A new wave of fear has emerged among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer citizens in Egypt, following a massive government crackdown on the LGBTQ community. The crackdown began after September 22, when concert goers displayed a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert at the Music Park festival in Cairo.
In the immediate days following the concert, seven attendees of the Music Park festival were arrested and accused of “promoting sexual deviancy” by waving the rainbow flag. Human Rights Watch reported that one of them was convicted of “debauchery” at the Dokki Misdemeanor Court in Giza, based on his presumed sexual conduct. The man was sentenced to six years in prison, as well as an additional six years of probation, which will require him to report to the police from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. until 2029. Additionally, according to Amnesty International, the six others who were detained were forced to undergo anal examinations. Since then, fifty-seven people have been arrested, according to a rights-based group in Cairo called the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Once lured and detained, many members of the LGBTQ community are forced to undergo anal examinations. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned these examinations and describe them as a form of torture. “Forced anal examinations are abhorrent and amount to torture,” Najia Bounaim, the North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “The Egyptian authorities have an appaling track record of using invasive physical tests which amount to torture against detainees in their custody. All plans to carry out such tests on these men must be stopped immediately.” These anal examinations also violate the Egyptian constitution, which protects citizens’ rights to freedom and privacy, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, and the African Convention on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In addition, pro-government media, conservatives, and religious figures have denounced the flag protests and the LGBTQ community as a whole. Ahmed Moussa, a prime-time TV host, said on air that “homosexuality is a crime that’s as terrible as terrorism.” Those who defended the LGBTQ community were immediately shut down by conservatives. Among them was Mohsen al Balasy, a poet, who remarked on al Mehwar TV after the arrests: “I’m terrified of this society that’s excommunicating anyone who is different.” In addition to being promptly kicked off the set of the television channel, Balasy received attacks and threats from the public.
Shortly after the flag protests, the Supreme Court for Media Regulation (SCMR) released a statement banning any form of support toward the LGBTQ community in the media. The statement called homosexuality a “shameful disease” that should only be shown in Egyptian media when showing repentance. “Egyptian media outlets should highlight the hazards of spreading such a phenomenon,” Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the head of SCMR, said in the statement. “The recent promotional campaigns that support the LGBT presence in Egypt tried to categorize the LGBT presence as a kind of human rights, this is not real, as homosexuality contradicts with humanity and religions.”
Though homosexuality isn’t explicitly illegal in Egypt, homosexual acts in public are. Members of the LGBTQ community are frequently arrested on charges of “debauchery” or the “incitement of debauchery.” Moreover, the LGBTQ community has faced increased crackdowns since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2014. In fact, shortly after his election Grindr, a popular dating app for gay men, released a statement to its users, warning that the Egyptian government was using the app to seduce and arrest gay men. “Egypt is arresting LGBT people and police may be posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you,” the statement said on the app’s screen. “Please be careful about arranging meetings with people you don’t know and be careful about posting anything that might reveal your identity.” Since Sisi took to office, the EIPR estimates that over 250 men have been prosecuted for their perceived sexual orientation.
Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band, is headed by Hamed Sinno and was formed in 2008. Sinno is one of the very few openly gay musicians in the Middle East, where homosexuality is not widely accepted in culture, and in some countries is illegal. The band’s lyrics focus on the experiences of members of the LGBTQ community in the Middle East. Because of Sinno’s sexuality and activisim in the LGBTQ community, the band has been banned twice from playing in Jordan. The Egyptian Musicians Syndicate has opened an investigation into Mashrou’ Leila, and has currently banned them from future performances.
Following the initial arrests after their concert, Mashrou’ Leila did not comment, likely due to the uncertainty of information being spread, as well as concern for how their statement would further affect those in the Egyptian LGBTQ community. However, the band broke their silence on October 2 in a Facebook post where they wrote “We denounce the demonization and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults,” further stating that “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.”
In spite of the continual harassment of the LGBTQ community by the Egyptian government, Mashrou’ Leila continues to support its members and speak out against the crackdown. “We reiterate our unwavering support to the Egyptian people in this horrible time. We’re heartbroken that the band’s work has been used to scapegoat yet another crackdown by the government,” they said. “Human rights are not privileges to be given and taken away. Human rights just are. We apologize to our fans for having to endure yet another attack.”
Despite calls from human rights organizations to ban both anal examinations and the prosecution of LGBTQ members, it does not seem like the Egyptian government will be abating their practices any time soon. Yet, what is clear is that Mashrou’ Leila will continue to speak for the LGBTQ community, and to call out injustices caused by governments to their people.
Yarra Elmasry is second year prospective Political Science major and Near Eastern Language and Civilizations minor, interested in international relations, psychology, and photojournalism. Over the summer she interned at the Independent in London. On campus, she is part of the marketing team for the Major Activities Board, a photographer and designer for the culinary magazine Bite, and a member of the competitive club tennis team.