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Egypt: Life on the Edge?

Thu 17 Feb 2011 In: Comment View at Wayback

Over the course of the last month or so, there has been considerable turmoil in Egypt, as popular protest seeks to unseat long-ruling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. What is the LGBT stake in these protests? It's difficult to tell. In preparing this article, I resorted to's archival resources and reread articles that I'd previously written on the situation in Egypt. Despite the absence of laws that specifically refer to homosexuality per se, Egyptian gay men are treated to considerable repression on the part of police and armed forces. In 2001, there was the first of a series of raids on gay private parties, and Scott Long (Human Rights Watch) reported torture, intrusive 'medical examinations' and police brutality against some of the men involved in Index on Censorship. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch vigorously protested against this, as did other LGBT and other international human rights NGOs. Most commonly cited in this context is a Law Combatting Prostitution and Article 178 of the Egyptian Criminal Code. In 2005, there was a resurgence in persecution of gay men under the "Public Morals and Order Code" for violating the teachings of religion, propagating depraved ideas, contempt of religion and moral depravity. HIV/AIDS is also difficult to combat under these circumstances. Bulletin boards and chat sites are also kept under surveillance. As for women and other minorities, the situation isn't much better. Women are theoretically protected from female genital mutilation and the rate of clitoridectomies has dropped, but still occurs. As for Coptic Christians, Bahai and Orthodox Jews, they are subject to institutional discrimination and sporadic episodes of sectarian violence. Theoretically, Egypt is a parliamentary republican democracy. In practice, however, it has been ruled by a series of authoritarian presidents who have disregard for civil liberties, human rights, freedom of speech and substantive democratic participation. Political corruption and bribery is commonplace, and reportedly, current President Hosni Mubarak has profiteered from his dominance over that nation's political institutions. He has been in power since 1981, although widely criticised, flawed and suspect elections provide the semblance of 'democracy' for Legislative Assembly elections, which insures that his National Democratic Party dominates proceedings within it through an unassailable supermajority. As for foreign policy issues, Mubarak opposed the Iraqi War in 2003, but also cracked down on supporters of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Muslim Brotherhood has existed in Egypt since 1928 and may be the largest organised opposition group in that country. It calls for an Islamic state and restrictions on womens public participation and popular entertainment, as well as providing health and social services to impoverished Egyptians. It is avowedly nonviolent and has frequently been banned by Mubarak and his predecessors, and has been condemned by the likes of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for its engagement with the democratic political process. It has connections to Hamas, as well as the repressive National Islamic Front in Northern Sudan, widely condemned for its racist and sectarian abuse of Southern Sudanese Christians and the Darfur tragedy. On January 25, 2011, Cairo witnessed the beginning of widespread and broadly based protests against the Mubarak regime, its associated political corruption, denial of civil liberties, free speech and human rights, police and security service repression, rampant inflation, unemployment and low wages. It has consisted of civil disobedience, strikes, public protests, marches and rallies and has resulted in some protestor deaths. As has been noted from Egyptian gay bloggers, some individual Egyptian gay men and lesbians have participated. Although Mubarak stated that he would step down in September 2011, understandably, many protestors were sceptical about the veracity of this statement. However, events took a dramatic turn on February 12, 2011. Although he had earlier stated that he would not capitulate beforehand, Mubarak abruptly left office and handed over power to a transitional military council. Questions remain as to what happens next. The Muslim Brotherhood may have the largest infrastructure, but will that neccessarily translate into majority parliamentary seats in a free and fair election? Many younger protestors seemed to regard it as a conservative group out of touch with Egyptian youth aspirations for human rights, democratic institutions and civil liberties. Only time will tell whether the extent of democratic reform will include the rights of LGBT Egyptians. Recommended: Index on Censorship 34: 3: 2005: Scott Long: "Raped by the State", "Waheed's Story" Brian Whittaker: Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2005. Tarek Osman: Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak: Yale: Yale University Press: 2010. Brian Rutherford: Egypt After Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam and Democracy in the Islamic World: Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2008. Craig Young - 17th February 2011    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 17th February 2011 - 1:35pm

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