Useful website for LGBT Africa: http://www.mask.org.za/
May 3, 2010 – Los Angeles Times
Egypt: Musicians group calls for cancellation of upcoming Elton John concert
The Egyptian Musicians’ Union is calling for the cancellation of a May 18 concert by Elton John after the singer’s recent comments about religion and his global promotion of homosexual rights, which many Muslims regard as an affront to Islam. "How do we allow a gay who wants to ban religions, claimed that prophet Eissa [Jesus] was gay, and calls for Middle Eastern countries to allow gays to have sexual freedom," Mounir El Wassimi, the head of the union, said Sunday.
The union controls who performs in Egypt, but it was unclear if concert promoters would attempt to go ahead with the show. John, a Grammy, Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, has made no secret of his homosexuality since the mid-’70s. He has been in a civil partnership with David Furnish since 2005. The 63-year-old performer recently sparked controversy when he spoke to Parade magazine in February of his belief that Jesus was gay and that all religions should be banned, adding that if a woman tries to be gay in the Middle East, she will be "as good as dead."
Homosexuality is one of the biggest sins in Islam, a religion that is practiced by nearly 90% of Egyptians. [Updated on May 4 at 3:30 p.m.: The original sentence — "Homosexuality is one of the biggest sins in Islam, which is practiced by nearly 90% of Egyptians" — was misinterpreted by some readers to mean that 90% of Egyptians practice homosexuality.] Despite human rights activists’ claims that homosexuality is spreading across the country, the issue remains a social and religious taboo. In 2001, 20 people received prison sentences for debauchery and obscene behavior after police raided what was described by authorities as a "gay disco" on a boat floating on the Nile in Cairo.
December 18, 2010 – Rebel With a Cause Blogspot
The Price of Stigma: Egypt, HIV and Sexuality
When it comes to discussing HIV/AIDS in Egypt, most probably you’d be faced by either one of two reactions: one that is characterized by fear, shock, and discomfort or a reaction marked by denial and disdain. I would like to discuss why.
AIDS has come to be associated with sex and death, and both topics are hard to digest in our culture. We avoid discussing sexuality-related issues in our adolescence within the family and formal education. Comprehensive sexuality education is nearly absent and only limited information are given through curriculums and has been further abridged recently. Little awareness exists of HIV, its modes of transmission, prevention, and treatment. No wonder then that most people experience feelings of discomfort and fear. However, we need to listen and understand attentively because ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hate!
Clearly, the biggest obstacle to HIV awareness work is the stigma against people living with HIV. People living with HIV have to suffer in silence, shameful to seek help or treatment and if it was revealed that they are HIV+, they’re shunned, mistreated by their community, workplace, and even their close and loved ones. This life of isolation is the killer in the case of HIV, rather than the disease itself. The stigma is even greater when it is coupled with being a member of Most At Risk Populations (MARPs). These are groups of people who more frequently engage in behaviors that lead to HIV transmission. These behaviors include unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and using the same injecting equipment. Such populations include men who have sex with men, female sex workers and their clients, and injecting drug users.
A comprehensive survey of Egyptian youth revealed that only 21% of them would be willing to interact with a person living with HIV, which is definitely disturbing. We all need to realize that stigmatizing those groups leads to higher spread of the virus into the community, by denying those people access to health and awareness services, and not allowing them to get the care and compassion they need. We need to face this, because we might have a low number of people living with HIV in Egypt, but the risk is even greater with this level of ignorance and stigma, plus we are not gods to judge their behaviors.
The second reaction of denial and scorn comes from the view that HIV is a Western problem and that our moral society and religiosity is enough to keep us away from it; they see that maintaining our ‘cultural norms’ is the solution to HIV, and all other problems perhaps! A mere reality check negates this view. However, some others question the amount of funding and prioritization given to HIV aid at the expense of improving overall health systems, which may be a valid concern. However, HIV remains a global issue that affect the life of millions. It demands nothing less than our diligent, tolerant attention.
January 1, 2011 – Sexuality Policy Watch
Winds of Change
by Sexuality Policy Watch Staff
Intro: As the world watches the tidal wave of revolution sweeping across northern Africa and the Middle East, the big question for the LGBT community is, how will this affect our people living there?
A democratic movement is sweeping across north Africa and the Middle East, but it’s still unclear exactly what it will bring for gays in the region
In 2009 Shiite militias rounded up, tortured and killed many “suspected gay men” in Iraq, an incident that was far from isolated; in 2010 a Saudi man was sentenced to 500 lashes and a five-year prison term for having sex with another man; in February this year police in Bahrain raided a “gay party” and arrested close to 200 people, 52 of whom are still in custody; in Turkey over the past two years more than a dozen transgender people have been murdered, with no charges laid in the majority of cases.
This is the Arab world, one of the worst places on the planet to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. As the international community watches the tidal wave of revolution and revolt that is sweeping across the region, toppling dictators and bringing democratic reforms, the big question for our community is, how will this affect LGBT people living there? Their lives have not been particularly good under the autocratic regimes they’ve endured for decades, but is democracy going to bring any improvement?
iceQueer (obviously not his real name) is a gay blogger and medical intern who was in Egypt’s Tahrir square during the protests earlier this year that saw president Hosni Mubarak driven from power. “It felt amazingly peaceful and cheerful,” he enthuses. “I love how diverse yet finally united Egypt is! I was holding a sign saying ‘secular’ in Arabic, English and French. We were all chanting that this protest is for the people and not for any party or religion.”
The chant of the protesters was “freedom, social justice and democracy” but it’s unclear yet how much of those will be given to the gay community. iceQueer is realistic about the chances of that happening in the short term. “You can’t ask for lots of changes that have different effects on people,” he says. “already asking for freedom and the fall of the regime bedazzled the whole country and its people, so imagine what would happen if we asked for LGBT rights? i believe Egypt’s LGBT community can only have its rights when Egypt becomes a real secular country.”
There’s still a long way to go to achieving that. iceQueer is out to his family and closest friends, but he has to be careful who else knows. there is no direct law prohibiting same-sex acts or relationships but the authorities still charge people under the Debauchery, Public Morals and Order statutes. “Most policemen play around a lot with words and the bugs in Egyptian law. They usually trap suspects by using words like debauchery when they ask them whether they practice same-sex sex or not, so they make suspects admit they practice ‘debauchery’.”
Of course, the situation could be a whole lot worse. Being gay in Egypt isn’t nearly as difficult – or life-threatening – as it is in devoutly Islamist countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where the death sentence remains in place. During Egypt’s revolution a lot of commentators spoke about the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, an avowedly homophobic islamist group, gaining greater influence. however, iceQueer plays down that possibility. “i don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood would have such an influence that would affect the majority of Egyptians.”
February 01, 2011 – OutImpact.com
Being Gay in Egypt: ‘Some of my best friends do not know me’
by Theodora Birch
“Denying who you are leads to acceptance.” In Egypt, laws on public morality are severe – homosexuality is seldom openly acknowledged. Whilst being gay is not technically illegal it is unacceptable in Egypt, it is frowned upon socially, culturally, religiously and politically. Gay people are vilified by the press and the public, Al Balagh Al Gadid, an independent weekly newspaper, was banned after accusing actors of homosexuality. The personal struggle of many young gay Egyptians is constant- they must deny who they are to survive. Yet despite hostility, there are many Egyptians out there hoping that society will change its strict laws and accept them for who they are.
“Mohammed” is a good-looking man in his early twenties with a successful career and a very open mind. I met him for the first time in a quiet little coffee shop in central Cairo. In perfect English he tells me that he hides a secret most of the time: he is gay.
Click here for a full transcript of our conversation. Mohammed touches on various issues: social perception, acceptance amongst his peers and family, as well as the personal struggle that he faces everyday with his religion and himself
February 03, 2011 – Housing Works
Mubarak’s AIDS Legacy: Torture, Deportation and Arrest for HIV-Positive People
Posted by Julie Turkewitz
In Egypt, the victims of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule haven’t just been government dissenters — they’ve also been people living with HIV. While receiving a hefty amount of U.S. foreign aid, Egypt has conducted mass deportations of HIV-positive foreigners and arrested, tortured and convicted HIV-positive people based on their status. “Police have blanket authority to intimidate certain populations,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “There’s a lot of homophobia, and police have targeted the communities, arrested gay men, gone through their address books [and] conducted forceful anal exams.”
Egypt’s National AIDS Program reports that there were 1,155 people living with HIV/AIDS in Egypt in 2007. UNAIDS, however, put the number much higher — at 5,300 — in 2005. Between 1986 and 2006, Egypt deported more than 700 foreigners with HIV, nearly all of whom were of African descent. All foreigners who apply for a work or residency visa must test for HIV, and those who test positive are immediately expelled.
The government frequently uses charges designed to criminalize homosexuality to also criminalize HIV-seropositivity. In 2007 and 2008, the government launched a crackdown on people living with HIV, arresting at least twelve men suspected of being HIV-positive, calling them a public health threat. Police beat several of them, later subjecting the arrested individuals to anal examinations to “prove” they had engaged in homosexual conduct. Authorities charged them with “habitual debauchery,” a term Human Rights Watch says Egypt uses to punish homosexuality, which is not specifically penalized in the country’s legal code.
Some were chained to their beds for days in a Cairo hospital. Authorities gave all of the men HIV tests without consent — those who tested positive were convicted to a maximum of three years in jail. “People like you should be burnt alive,” a prosecutor reportedly told one of the men, when informing him that he was HIV-positive. “You do not deserve to live.”
Omitting the facts
While Egypt is considered a low-HIV prevalence country, its own National AIDS Program warned in a 2009 report that “unless concerted efforts are made, this status might not prevail.” Indeed, Mubarak’s Egypt presents a number of troublesome risk factors that could foment a wider epidemic, including rising poverty, low condom use and an increasing number of people engaging in premarital sex. AIDS education is sparse: Less than five percent of females ages 15 to 24 have comprehensive knowledge of HIV, according to the government survey. Not surprisingly, however, the 21-page piece says nothing about how government-sanctioned brutality against homosexuals and HIV-positive people contributes to the spread of the virus. The government also left of out large pieces of information, such as the percentage of people who have had sex with more than one partner in the last year. That information, the report says, “is not relevant to country epidemic status.”
It’s unclear what a new government in Egypt would look like: It could be more repressive, which might mean continued attacks on HIV-positive people. If it’s one bent on expanding human rights, however, a measure of relief could be in sight. “The issue of police brutality in Egypt is larger than just the experience of men who have sex with men and of people with HIV,” said Amon. “Hopefully this pressure on the government and these protests bring real reform to the kinds of abuses that were taking place to a wide range of individuals that the government saw as dangerous or deviant or a threat to Egyptian society.”
February 16, 2011 – Gay City News
A Gay Voice from Tahrir Square
If the ongoing Egyptian people’s revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in just 18 days — after 30 years of dictatorship — quickly engulfed the whole country, its beating heart was always Cairo’s Tahrir Square (in Arabic, “Liberation Square”), for many years a gay cruising mecca. And gay people were among the millions of Egyptian citizens who made the revolution possible and joined the crowds who occupied the square to demand democracy and freedom from oppression.
This revolution was motored by young people through the Internet, and one of them was a well-educated, 22-year-old gay blogger and medical student who uses the pseudonym Ice Queer (“It’s a pun on ‘Ice Queen,’ as I’m a calm, cool person,” he explained). He was present in Tahrir Square during much of the protest, including last Friday, February 11, when Mubarak finally fell. Ice Queer was an early participant in what has been dubbed the “Facebook revolution” that harnessed the social network to organize the first protests in Tahrir Square and elsewhere on January 25. But social networking was a means to an end. What motivations led Ice Queer to join this movement and help mobilize the demonstrations?
“Because we were fed up of Mubarak and his regime,“ he told Gay City News in an interview conducted through a series of email exchanges. “I started participating after I made sure that the protests didn’t have any political or religious agenda from any party and that all protesters are protesting because we are Egyptians and humans who have been oppressed for decades! Also it gave me and others a great sense of self, because for so many years most of the Egyptian society was undervaluing the power and enthusiasm of us, the youth! Everything that everyone did mattered, even those who showed up in Tahrir Square just to support and show solidarity.”
On his first day of protest in Tahrir Square, Ice Queer said, “I was holding a sign saying ‘Secular’ in Arabic, English, and French, and also my friends (straight, gay, girls, Christians, and Muslims) were holding similar signs, and we all were chanting that this protest is for the people and not for any party or religion.” The multitudes in Tahrir Square reflected a veritable rainbow, as Ice Queer witnessed: “Gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Poor, Rich, Black, White, Nubian, Bedouin… Everyone was in Tahrir in a beautiful humanitarian image that I saw with my own eyes!”
Every step the Mubarak regime took — seesawing back and forth between violent repression and minor concessions — backfired, stiffening the protesters’ resolve to continue and swelling the crowds in Tahrir Square, Ice Queer said. Because he was on call in the hospital where he interns, he was not present in the square on the day Mubarak sent undercover police and thugs from the lumpenproletariat, paid 8 Euros a day, to attack the pro-democracy demonstrators with clubs, knives, and Molotov cocktails. With a tinge of regret, he wrote, “I don’t know if I should feel lucky or sorry that I wasn’t there on these days.”
But Ice Queer was fortunate, he said, to have been in Tahrir Square when Mubarak’s hand-picked vice president and notorious point man in the CIA’s rendition and torture program, Omar Suleiman, read a short statement on national television announcing that the dictator was stepping down and handing power over to the Military Council.
“On 11th of February, I was in Tahrir Square after Friday’s prayers,” he told this reporter, “and it was very peaceful as on most of the protests’ days. Shortly before the announcement of Omar Suleiman, I was on my way with my friends to grab a bite to eat from a place that’s about ten minutes away from the square, and while we were in the middle of that distance we heard a very loud cheer and cars joyfully tooting their horns. We couldn’t believe it because there was a ‘false alarm’ before, so we called our families for confirmation and we couldn’t have been happier!”
Unlike the previous day’s unrealized rumors that Mubarak would step down that evening, which had sent the square’s throngs into paroxysms of joy, Suleiman’s announcement on February 11 was for real.
“When we went back to the square, we were amazed!,” Ice Queer continued. “People were all hugging and congratulating each other, chanting ‘People indeed removed the system,’ ‘There is no people like the Egyptian people,’ and that ‘Mubarak should be prosecuted’. All the women started to do the popular Zaghrouta (ululation), some people were crying with joy, and some were dancing. Basically everyone was expressing his/ her joy the way he/ she knows to! For me, I was having goosebumps all of the time after Mubarak quit! I kept dancing and chanting with my friends and called my boyfriend to share the moment with him too.”
April 2011 – The Advocate
Say You Want a Revolution? – Regime change brings hope to Egyptian gays — but what of other LGBT folks stuck in some of the world’s most homophobic places?
by Advocate Contributors
Until recently, gay people in Egypt faced limited options: never share their secret with anyone, or speak out and face the prospect of government persecution and social ostracism under the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. Now, in the wake of a youth-driven revolution that removed the autocrat from power, many gay Egyptians have reason to feel more hopeful. “They absolutely should feel optimistic,” says Ahmed (a pseudonym; he declines to give his real name), a young gay Egyptian who fled the country. “[The revolution] really destroys so many myths, so many assumptions about Egypt and the Middle East generally.”
Unwilling to live in secrecy and fear, Ahmed obtained a student visa to the United States, where last year he applied for and won asylum with help from Immigration Equality and its network of law firms willing to do pro bono work. Only a small number of gay Egyptians left under the Mubarak regime, widely recognized as one of the world’s harshest for LGBT people in reports by the media and by human rights organizations. “There are few Arabs who can actually make it to the United States,” Ahmed says. “It’s much more difficult for us to get visas than people in Europe, for example. There is that security obsession when it’s somebody from the Middle East.”
New statistics from Immigration Equality, a nonprofit that works with binational gay couples and LGBT asylum seekers, support Ahmed’s observations. A regional breakdown shows that of its record 101 successful asylum cases in 2010, only five involved people from the Middle East. Nine asylum seekers hailed from Africa, which is under increasing scrutiny because of the murder of prominent Ugandan gay activist David Kato and a bill proposed in that country’s parliament that would impose the death penalty on gay people.
By comparison, a total of 62 successful asylum seekers came from the Caribbean and Central and South America, with Jamaica leading all countries with 28, followed by seven from Russia. In addition to the 101 resolved asylum bids, 97 cases from last year are still pending, with a large percentage of those from Jamaica as well. Advocates say proximity to the United States and a strong, if less widely acknowledged, antigay climate prompt the exodus. Jamaica’s sodomy law imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
“LGBT people report to us that Jamaica is an incredibly dangerous place to be openly gay or to be assumed to be lesbian or gay,” says Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality. “It’s true that most of the asylum seekers we hear from are literally running for their lives from Jamaica. It has become an incredibly dangerous place for LGBT people.”
Ralls echoes Ahmed’s concern about Middle Easterners’ access to the United States.
“The first step in pursuing an asylum claim is reaching the U.S. border. That’s a significant hurdle for LGBT people from the Middle East after September 11,” he says. “The one group least likely to receive a visa for travel to the U.S. is young single men from the Middle East.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, the hurdles tend to be economic.
“In most countries on the African continent, a single LGBT person would really have to struggle to find the financial resources to make it to the U.S.,” Ralls says. “In some cases, there are visa limitations.”
5 May 2011 – afrol News
Egypt Islamists "use homophobia to win votes"
by staff writer
afrol News – Homosexuality is becoming an issue in the upcoming Egyptian elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood already being accused of spreading homophobia to win votes. The Muslim Brotherhood is "using homophobia and xenophobia to attract people’s votes like they did before during the constitutional referendum and influenced people to vote ‘yes’," according to Jennifer Josef from the international gay rights organisation ILGA. At a recent rally attended by about 25,000 people in Tanta, north of Cairo, Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was reported to state that "it is not permissible for democracy to allow what is forbidden (haram) or forbid what is allowed (halal) even if the entire nation agreed to it."
Mr Badie stressed that "the West has allowed gay marriage under the pretext of democracy, which we will never allow in Egypt, and we will not allow under the pretext of national unity that a Muslim woman would get married to a Christian man which violates the Islamic law." Ms Josef also recalls that Essam Elarian – who recently was elected Vice-President of the brotherhood’s new political party called "The Freedom and Justice Party" – earlier had made homophobic statements.
In a recent interview to the ‘Guardian’, Mr Elarian had tried to give a modern and democratic image, praising the universal value of human rights. But Mr Elarian "specifically excluded gay rights" in the interview, Ms Joseph points out. "Although the Brotherhood appears to have firmly embraced democracy, the means for reconciling that with its religious principles are not entirely clear: the issue of God’s sovereignty versus people’s sovereignty looks to have been fudged rather than resolved, and this is most apparent for women, non-Muslims and minorities, including Egypt’s [lesbian and gay] community," Ms Joseph warns.
The Muslim Brotherhood campaigned "Islam is the solution" during parliamentary elections a few of years ago. Today, it says it will contest half of the seats in the country’s parliamentary elections in September, revealing plans to become a major force in the country’s post-revolution politics. For this end it has founded "The Freedom and Justice Party", and appointed its new leaders in a press conference last Saturday. "This is not a religious or a theocratic party," claimed Mahmoud Morsi, the party’s newly appointed leader. He described the platform of the Freedom and Justice Party as civil but with an Islamic background that adheres to the constitution.
Brotherhood leaders added that the new political party will be separate and independent from the religious group.
May. 21, 2011 – AP
Gays in Egypt, Tunisia worry about post-revolt era
by David Crary, AP
Cairo (AP) — While many of their compatriots savor a new political era, gays in Egypt and Tunisia aren’t sharing the joy, according to activists who wonder if the two revolutions could in fact make things worse for an already marginalized community. In both countries, gays and their allies worry that conservative Islamists, whose credo includes firm condemnation of homosexuality, could increase their influence in elections later this year. "Our struggle goes on — it gets more and more difficult," Tunisian gays-rights and HIV-AIDS activist Hassen Hanini wrote to The Associated Press in an email. "The Tunisian gay community is still seeking its place in society in this new political environment."
In much of the world, the push for gay rights has advanced inexorably in recent years. Countries which now allow same-sex marriage range from Portugal to South Africa to Argentina. Throughout the Arab world, however, homosexual conduct remains taboo — it is punishable by floggings, long prison terms and in some cases execution in religiously conservative Saudi Arabia, and by up to three years imprisonment in relatively secular Tunisia. Iraq and Yemen each experienced a surge of killings of gays two years ago.
In Egypt, consensual same-sex relations are not prohibited as such, but other laws — those prohibiting "debauchery" or "shameless public acts" — have been used to imprison gay men in recent years. Ten years ago, Egypt attracted worldwide attention — including criticism from international human rights groups — when 52 men were arrested in a police raid on a Nile boat restaurant/disco and accused of taking part in a gay sex party. After a highly publicized trial in an emergency state security court, 23 of the men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of one to five years for immoral behavior and contempt of religion.
The case caused a storm in Egypt as some newspapers published names and photos of the defendants in graphic stories. At the start of the trial, many defendants covered their faces with towels in the presence of photographers. In 2008, four HIV-positive Egyptians were sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of the "habitual practice of debauchery." Human rights groups warned that the case could undermine HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Egypt. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch — which monitors discrimination against gays as part of wide-ranging global activities — says there are no organizations in Egypt specifically identified as gay-rights advocates.
"There’s been no movement on this issue in Egypt since the revolution nor is there likely to be any improvement in the short-term," said Heba Morayef, the main Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. Some of the void in advocacy is filled by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which in a decade of existence has defended people entangled in various anti-gay prosecutions as part of its broader civil-liberties agenda. The group’s executive director, Hossam Bahgat, said the once-common use of entrapment to arrest gays has subsided in recent years. But he said anti-gay debauchery trials still take place occasionally.
July 25, 2011 – Arabs 4 Tolerance
It Gets Better 4 LGBT Arabs
Growing up feeling and knowing that you are "different" can be very challenging especially during adolescence. Growing up thinking and feeling that you are "bad", "sinful" and/or "evil" – with shame and self-hate can be detrimental to your emotional, mental and physical health. Growing up as LGBT in an Arab family, in an Arab society where tradition, ritual and religious beliefs run very deep, can be very, very difficult and overwhelming.
Well, we’re here to let you know that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with you. You are not bad or evil. You have a different sexual orientation or gender identity – That Is All. Nothing more and nothing less. You are a blessing and a gift. You are loved and you certainly are not alone. You are also stronger than you think you are. Human beings can be very resilient. Please take a few moments and watch the following videos made by 3 gay men who happen to be Arab or of Arab origin. They talk about their struggles and how life has changed for them – to the better. They are proof that it Does get better.
3 August 2011 – PinkNews
HIV ‘epidemics’ emerging in gay men in North Africa and the Middle East
by PinkNews.co.uk Staff Writer
New research suggests that HIV epidemics are emerging in North Africa and the Middle East among men who have sex with men (MSM). According to researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia are seeing high rates of infection in gay and bisexual men. Across the region, homosexuality is illegal or frowned upon in most countries.
The researchers said it was a common belief that little or no data is held on MSM HIV transmissions in North Africa and the Middle East. However, they discovered some reliable and previously unpublished sources. Researcher Ghina Mumtaz told Reuters: “It’s like the black hole in the global HIV map – and this has triggered many controversies and debates around the status of the epidemic.” She added: “Men who have sex with men are still a highly hidden population in the region and there is stigma around this behaviour, but some countries have been able to find creative ways of dealing with the problem and at the same time avoiding the social, cultural and political sensitivities.”
The research, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal, urged countries to do more to address MSM infections.
August 21, 2011 – The Washington Post
Egypt’s gays hope for change in culture after revolt
by Ernesto Londono,
Cairo — Pop star Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was playing on speakers set around the dimly lit dance floor. Kholoud Bidak, a 33-year-old lesbian, leaned against an old piano, scanning the entrance warily as guests paid $6 to get into one of Cairo’s increasingly common underground gay parties. Just months ago, a raid by Egypt’s vice police would have been a concern at gatherings such as this fete for a man in red shorts who was turning 26. But on the recent sweltering Thursday night, as men in pastel-colored, V-neck T-shirts streamed in, a crackdown was the last thing on Bidak’s mind. She worried whether a certain woman might walk through the door. Bidak doesn’t have a girlfriend. “I have drama,” she said.
Egypt’s gays emerged buoyed from the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. Increasingly visible and willing to speak up, they show how upheavals across the Arab world could prove to be social and cultural revolutions, albeit with uncertain outcomes. Could Egyptian gays emerge as the pioneers of social liberalization in a region where a wave of revolts has forced out autocrats and raised the prospect that largely youth-led movements could upend dogmatic mores? Or in the months ahead, might gays and other liberal groups lose out against a rise of fundamental Islamists — another long-oppressed segment of society empowered by revolution?
Here in Egypt, gays and lesbians have turned a handful of public venues into spaces where it’s safe for men to dance with men and where women sit on each other’s laps. And activists are quietly putting together campaigns they hope will enable gays and lesbians to live openly in a country where sexual minorities have long been ostracized. Web sites used to meet gay men are once again wildly popular because police appear to have ceased using them to conduct sting operations. Some people have gone as far as creating an anonymous Facebook page with a provocative goal: “A Gay Pride March for Egypt in 2020.”
Most of the revelers at this second-story venue, tucked behind the courtyard of a decaying downtown building, were in their 20s and 30s. They tossed back bottles of $3 Egyptian Stella beer and glasses of lukewarm red wine. A DJ alternated between pop hits — lots of Lady Gaga — and songs in Arabic. Scott Long, an American human rights researcher who has studied Egypt’s gay community for years, watched in amazement as hips swung on the wooden dance floor. “For me, it’s an astonishing thing to come here and find that there is a community,” said Long, 48.
A community upended
A similar community had begun to take root in the late 1990s in Cairo at a handful of bars, including one at the Ramses Hilton hotel. The Queen Boat, a nightclub that operated out of a docked, vessel-shaped venue on the Nile River and named after the last queen of Egypt, was a favorite meeting point. But in May 2001, vice officers raided the disco — spurred, Long said, by a war of words between the Mubaraks and a rival political family, the Sadats, who offended the president by suggesting a prominent relative of his was gay.
Over the next few months, Egyptian newspapers portrayed the backlash as a crackdown on a cult of devil-worshipers. Vice officers created fake profiles on gay Web sites and set up meetings with men looking for dates.