Last month at a concert in Cairo, a group of people in the crowd waved the rainbow flag. The Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 22 people in the past four days as part of a campaign against LGBT+ people, and since the concert last month, 33 people have been arrested. Apparently, in Egypt, it is simply ‘routine’ to arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual activities on charges of “debauchery”, “immorality”, or “blasphemy”. Though homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed in Egypt, it is stigmatised very heavily, and the LGBT+ community is discriminated against and dehumanised at every turn.
The rainbow flag was flown at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, a band whose lead singer is openly gay. The images of the flag caused an outcry and were accused of inciting homosexuality by Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek. Though it isn’t just people at the concert who have been arrested; according to activists online, the authorities are using dating apps to track those looking for a same-sex relationship. This is completely illegal, but sadly well within their power. This is Egypt’s biggest crackdown on homosexuality since the mass arrests of 52 people following a raid on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub on the Nile, in 2001. A verdict in the trial of the men arrested for waving the flag will be expected on the 29th of October.
Since the arrests, victims of this abhorrent act of homophobia have been subject to anal examinations. “Forced anal examinations are tantamount to torture – there is no scientific basis for such tests and they cannot be justified under any circumstances,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaigns director. “The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country. Instead of stepping up arrests and carrying out anal examinations, the authorities must urgently halt this ruthless crackdown and release all those arrested immediately and unconditionally.” The Egyptian authorities seem to have forgotten that they are part of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, and the UN Convention against torture, which clearly classifies anal examinations as a form of torture.
The band Mahou’ Leila released a statement two days ago, talking about how they were going to remain silent whilst this all happened, but “It has however become rather apparent in the last 48 hours that the state apparatus is hell-bent on executing the most atrocious of human rights violations.” They further summed up their outrage at the arrests by saying “We denounce the demonization and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults. It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love.”
LGBT+ activists across Egypt are speculating that these arrests could be being used as a distraction from the upcoming election. Dalia Alfaghal, a 27-year-old activist, spoke to Vice about the recent arrests and said that “[increased discrimination] basically happens every four years when there are elections coming up, like now.”
It is much more than deeply saddening to find out that people within the LGBT+ community, my community, are being searched, violated, degraded, and brutalised because they will not hide who they are. It’s a barbaric violence that so many of us thought was left in the past. Concert venues are becoming less and less safe, as they are infiltrated by the “alt-right”, and many queer people across Egypt fear for their lives as they are hunted down by their government. But we can help, even if it’s just a little bit. We can offer support, to charities like Out and Proud African, we can make sure that the LGBT+ folks in our own lives are safe, secure, and allowed to express themselves freely, and we LGBT+ folks ourselves need to look after each other, because we can’t fight for other people if we can’t fight for ourselves. These are dark times, and soon we must choose between what is right and what is easy.