Egypt has long had a policy of institutionalized homophobia, punishing anyone suspected of being queer. In the latest and most high-profile example of this practice, seven people were arrested last week after a photo of the men holding an LGBT Pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo went viral. They were later charged with “promoting homosexuality.” Mada Masr recently reported that at least fifty people, in addition to the 7 fans at the concert, have been arrested in a brutal campaign by Egyptian security to punish LGBTQ citizens. The crackdown is the most brutal attack on Egypt’s LGBTQ community, since fifty-two men were arrested in 2001 on the Queen boat on charges of “debauchery.”
In the wake of this most recent controversy, Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a state agency, instituted a “media blackout,” prohibiting media outlets from expressing any support for LGBTQ Egyptians. While there is no law in Egypt that explicitly criminalizes homosexuality, queer Egyptians are usually arrested on charges of “debauchery,” or “inciting sexual deviancy” which can result in prison sentences. To support these prosecutions, security officials will sometimes subject Egyptian youth to anal tests, to gather “evidence,” an egregious form of torture.
By publishing flagrantly false and inflammatory claims, pro-regime media plays a significant role in inciting anger towards the LGBTQ community. For example, Al Ahram, the state-run newspaper and the publication with the widest readership in Egypt, published an article that repeatedly used an offensive Arabic term which means “sexual deviants” to refer to queer Arab youth. In an article for Mada Masr, Mostafa Mohie pointed to a piece published by the newspaper, Youm7, which was titled, “The deviants of Mashrou’ Leila belong to the April 6 movement, participated in January 25 and support a homosexual organization in Egypt!” – a blatant attempt to try and impugn the band, by associating it with Egypt’s marginalized revolutionary movement. Youm7 was also claiming that the flag-bearers were receiving “funds from foreign bodies… to execute a plan to spread thoughts calling for the breakdown of society and spreading ideas that undermine public conduct and morals.”
According to those at the concert, there was little reaction when the youth unfurled the LGBTQ flag. Nadeen Shaker, a fan who attended the Cairo concert and was just feet away from the flag, told Muftah that “no one reacted in any major way.”
Egypt’s hetero-normative policing of how men should behave in public and private underscores how openly expressing one’s gender identity and sexuality is a political act in the country.