, bringing to 12 of the men being arrested. Meanwhile HRW called upon Egyptian authorities to overturn convictions of these men for the ‘habitual practice of debauchery’. “ These shocking arrests and trials embody both ignorance and injustice. Egypt threatens not just its international reputation but its own reputation if it responds to the HIV/Aids epidemic with prison terms instead of prevention and care”, Scott Long, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at HRW said.
Long added that these cases show that Egyptian police believe that HIV is not a condition to be treated, but a crime to be punished for.
In private letters sent to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, last November and again in January this year, HRW expressed its grave concern about the arrests and their consequences for Egypt’s efforts against HIV and Aids. The HRW urged Egypt to undertake training for all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV, and to halt immediately testing of detainees without their consent.
In a joint statement with Amnesty International, the HRW also called on the Egyptian authorities to respect human rights, and to immediately release the men to avoid causing damage to Egypt’s HIV and Aids prevention efforts.
Asked whether the HRW is planning to take any further steps if their demands are not met, Gasser Abdel-Razek, the HRW representative in Cairo said that they can only be able to publicly inform people about the case, involve those who can be able to help and use the media.
“ We believe that involving the media and publicly informing people about the case has made an impact”, Abdel-Razek said.
Currently most Egyptians see homosexuality and trangenderism as forbidden and detestable. The Egyptian government uses the National Security Courts and various laws to arrest LGBTI people at night clubs, private events and at online chartrooms. Most LGBTI native Egyptians and foreigners live in the closet.
The Egyptian government started to allow confidential HIV testing in 2005 but still people are afraid in case it is found out that they are positive because they would be labeled homosexuals and subject them to jail.
Four have been sentenced to a one year imprisonment while four are still in custody. The other four are at hospital. However, the HRW condemned this saying it threatens justice and public health in Egypt.
7th April 2008, pinknews.co.uk
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
More than 115 organisations that advocate human rights and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS have protested to the government of Egypt over a spate of recent arrests. The groups signing the letter represent 41 countries on six continents, among them Human Rights Watch and Amnesty. In a letter to the Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate, the groups said that doctors who helped interrogate men jailed on suspicion of being HIV-positive violated their own medical ethics. Five more men face trial in Cairo on Wednesday in what has been called “a police crackdown” on people living with HIV/AIDS. At least 12 men have been arrested and four have already been sentenced to a year in jail.
The most recent arrests occurred after police used information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Programme of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). As in all previous cases, authorities forced the new detainees to undergo HIV testing without their consent. All those testing positive had been held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds. After a domestic and international outcry, the Ministry of Health finally ordered the men unchained on 25th February. All the men were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term which in Egyptian law includes consensual sexual acts between men.
EIPR reportedly found a document from the Ministry of Health and Population titled Questionnaire for Patients with HIV/AIDS in one of the men’s case files. It includes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions that doctors from the ministry apparently use to interrogate people in the crackdown about whether they had sexual relations ‘with the other sex’ or ‘with the same sex,’ and ‘with one person’ or ‘with more than one person.’ Prosecutors included the men’s answers that they had relations with the same sex as evidence of their guilt.
Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme of Amnesty International, said: “It is unacceptable for doctors to perform forcible HIV tests, or to examine people to ‘prove’ offences that should never be criminalised. Doctors who engage in or enable human rights abuses are violating their most elemental responsibilities.”
Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at Human Rights Watch, said: “Doctors must put patients first, not join a witch-hunt driven by prejudice. Now more than 100 human rights groups are reminding Egyptian doctors of the oath they took to respect patients’ privacy, autonomy, and consent. This is one of the oldest traditions of medical responsibility, as well as an obligation under human rights law.”
To read the letter from 117 health and human rights organisations to Egypt’s Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate click here.
April 8, 2008, Bloomberg
by Daniel Williams
(Bloomberg) – The young men who loitered at the west end of the Qasr El-Nil Bridge in Cairo spied the blue pickup truck, a sign they should scatter.
“They’re police,” said Ahmed A., making a two-finger gesture on his shoulder to indicate epaulets. “They park and the pigs come out and grab everyone they can.”
For three months, Egyptian police have embarked on periodic sweeps of downtown streets to clear them of presumed homosexuals. The raids, independent observers and human-rights activists say, reflect not simply official disgust. They’re part of an effort by governments throughout the Middle East to out-moralize Islamic parties that have denounced the perceived depravity of Arab societies under autocratic rule. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Egypt, though it is a convenient target, says Hani Shukrallah, executive director of the Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism in Cairo.
“Meaningless crackdowns have become a regular thing,” Shukrullah says. “If not gays, devil worshippers. If not devil worshippers, apostates. The government needs to outbid Islamic opponents as guardian of morals.” In January, six men in Morocco were accused of homosexual conduct, a crime in that country, after a video circulated that showed one dancing at a wedding dressed as a woman, according to Amnesty International.
`Prisoners of Conscience’
The men were sentenced to jail terms of four to 10 months. “Persons imprisoned solely on the basis of their alleged or real sexual orientation are prisoners of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released,” London-based Amnesty said in a statement. Last December, Kuwait’s parliament passed a law that criminalized “imitating the appearance of the opposite sex.” Subsequent roundups netted at least 16 suspects, New York-based Human Rights Watch reported March 31, adding that three detainees were beaten. The suppressive wave created another stir among human- rights activists in February when Egypt’s morality police arrested two men on a Cairo street. One said he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The police threw both in jail and, by inspecting their mobile phones, found the numbers of 10 acquaintances, whom they also arrested. They forced all to submit to HIV testing, according to the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Four were sentenced to a year in prison for debauchery, a crime under Egyptian law defined as having sex for money or with a number of partners over an extended period. Five of the remaining eight face trial April 9 on the same charge, even though they were found to be free of disease. “From a public-health perspective, this is dangerous,” says Suha Abdelati, an EIPR official. “It forces people underground.”
On April 7, 117 human-rights organizations from 41 countries sent a letter to the Egyptian Health Ministry and a government-sponsored doctors’ union condemning the crackdown and participation of medical personnel. “Doctors must put patients first, not join a witch-hunt driven by prejudice,” Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release. The Egyptian government’s National AIDS Program provides testing and treatment. When asked to comment about the impact of the arrests, Zein El-Din Abedeen, an official, says, “we’re not allowed to talk about.” Ashraf El-Enany, a spokesman at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, declined to comment.
Against this backdrop, it’s dangerous to “come out,” a fundamental virtue in Western gay-activist thinking. Take Behaa Saber Semeda, 35. Police first arrested him at a Cairo cafe in 1997 with a group of friends. He says he was beaten into signing a confession to prostitution; a court sentenced him to six months imprisonment. He appealed and remained free while the case languished for more than five years, during which he served in the army and worked in restaurants. In 2003, he asked a court to dismiss his case on the grounds that the statue of limitations had expired. Instead, he was sent to prison.
In 2005, he became politically active, creating a double whammy. He says police found him with a Human Rights Watch report and jailed him for six days. In 2006, he was caught in a roundup of anti-government demonstrators and detained for 15 days. In 2007, he was charged with disturbing the peace at a pro-democracy rally. That case is pending.
He says he’s unemployed and lives off his family. “I don’t have a future,” he says, noting his original conviction for debauchery is still in his record. “If they don’t get me for being gay, they’ll get me for being anti-government.”
Ahmed A., a 20-year-old computer student, says he has no intention of letting his predilections become public. He meets acquaintances in homes or wanders the streets for entertainment. There are a few clandestine bath houses and movie theaters where gays gather, he says. “We don’t go to discos,” he says. “In Egypt, everyone will push you away if you are gay.” Ahmed and four gay friends decamped to Tahrir Square, a crowded spot where hanging out attracts little attention. Still, they were on the lookout when a pal rushed up and put his fingers to his shoulders. “There’s a policeman over there,” he said, pointing to a man in a loose-fitting civilian jacket.
The group walked slowly up Talaat Harb Street and disappeared into the crowd.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 26, 2008, news.yahoo.com
by Alain Navarro
A lonely voice in a conservative society, rising Egyptian film star Amr Waked is speaking out against his country’s unofficial policy of jailing people suffering with AIDS. “It’s insane that this happens in our country!” said Waked, whose controversial roles — including playing alongside an Israeli actor — have made him the target of press attacks. Together with celebrity actor Khaled Abul Naga, who was recently appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Waked has taken on the task of getting Egypt to face the taboo of AIDS. “The deliberate confusion (around the issue) must stop — stigmatisation does not help the fight against AIDS,” he said, adding that he hopes to be part of a new generation dedicated to shattering such persistent stereotypes.
On April 9 a Cairo court jailed five men, four of them HIV-positive, for three years on charges of “debauchery” linked to homosexuality in what rights groups called a “witch-hunt.” “Three of them broke down in tears and the two others were just stunned,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the rare NGOs in the country to defend homosexuals. The five were forced to have HIV tests and were chained to hospital beds until the results became known. While homosexuality itself is not included in a list of sexual offences explicitly outlawed by Egypt’s Islamic-inspired legislation, it can be punished under several different laws on morality.
According to law number 10 of 1961, “debauchery” is the loose term used to criminalise sex between homosexuals. “They have appealed the court ruling but remain in prison. We don’t know if they have access to care,” Wessam al-Beih, country director of UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, told AFP. Since October seven other homosexuals have been arrested and forced to take HIV tests, enduring insult and humiliation and being chained to beds, Bahgat said.
Three were released but the four others were each sentenced to a year behind bars. The local press and local non-governmental organisations have hardly batted an eyelid over the treatment of the homosexuals, but 117 international NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the crackdown and illegal testing by doctors. Bahgat believes this is not so much an attack against the gay community as it is a clampdown on AIDS, however. “Unlike incidents in the past this is not a renewed homophobic attack, but it’s an offensive against AIDS via security measures,” he said.
In 2001 a raid on the “Queen Boat,” a floating nightclub on the Nile in an upmarket Cairo neighbourhood, ended with the arrest of 52 gay men, half of whom were charged with debauchery and offending Islam. For Waked, “deep ignorance of AIDS is coupled with religious prejudices. These convictions will only further reinforce prejudices while making the fight against AIDS all the more difficult,” he said. Abul Naga echoes the view. “The convictions are very worrying, increasing the idea that AIDS is not a disease to treat but a crime to punish,” he told AFP. “People will be too scared to take an HIV test voluntarily.”
But the country’s religious authorities take a different view. “It is a disease sent by God to punish sexual deviants,” said Sheikh Mohammed Saleh from Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. For years, the authorities have denied or sought to minimise the existence of AIDS in Egypt, and even today official figures on people living with AIDS do not exist.
“It goes from 2,000 to 17,000 people living with AIDS, but Egypt is one of the countries with the highest rate of increase,” said Beih from UNAIDS, estimating that 80 percent of women sufferers were infected by their husbands. But Waked, who starred in the film “Aquarium” which talks of HIV, remains hopeful that society is changing. “Egypt is starting to move forward, a whole generation is waiting for it.”
May 30, 2008, pinknews.co.uk
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A Cairo appeals court has upheld the sentences handed down to five men jailed as part of a ‘crackdown’ on men who are HIV positive or living with AIDS. Nine men have been sent to prison so far. “To send these men to prison because of their HIV status is inhuman and unjust,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at Human Rights Watch. “Police, prosecutors, and doctors have already abused them and violated their most basic rights, and now fear has trumped justice in a court of law.”
As in previous cases, authorities forced the detainees to undergo HIV tests without their consent. Four of the five convicted last month tested positive. They were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term which in Egyptian law includes consensual sexual acts between men. These convictions occurred after police used information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Programme of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). A lawyer for the five men has claimed they were beaten by police who tried to get them to confess to homosexual acts.
More than 115 organisations that advocate human rights and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS have protested to the government of Egypt. The groups signing the letter represent 41 countries on six continents, among them Human Rights Watch and Amnesty. In a letter to the Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate, the groups said that doctors who helped interrogate men jailed on suspicion of being HIV-positive violated their own medical ethics. EIPR reportedly found a document from the Ministry of Health and Population titled Questionnaire for Patients with HIV/AIDS in one of the men’s case files. It includes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions that doctors from the ministry apparently use to interrogate people in the crackdown about whether they had sexual relations ‘with the other sex’ or ‘with the same sex,’ and ‘with one person’ or ‘with more than one person.’ Prosecutors included the men’s answers that they had relations with the same sex as evidence of their guilt.
Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme of Amnesty International, said: “It is unacceptable for doctors to perform forcible HIV tests, or to examine people to ‘prove’ offences that should never be criminalised. Doctors who engage in or enable human rights abuses are violating their most elemental responsibilities.”
The current wave of arrests began in October 2007, when police intervened between two men having an argument in the street in central Cairo. When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct. Police demanded the names of their friends and sexual contacts during interrogations. The two men told lawyers that officers slapped and beat them for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them. The men spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, and were left to sleep on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct. Such forcible examinations to detect “evidence” of homosexuality are not only medically spurious, but also can amount to torture.
On January 14, 2008, a Cairo court sentenced four of those men to one-year prison terms on “debauchery” charges. An appeals court upheld those sentences on February 2. The five defendants whose appeal was rejected this week were tried in March. Authorities released three other men, who tested negative for HIV, without charge, after months in detention. Police and guards beat several of the men in detention. A prosecutor told one of the men that he had tested positive for HIV by saying, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”
The prisoners who tested positive were chained to their beds in hospitals for months. After a local and international outcry, the Ministry of Health ordered the men unchained on February 25.
“Putting these men in prison serves neither justice nor public health,” Mr Amon said. “The Egyptian government and the country’s medical profession must act to end this campaign of intolerance.”
08 June 2008
Egypt has banned female circumcision. The procedure can only be carried out if there is a medical necessity to do so. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, opposes the ban because it says the honour of women should be protected. In 2007, the Egyptian government decided that only doctors could carry out the procedure. Last year the rules were tightened even further. In spite of this, female circumcision still takes place on a large scale in Egypt. Anyone breaking the new law could face up to two years in prison.
Ali Orhan is laughing. We’re sitting in the caff in the Docklands Asda – no expenses spared here at Attitude! – and he is chuckling the most terrible, melancholic chuckle I have ever heard. He is describing a day eighteen years ago when he picked up his parents at Heathrow airport. He was 21 years old, and they were returning from their annual holiday to Turkey. Ali knew he was gay – he had always known – but his sexuality wasn’t flickering across his mind that that summer day, as he stood waiting in the arrivals lounge. He saw them waddling towards him with their suitcases and a strange woman. He waved. He had bought his mother a bunch of flowers. His parents had brought something for him too: a wife.
“Within five days, we were married,” he says now, his dark laughter melted away. “It had always been there as I was growing up, I suppose, this knowledge that marriage was compulsory, and that you only had sex within marriage. It was like going through puberty or growing a beard, something that just happened to you. But I was in denial. And then it happened, so suddenly, and I couldn’t see any way out.”
Growing up in Britain’s Turkish community in the 1970s, Islam was more a cultural presence than a deep religious commitment. “Religion wasn’t a huge thing in our family. My younger brothers don’t even believe. The only time we discussed faith was when my parents wanted to end an argument: it’s in the Koran. You can’t argue with it. It’s the word of God.” And the word of God, it seemed to Ali then, was that Turkish boys marry the girls their parents select for them. “We stayed married for ten months. I never tried to kid myself. She was very attractive, articulate, and a lovely person, but there was no way I was ever going to be attracted to her physically. I knew I was never going to fulfil her or be the husband she deserved, and the guilt was eating me. She had given up everything in Turkey – her whole life – for me, and I had nothing to offer her.”
“The one thing I did that I’m proud of in that whole terrible part of my life is that I never consummated the marriage,” he continues, in a soft, measured voice. “We shared a bed for ten months but we never had sex. I knew that once we had slept together, she would be seen a ruined goods and she would never be able to marry again. She obviously couldn’t understand my attitude, and began to think there was something wrong with her. She even tried coming on to me, which for a Muslim woman is an incredibly humiliating thing.” Ali was so afraid of telling his parents about his sexuality that he tried to make his wife leave him. He got male friends to put lipstick on his collar so she would think he had another woman. He would stay out late without any explanation. Nothing worked.
“Then one night I came home and finally told her I couldn’t ever love her,” he says. “There was a phenomenal amount of family and community pressure for us to not get divorced. Getting permission took another three months. Finally my parents gave in, but on one condition: that I take her back to her parents in Turkey and explain why.” It was potentially a death-wish: go to a very conservative part of Turkey, and tell a group of religious men that you are divorcing their daughter because you’re gay. Ali went. “My one saving grace in their eyes was that I hadn’t ‘defiled’ her. Because of that, I survived.” He lived – but the day he returned, his parents explained that he was no longer their son. They told him bluntly that they never wanted to see him again, not even on their deathbeds.
Nearly two decades later, there is still complete silence from all of his relatives. I ask if he is angry with them. “No,” he says, almost surprised by the question. “I had tarnished the whole family’s character: their eldest son wasn’t a man, he hadn’t slept with his wife. I don’t blame them for what they did. It was damage limitation for them within the community. That was their whole world, and if they had stood by me, that world would have come crashing down. They would have been outcasts. What right have I got to ask them to do that? They had to choose between their son or their world.”
There is a family eating their dinner two tables away from us. I wish they would leave; I wish Ali never had to see another family again. After such a terrible experience, it would seem natural for Ali to renounce Islam, the religion that seemed to wreck his life. But he explains, “If anything, I’ve become more religious since leaving home. I have a much stronger understanding of my faith now. In times of crisis, it’s my faith I turn to. At my lowest point, when I was first expelled from my world, it was Islam that kept me from the edge. I would have committed suicide without my faith.”
“The only thing I have left that identifies me with my family, with my community, with my life before I was disowned, is my religion,” he continues. “Nobody can take that away from me. It’s the last shred of the person I used to be.” He considers himself today to be a devout Muslim – indeed, more devout than many of the people who cast him out. “It’s not like the Muslim community isn’t aware that there are gay Muslims. But as long as they stay married and only have gay sex on the side, they’re tolerated. I think that’s disgusting, and I wasn’t going to play that game. If I had been a hypocrite, if I had cheated on my wife and actually been a much worse Muslim, then I would still be with my family and my community.”
Yet he believes that the Koran does clearly condemn homosexuality. “If there was any pro-gay interpretation, I would have seized on it. The only ammunition I have is that the Koran makes it clear that no Muslim has the right to judge another Muslim. Only Allah has that right.” Ten years ago, the words ‘gay’ and ‘Muslim’ seemed like polar opposites, and an out gay Muslim seemed as probable as a black member of the Ku Klux Klan. All of the seven countries that treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death are Muslim. Of the 82 countries where being gay is a crime, 36 are predominantly Muslim. Even in democratic societies, Islam remains overwhelmingly anti-gay. Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of North America, says “homosexuality is a moral disease, a sin, a corruption… No person is born homosexual, just as nobody is born a thief, a liar or a murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.”
Sheikh Sharkhawy, a cleric at the prestigious London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, compares homosexuality to a “cancer tumour.” He argues “we must burn all gays to prevent paedophilia and the spread of AIDS,” and says gay people “have no hope of a spiritual life.” The Muslim Educational Trust hands out educational material to Muslim teachers – intended for children! – advocating the death penalty for gay people, and advising Muslim pupils to stay away from gay classmates and teachers.
But some gay people like Ali have begun to contest this reading of Islam. There have been a small number of groups for gay Muslims over the past twenty years, and their history is not encouraging. A San Francisco-based group called the Lavender Crescent Society sent five members to Iran in 1979 after the Islamic revolution there to spur an Iranian gay movement. They were taken straight from the airport to a remote spot and shot dead. Gay Iranians went underground straight after. Even in the West, a Toronto-based group called Min-Alaq was formed in the early 1990s but closed down after fundamentalists threatened to murder all its members.
And then came Al-Fatiha. With seven branches across the United States and offices in London, Johannesburg and Toronto, these gay Muslims ain’t going to shut up or scuttle away. They are here and they are fighting. The group – whose name is taken from a Koranic term meaning ‘the beginning’ or ‘the opening’ – was set up in 1997 by Faisal Alam. Faisal, now 27, arrived in Connecticut from Pakistan when he was 10 years old. In an unfamiliar rural area with “more cows than people”, he explains, he found his faith a source of comfort and inspiration. He became very active in the local mosque and a leader in his Muslim youth group. Yet when he was sixteen he began to realise something was wrong – “something I didn’t have a word for.”
He started a relationship with an older male convert to Islam, but it fizzled out and – in the classic gay Muslim pattern – he became engaged to a very religious woman. Fortunately, she broke it off after a year because “she had a feeling in her heart that something was deeply wrong.” When he started college, Faisal embarked on a dual existence: the good Muslim boy by day and the gay boy by night. His parents found out about his sexuality when someone copied some of his internet messages to a gay chat-line and distributed them at his family’s mosque. “My mom’s first reaction was to say, ‘You can’t be a Muslim any more,’” he explains.
Nineteen and desolate, he sent out an e-mail that started an avalanche. “Is anyone out there a gay Muslim?” he asked in a discussion list linking Muslim student societies across the US. Most of the responses were filled with revulsion – “There is no such thing as a gay Muslim!” they howled. But there was a trickle saying, “I though I was the only one.” As a network for those people – and for gay Muslims across the globe – he established al Fatiha. “The Muslim community as a whole is in complete and utter denial about homosexuality,” he explains. “The conversation hasn’t even begun. We are about 200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues. Homosexuality is still seen as a Western disease that infiltrates Muslim minds and societies.”
He admits that al Fatiha is dealing with troubled, torn people. “For each of us, it’s a struggle. Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslims who have accepted their sexuality leave the faith. They don’t see the chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive.” One gay man – who asked not to be named – summarised this belief that the two poles of his identity could never meet: “It’s a choice between praying and sucking cock,” he said. “You can’t do both.”
Yet Faisal is trying to articulate a pro-gay Islam. He believes that the homophobia of most contemporary Muslims is based not on their faith but on their culture, and there is a surprising amount of scholarly research to back him up. The punishment for almost all crimes is laid out very clearly in the Koran – 100 lashes for fornication, for example – but there is no punishment mentioned for homosexuality anywhere. There is one passage that is often interpreted as legally forbidding homosexuality, but it is comparatively mild: “And as for the two of you who are guilty thereof, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah is merciful.”
There are seven references in the Koran to the “people of Lut” – named ‘Lot’ in the Christian and Jewish holy texts – which is a town destroyed for the immorality of its men. But the conventional interpretation – that this ‘immorality’ took the form of gay sex – is increasingly being contested. Mushin Hendriks, an American Muslim scholar and a gay man, claims that the story of Lut “sees God destroying men because of male rape, sodomy and promiscuity. But there is a difference between sodomy and homosexuality, between rape and love. The story says nothing about homosexual love.”
During the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime, there was not a single recorded case of a punishment or execution for homosexuality. It is only two generations after Mohammed, under the third Caliph, Omar, that a gay man was burned alive for his ‘crime’. Even then, it was fiercely debated, and many scholars argued that this was contrary to the traditions of the Prophet.
Several scholars and historians have proven that homosexuality was fairly common at the time of the Prophet. They have also shown that at certain points in history gay people were much more tolerated – and indeed, sometimes celebrated – in Muslim societies than in Europe. Before the twentieth century, the regions of the world with the most prominent and diverse gay behaviours on display were in northern Africa and southwestern Asia – Muslim lands. The current gay-hating, homo-cidal climate in Muslim countries is a fairly recent invention.
Look, for example, at the homoerotic poetry that flourished in Spain after the Muslim conquest in 711. This is stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in the porn section of Clonezone: “I gave him what he asked for, made him my master/ My tears streamed out over the beauty of his cheeks” and so on. Or how about the ninth century Caliph of Baghdad, who “gave himself over entirely to dissipated pleasure in the company of his eunuchs and refused to take a wife”?
These pockets of gay freedom persisted in some areas right up to the early twentieth century, when Victorian colonial influence started to erode their tolerance away. For example, the oasis town of Siwa, located in the Libyan desert of Western Egypt, sounds like something from a Bel Ami movie. The anthropologist Walter Cline described it in the 1930s: “All normal Muslim Siwan men and boys practice sodomy. Among themselves the natives are not ashamed of this; they talk about it as openly as they talk about love of women and many, if not most, of their fights arise from homosexual competition.”
Another visitor, the archaeologist Count Bryron de Prorock reported “an enthusiasm that could not have been approached even in Sodom. Homosexuality was not only rampant, it was raging.” Men would marry each other with great ceremony, and this was only stamped out – by non-Muslims – in the 1930s.
Al Fatiha is not as mad a project, then, as it might initially seem. Along with the homophobic strands, there have been strands in Muslim thought for a very long time encouraging tolerance of gay people; they have simply died away. Today, there are some groups who are prepared to kill in order to prevent a pro-gay Islam from being revived. In 2001, Al Mujharoun – a fanatical British-based fundamentalist group who believe in establishing “the Muslim Republic of Great Britain” – issued a fatwa against Al Fatiha. They said any member of Al-Fatiha is an apostate (traitor to the Muslim faith), and the punishment for apostasy is death.
Faisal refuses to be intimidated. “We’re challenging 1,400 years of dogma. There’s bound to be a battle,” he explains. Ali has had death threats too. A group of black-clad men even turned up at his flat one night “to make it very clear that if I wanted a quiet life I should shut up about being gay.” I asked if he considered being quiet. “No, I moved,” he laughs.
Despite the threat of violence, at least in democratic societies gay Muslims can wrestle with their dual identity. For most of the 50 million gay Muslims in the world, this isn’t an option. They are more likely to be worried about avoiding imprisonment or even execution. For example, when 52 gay men were recently arrested and jailed for attending an unofficial gay club in Egypt, even the Egypt Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) refused to condemn their prison sentences. EOHR’s Secretary-General, Hafez Abu Saada, said, “Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them.”
In Lebanon, one of the more free countries in the Middle East, a popular weekly TV programme – Al Shater Yahki – discusses sexuality and includes gay voices. Even there, every gay person speaks from behind a mask, or they would risk being killed.
Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest gay Catholic organisation, explains, “In many ways, Al-Fatiha and the first wave of gay Muslims exactly parallel where gay Catholics were 25 to 30 years ago. Our first five years were just about putting the words ‘gay’ and ‘Catholic’ in the same sentence. I pray they have a very deep faith.” And even now, the Catholic Church is hardly a model of tolerance. The Pope describes gay marriage as “evil”, calls on gay people to be celibate, and has acted at the United Nations to block protection of the human rights of gay people. But things are far better than they were for gay Christians. Gay Jews have made incredible progress, with the largest group of rabbis in America openly endorsing gay marriage.
Yes, the fight for tolerance within Islam is going to be very long and very painful. There will be many more casualties. But one day the beheading of gay men in the Middle East and the internal exile of men like Ali will be remembered the way we remember the burning of witches today. When that day comes, men like Ali Orhan and Faisal Alam will be seen as heroes.
April 28, 2009 – PinkNews
by Omar Hassan
In ‘All My Life’ (Toul Omri), Maher Sabry has ventured where no Arabic filmmaker has before. The film, which is undoubtedly the most daring and sexually explicit LGBT film ever to come out of the Arab world, tells the tale of 26-year-old Rami, an accountant living in Cairo. Omar Hassan speaks to the filmmaker about the film’s inspiration; its public reception, as well as the greater issue of LGBT rights in the Arab-speaking world.
What inspired you to make All My Life?
The film was a reaction to the Queen Boat raid that took place in Cairo in 2001. The security police arrested 52 men for ‘deriding religion’ in Emergency State Security Courts, which are special courts that were established to try terrorists (and certainly do not meet international standards of justice). The newspaper coverage of these events was outrageous. Some even went as far as to suggest that these men were members of a Satanist group.
At that time, when I was trying to organise a defence group to help the arrested men, I was shocked to find that some of the human rights activists didn’t want to interfere in the case because they did not want to discredit their other work, which they considered more important. But what was more shocking to me was that there were gay men who passed judgment on the victims and even disassociated themselves from them.
It was then that I started writing the film.
What kind of pressures did you face getting the film made and financed?
After writing the script it was obvious that it would stay in my drawer forever if I didn’t make it myself. The subject matter meant that it wouldn’t get any support from Middle Eastern production companies. The second resort was to seek western funding and grants. But I brushed off this option because I wanted to make a movie for us by us [for an Arab audience by an Arab filmmaker]. The main reason for this decision is that government-controlled-media in our part of the world insist that homosexuality is a Western vice. If I made the film myself, they could not accuse my views of being Westernised.
For this reason I had to finance the film myself using my money, my credit cards and my friends and family’s credit cards in addition to loans and donations.
It was shot against overwhelming odds in Cairo and California, and it took three years to finish shooting.
Was it difficult to find actors and crew to work on the project?
Absolutely, professional actors (even the ones who sympathise with the subject matter) won’t play the roles because they are afraid of destroying their careers. I had to use amateur actors and people with no previous experience.
I depended on volunteer work and the assistance of the community. Shooting in the street in borrowed locations and the homes of my friends and actors. There wasn’t any crew, in the sense of the word, so the cast of the movie doubled as key grips, boom operators, set builders and refreshment servers.
All the Egyptian street scenes were shot guerrilla-style due to government restrictions on street filming.
What was your goal with the project? Was it to benefit the lives of the LGBT community in Egypt and the Middle East?
Visibility was my first goal. We are starved for images of ourselves. All of the LGBT characters in Egyptian cinema tend to be pathetic. I wanted to change this and also encourage a straight audience to find familiarity in the story.
Have you depicted or told LGBT stories in the past? In other theatre or film work? If so, how was it received?
I wrote and directed The Harem (El-Haramlek) in 1998, a play about the roles we [the LGBT community] play and the expectations people demand of us. It was received well on the three nights we performed it, before it was cancelled. We had a full house on the first two nights and on the third night (because we knew it was our last chance to perform), we let everyone in, so people were standing on the isles and sitting on the floor.
The reactions were positive, and even the gay and lesbian scenes were greeted with applause every time, despite the fact that the majority of the audience was straight.
Of course, theatre audiences are more liberal then the average film viewer.
How was the All My Life received by audiences and critics in Egypt and abroad?
Unfortunately, the film hasn’t been screened publicly in Egypt. There have been a few private screenings and that’s it. Yet, the ex-Mufti [A Mufti is a scholar of Islamic Law] of Egypt, Dr Fareed Wasel, called for the banning and “immediate burning” of the movie, even without seeing it.
At the same time, Dr. Zein el Abedeen, Egypt’s Anti-AIDS Program Director stated that the film was “a painful blow to all our efforts to combat the spread of HIV.”
So I find myself facing two authorities a religious one and a scientific one, both ignoring reason and issuing negative judgment that most people [in the Middle East] accept and adopt.
Did you receive any threatening or violent reactions after the film’s release?
I received hate emails calling me names and warning me of the wrath of God and promising me His Almighty punishment. Some recite verses from the Koran describing the day of doom or verses from the Koran that describe the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah and promise me a similar fate
One even said that I’d turn into a salt pillar like Lot’s wife because I promote homosexuality. I also received an email with verses from the bible in Arabic [informing me that] Jesus will love me if I repent the message.
On the other hand, I received many more emails thanking, praising and encouraging me from LGBTQ people of the Arabic-speaking world as well as from heterosexual members of the Arab community.
Do you think the film has struggled to find an audience because of its subject matter?
On the contrary, the film has sold out at every festival it has been screened at. The Arab LGBTQ communities around the world are starving to see themselves presented on screen, and the heterosexual Arab communities are curious as well.
What are your future plans for the film?
It is traveling around the festival circuits and I hope to be able to distribute it on DVDs. When the festivals are over, I believe it’ll be for sale on the sidewalks in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Riyadh like all banned films are (through video piracy). This way, I know I may not recoup the money I spent on the film, but at least I will have achieved self-fulfillment.
Do you think that film/the Arts can be used as a means to help protect and defend LGBT rights in the Middle East?
Yes, visibility is a main factor in fighting prejudice and bigotry against LGBT community and other minority groups. Film, theatre and other forms of art are some of the means that this visibility can transpire. Having the LGBT society on screen can make the issue familiar and what is familiar is not scary and what is not scary becomes humane and deserves rights.
Omar Hassan is a UK-based writer and freelance journalist. Born in Cairo, Egypt, he has lived in the USA and Saudi Arabia and currently resides in the United Kingdom
October 8, 2009 – PinkNews
Egyptian newspaper banned for claiming actors were gay
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
An Egyptian newspaper has been banned for claiming that three high-profile actors were gay. The weekly independent Al Balagh Al Gadid claimed that Nour El Sherif, Khaled Aboul Naga and Hamdi El Wazir were questioned by police for allegedly being part of a gay prostitution ring. According to the newspaper, the activities were discovered at the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel in Cairo.
Police have denied the claims but the newspaper says they were bribed by the celebrities to keep the story quiet. Since the story broke last week, El Sheif, Naga and El Wazir have filed lawsuits against the newspaper’s chief editor, executive chief editor and a reporter. The newspaper has now been banned by the Egyptian Higher Council for Journalism.
Egypt, which is a predominantly Muslim country, does not specifcally prohibit homosexuality. However, it is deeply taboo and gays have been arrested under morality and decency laws. For many, being accused of homosexuality is worse than being accused of prostitution. According to the Los Angeles Times, El Sherif said: “Naming me among other homosexuals defamed me and all Egyptian artists. The Journalists’ Syndicate has to be firm with anyone trying to insult the dignity of Egyptian artists.”