Egypt’s Assault on LGBT Community worst in over a decade

dailbeastWhen fans waved the rainbow flag at a concert, it set off the latest wave of ferocious persecution targeting Egypt’s LGBT community.

Read original story: https://www.thedailybeast.com/arrests-anal-exams-and-prison-egypts-assault-on-lgbt-community-is-only-getting-worse

Foreign Policy: ‘They Struck Us Down Like Animals’

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As Egyptian authorities use brute force to disperse two pro-Morsy sit-ins, protesters vow to resist the crackdown until the bitter end.

 CAIRO — A hail of gunfire crackled in the background as paramedics rushed a young male protester on a blood-spattered stretcher away from the frontline of the Islamist sit-in in Cairo’s Nasr City. The neat bullet wound to his stomach, the medics speculated, was from a rifle round. For a few minutes they tried CPR — but to no avail. Before anyone could learn his name, the man, who appeared to be in his twenties, was dead.

“Most of them are shot in the head or the chest,” said the exhausted looking medic, Ahmed, his green uniform smeared with dried blood. “In my truck alone, four protesters have died.”

This is how it went for most of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 14, as Egyptian security forces’ attempt to clear two sit-ins manned by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy devolved into a bloody, 12-hour long battle that by nightfall in Cairo left more than 250 dead and 800 injured. It marked the single most violent day in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February 2011.

The Interior Ministry, the military, and interim government had promised to peacefully disperse the camps, raising the idea of cutting off their electricity and water to force protesters to go home. But at 6:30 a.m. this morning, it became clear they had decided to take a less subtle approach: Armored cars, police officers, and soldiers marched on the protests in Nasr City and Giza, opening fire with birdshot, tear gas, and live ammunition.

“They didn’t give us a chance. They struck us down like animals, I’ve never seen it like this,” said Ahmed Azazy, a 44-year-old businessman from Banha, who was taking a rest from the front line of the clashes by the main encampment. “I can’t tell you the amount of people who died in front of me. Go to the field hospital, see how many bodies there are.”

The Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, which sits at the center of the Nasr City sit-in, became a makeshift morgue as the casualties from clashes with the police mounted, eyewitnesses toldForeign Policy. The ground was covered in blood, protesters reported, and medics were forced to lay the bodies on the floor. Most were shot dead, they said. One reportedly burned to death after his tent was set on fire.

The field hospital next to the mosque was surrounded by clashes. Protesters on the southern side of the sit-in took turns sprinting through a corridor of live fire to access the building in order to check on the wounded and the dead.

Hours into the onslaught, hundreds of protesters still held their ground, resisting the security forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown over the makeshift barricades of pavement stones. Meanwhile, women and children remained huddled behind sandbags and concrete walls in a southern corner of the Nasr City sit-in. The gunfire, coming from all directions, was bewildering. Bullets rained down from above and zipped past at street level — protesters claimed they had seen snipers shooting down on the encampment from the overlooking buildings. Black columns of smoke mingled with the impenetrable plumes of tear gas, making it difficult to breathe.

“Killers, they’re killers, they slaughtered us like sheep,” shouted one protester on his way back from the frontline, a Quran tied around his neck and a cheap plastic gas mask on his head.

Standing among the weary fighters, a protester took a break from the fighting and started a chant to boost morale. “We are ready to give our blood and our soul for Islam,” he shouted, and hundreds joined in. They climbed the sandbags in defiance of the security forces, who respond with gunfire.

On the side streets of the residential area, security forces shot at anyone attempting to access the sit-in. Residents, journalists, and families of those trapped inside ran from car to car, taking cover from the hail of gunfire. The authorities had promised a safe exit — but all entrances were barricaded in by the security forces or blocked by street battles.

“My son, he’s just 21 years old, he went to help when he heard the gunfire. He cannot get out, we cannot get in, what do we do?” said Mona Salama, 40, a doctor who lives nearby. “There are snipers on the buildings who shot at us as we tried to get in. It’s not safe.”

Eyewitnesses later reported that the security forces raided the medical center, forcing protesters and medics to flee, leaving the dead behind. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement accusing the police of stealing the bodies to cover up the size of the massacre.

The violence was not restricted to the capital. In Upper Egyptpro-Morsy demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to a courthouse in the city of Beni Suef. Some 41 people were killed in the province of Minya, according to Health Ministry officials, as street battles with security forces raged on into the evening.

It was not just Morsy supporters who were under attack: By midday, the violence had morphed into sectarian bloodshed. The main Coptic Christian church in Sohag and in Minya was set on fire by Islamist protesters according to local media reports. In the Nile Delta’s governorate of Gharbia, citizens formed human chains around one church in a bid to protect it from an impending assault.

With Egypt in flames, the government moved quickly to try to restore law and order by all means necessary. Interim President Adly Mansour’s office announced that a curfew would be put in place from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m.and that a month-long state of emergency would be implemented. Mansour also called on the military to support the Ministry of Interior and its police force.

But even as Mansour tried to assert control, his administration was showing signs of strain. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who had been pushing for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, tendered his resignation in a statement that condemned the breakup of the sit-ins.

However, other political forces sympathetic to the government defended the crackdown. Egypt’s main coalition of non-Islamist forces, the National Salvation Front (NSF), defended the actions of the security forces in a statement, calling the day “a victory against all political forces trafficking in the name of religion.” Khaled Daoud, a leading member of the NSF, told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood bears “full responsibility” for what happened, as their encampments were not peaceful.

The destruction of the pro-Morsy protesters’ sit-ins, however, seems to have done nothing to dull the opposition’s resolve to keep up the resistance to the military government. Even after 12 hours of bullets and tear gas, they were already preparing for the next round of fighting.

At the back of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where protesters were still battling with lines of police, protesters remained determined to keep the demonstrations going.

“Whatever the police do, we will get Morsy back, he will remain our president,” said Ahmed Alam, a 28-year-old engineer readying himself to go back into the fight. “They have to kill 80 million of us to get the power they so desperately want.”

Al Jazeera: Egypt’s sexual assault epidemic

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Women at Egypt’s protests often must fight more than the political cause that brought them into the streets.

 It is the night of July 3, and on the streets of downtown Cairo thousands are celebrating the ousting of Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. But below ground, in the police booth of Tahrir Square’s metro station, Joanna Joseph is attempting to comfort a young girl.

She had been surrounded by dozens of men in the square, stripped and sexually assaulted. And now, on the request of her family, a medic is trying to conduct a virginity test on the floor of the police booth.

“I was shouting at the doctor not to touch the girl. The girl couldn’t even cope with hearing the crowds,” says Joseph, who is a volunteer with the Anti-Sexual Harassment Campaign (OpAntiSh), a grassroots organisation set up in November 2012, which sends teams of volunteers to protests to intervene in mob assaults. “The policeman said he had received four or five girls in this state every day,” she adds.

Since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, then the Egyptian president, attacks like these have become an epidemic in Tahrir Square, the site of many of the protests. And in the week surrounding the ousting of Morsi, 150 such cases were reported. Many others, of course, go unreported. The level of violence involved is often extreme – in January, two teenage girls were raped with knives.

Thirty-year-old musician Yasmine el-Baramawy, who was attacked in Tahrir Square last November, describes the pattern: Men surround the woman, rip off her clothes and then perform manual rape, while an outer circle fends off anyone who might try to help her with sticks, blades and belts.

“They were taking photos of me and laughing,” Baramawy says. “They pinned me naked to the hood of a car and drove me around.”

Vocalising sexual harassment in Egypt

Deep roots

The speed, efficiency and ferocity of the attacks imply that they are orchestrated, and many believe they are used by political factions as a tool to deter women from protesting while simultaneously discrediting demonstrators. But the fact that the assaults occurred under Mubarak, the military, Morsi and the current interim president, Adly Mansour, suggest the problem may have far deeper roots.

And while the attacks are most prevalent and brutal in Tahrir, they also occur outside of a political context: In May, rights groups reported similar assaults at a pop concert in the coastal city of Ain Sokhna.

“The problem of sexual harassment and assault has been evident for a very long time,” says Amal Elmohandes, the director of the Women Human Rights Defenders programme. “They took place as far back as 2006 during Eid celebrations, at the metro stations or near the cinemas.”

In fact, a study by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women released in April reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, while 96.5 percent have been subject to harassment in the form of touching.

But activists say the number of sexual assaults has increased post-revolution as there has been a surge in the number of women present in public spaces. Furthermore, Elmohandes says, “as society is more brutalised, people are increasingly expressing themselves through violent actions”.

‘Blaming the victim’

Increased opportunity and a traumatised population, however, does not fully explain the extent of the problem in Egypt. And the language used to describe the assaults reveals just how deeply embedded the problem is.

The word “taharush”, which means “harassment”, was only adopted in the context of sexual assault in the last decade. “Instead, people used to say ‘flirtation’ [‘mo’aksa’] – they sugar-coated the problem,” explains Mariam Kirollos, a women’s rights activist and volunteer with OpAntiSh.

The use of the term “flirtation” rather than harassment implies a consensual act, and contributes to an already entrenched culture of “blaming the victim”, as women are perceived to be somehow complicit.

Consequently, answering back is widely considered inappropriate in Egypt – and can, in some instances, provoke a violent reaction. When, in 2012, 16-year-old Eman Mostafa spat at the man who groped her breasts, her attacker shot her dead.

The roots of the problem, women’s rights activists say, are in the home. And with domestic violence and marital rape not considered crimes under Egyptian law, it is hard to change attitudes on the street.

Women’s rights groups had worked on legislation to criminalise domestic abuse, but this was shelved when Mubarak’s parliament was dissolved post-revolution. Since then there have been two further attempts. El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an Egyptian NGO that offers legal and psychological support to victims of assault, drafted a law addressing domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence against women. But the effort was abandoned when the parliament was again dissolved by the then-ruling military council last year.

Similar umbrella legislation put forward by the state-run National Council for Women this year was also put on hold when the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, was dismantled after Morsi was ousted. “Egypt is never stable enough for us to introduce these draft laws,” explains Farah Shash, a psychologist and researcher at El-Nadeem Centre.

As it stands, under Egyptian law sexual harassment is not criminialised, and rape by objects or hands is only classified as assault.

Shash says young boys are rarely reprimanded by their parents for harassing girls in public, and that it is not uncommon to see children speaking inappropriately to women as they mirror the adult behaviour around them. “Often, families will just laugh,” she says.

The issue is not addressed in schools either, where the curriculum reinforces traditional gender roles. “You’ll see textbook examples of girls helping their mother in the kitchen, while the boys are with their fathers at work. It sets this idea in kids’ minds that women are meant to be at home [and] men on the streets,” Shash says.

Talk to Al Jazeera – Ragia Omran : Abused in Egypt

These attitudes contribute to a sense that men have power over women, who in turn become commodities, activists say. “Women are dehumanised, their bodies can be tampered with,” explains Elmohandes.

A culture of impunity

There is also a culture of impunity at the state level, with assailants rarely facing any consequences for their actions.Baramawy filed a joint complaint with six other women about their sexual assaults in Tahrir before the Qasr el-Nil prosecution in March. Prosecutors were reportedly cooperative but they had no evidence: they kept asking women to identify their attackers, an impossible request with such large mobs.

And, according to Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of Human Rights Watch, the security forces compound the problem. “Both the police and the military have been involved in sexual violence against women. They get away with it, so there has been no accountability,” she says, noting that the military conducted forced virginity tests on female demonstrators in March 2011. Elmohandes says it has become socially unacceptable for a woman to even enter a police station because of the fear of being sexually harassed.

Successive governments have failed to prioritise fighting sexual violence against women. “The problem is always postponed until the political situation ‘settles down’,” notes Morayef.

In February, on the one occasion that sexual assault was addressed by the human rights committee of the Shura Council, members of the council blamed women for the attacks in Tahrir, suggesting that they should not attend protests. One committee member from a Salafist party, Adel Afifi, even declared: “The woman has 100 percent responsibility.”

For the sake of women and the sake of this country, this violence cannot continue.– Enjy Ghozlan, Anti-Sexual Harrassment Campaign spokesperson

Activists are pushing for streetlights to be placed in locations like Tahrir and are requesting that dedicated security forces units be set up to tackle the problem. But these are just partial steps. “This is not something that can be addressed from a piecemeal approach. It has to be a comprehensive strategy on behalf of the government,” Morayef says.

In the meantime, volunteers in grassroots campaigns are left to plug the gaps. The male and female volunteers at OpAntiSh not only attempt to rescue women from sexual assaults, they also run hotlines and document cases. Societal awareness campaign Harassmap tracks sexual harassment across Egypt using an online interactive map. Meanwhile, Kirollos says, a coalition of rights groups are working on drawing up key articles focusing on the protection of women for the country’s new constitution.

Although Tahrir has become a no-go area for some women, and protesters now cordon off those who do attend into gender-segregated pens, many survivors are joining movements to combat the violence. But they fear that without effective state institutions as Egypt again finds itself in political limbo, the issue will continue to be ignored – with devastating consequences for the country’s women.

“It is becoming more violent and increasing in number,” says OpAntiSh spokesperson Enjy Ghozlan. “For the sake of women and the sake of this country, this violence cannot continue.”

The Sunday Times: When the army snapped

The Sunday TimesAfter a month’s peaceful protest by Morsi supporters, Egypt’s military finally lost patience, and at least 65 lost their lives

IT was in the early hours of yesterday morning that the first victims, blood streaming from their faces and bodies, began to be carried into the makeshift hospital near the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque in the eastern outskirts of Cairo.

For weeks Egypt’s military rulers had tolerated a sit-in by supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the elected president whom they ousted on July 3.

Now, as demonstrators from his Muslim Brotherhood party began to move out into surrounding roads, blocking traffic and pitching their tents, the army’s patience began to run out — with deadly consequences. “At about 2am the injured started coming in,” said Yehia Mekkeyah, 36, who lectures in renal science at Egypt’s Ain Shams University, but was helping out at the hospital.

“First they were suffering from suffocation due to tear gas and birdshot pellets but the live ammunition started around 4am…”

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Al Jazeera: Nowhere to hide, Egypt’s vulnerable eyewitnesses

Click for original articleCairo, Egypt – Ahmed el-Said Salem, 19, said he witnessed his friend being killed by police at a downtown Cairo protest during the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Salem was later beaten and hospitalised by security forces in March, his family says, apparently to keep him from testifying about it.Yet under Egypt’s new draft of the Witness Protection Act, the same police force accused of abusing him would be put in charge of his safety.

The draft law, discussed by Egypt’s beleaguered Shura Council last week, was slammed in a recent report released by three Egyptian human rights organisations. They said they fear increased intimidation for witnesses to police crime, which is reportedly on the rise since 2011.

However, rights groups had little opportunity to present their concerns to lawmakers. Egypt’s legislature said it would host an open consultation with NGOs and the media, but discussions were held in private.

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Salem, meanwhile, has been locked up in a mental institution, his family says.

“The police report says Ahmed is mentally ill and was carrying documents outlining an Israeli plot when he was arrested,” said Nadia Loutfi Mahmoud, his sister-in-law.

She has a letter from his school stating he was a happy, psychologically sound student. Mahmoud alleged Salem was drugged while in detention at Cairo’s notorious Gabal Ahmar police camp, before being sent to a psychiatric hospital in Abbasiya.

“We wrote to the Ministry of Health asking for an immediate psychological re-assessment, but they replied saying, according to the law, his case will be reviewed in six months. So he’s stuck.”

Salem’s determination to testify and the implications of the new draft law will mean he will remain trapped indefinitely in the archaic Egyptian mental health system, his mother Wafaat Mohamed Mostafa said.

Vague regulations

Osama Diab from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) co-authored the recent report condemning the draft law.

“Our main concern with the current Witness Protection Act is that it doesn’t encourage witnesses to testify, at a time when discussions about implementing a transitional justice process and truth commissions – which is highly reliant on testimonies – is mounting,” said Diab.

The authors say the language of the legislation, which is just 10 articles long, is dangerously vague.

Unlike the United Nations model law, the document fails to properly outline what a witness is, or what should be the composition or activities of the police-run “protection unit”.

In addition, under Egyptian law refusing to testify is illegal. However, according to Article Nine of the new constitution, witnesses “found to have lied” will receive an “aggravated prison sentence”. This, Diab says, puts witnesses in an impossible position: forcing them to testify even if they fear the consequences of their testimony.

Meanwhile, those who disclose a witness’identity are “subject to imprisonment for at least a year” and a fine, which could end up being a lighter punishment than “lying” witnesses, Diab adds.

It will also only protect blood relatives of the witnesses – unlike similar legislation used in other countries, which covers anyone affected by the testimony.

The law puts witnesses and their families under the care of the security forces at a time of little police accountability and security sector reform. In the two years since the January 25 revolution toppled Murbarak’s regime, only three police officers have been jailed for wounding or killing citizens.

The combination of reported police crimes going unpunished and President Mohamed Morsi publicly praising the security forces, effectively gives officers the green light to abuse witnesses, rights groups say.

Widespread intimidation

Witnesses to police crimes are typically bribed, beaten, threatened with jail or even kidnapped, EIPR lawyer Reda Marey told Al Jazeera. Even though the state should legally pursue all murder investigations, once families or friends drop the complaints case against police are often shelved.

Cases of intimidation are widespread across Egypt, Marey said, citing examples in the Damahour, Giza and Daqahila governorates.

Mohamed Marzouq, a worker from Cairo’s lower-class district of Marg, was reportedly taken from his home by police shortly after the 18-day uprising against Mubarak’s rule began, detained in a flat, and allegedly tortured after he filed a case against his local police station for injuries sustained on January 28, 2011.

  Ola Mohamed Ibrahim’s brother died in police custody [Bel Trew/Al Jazeera]

Terrified, Marey said, Marzouq dropped the charges. When civil society groups encouraged him to file a lawsuit claiming he retracted his statement under duress, he said he was badly beaten with a gun by the same policeman.

Last year, one of the more shocking examples of police interference took place in the impoverished Nile Delta town of Mit Ghamr.

On September 16, 2012, Atef Bahbah was reportedly tortured to death in a police station as he attempted to help an assaulted woman file a report, following a violent security raid in the area.

When angry locals assembled outside the police station, security forces opened fire with automatic rifles, reportedly killing another resident, Said Asaalia.

Local lawyer Ayman Sakr, who has worked on the Mit Ghamr case, told Al Jazeera how he was pressured to step down. “The very day I went on [Egyptian channel] ONTV to talk about the two murders, the police accused my brother Youssef of being a thug; blocking roads and stopping trains.”

Among the eight other residents slapped with similar charges, two were Asaali’s relatives: a warning shot to the community, residents say.

Bahbah’s own wife Ateyad was offered 200,000 Egyptian Pounds ($28,500) to retract her testimony incriminating the police, Sakr added. She said she was told the authorities would jail her brother if she did not back off.

“She subsequently re-wrote her testimony a month later, which now reads that her husband died after falling heavily on his head.”

To date, none of the police officers are known to have been called in for questioning, and no forensic reports have been released. The policeman identified by residents as shooting Said was transferred to a different police station.

Better than nothing

The government maintains it is working on security sector reform and laws such as the Witness Protection Act are a step in the right direction.

“I can’t stress how important this legislation is,” said Taher Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and a Shura Council MP, who is working on the law.

Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed said the FJP had been pushing for the act before the Ministry of Justice drafted the document. He also maintained the problem was not with the police per se but with remnants of the former regime inside the Interior Ministry.

“The ministry will create a separate unit of specially chosen members of the security forces. If you look at the situation that we are in, there is no other solution than that the police protect us.”

The president, the government and the FJP, Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed added, were committed to security sector reform – but change will take time, and so people “must be patient”.

The Ministry of Interior declined to comment about the criticisms levelled at the ministry and the draft legislation.

But there is little to reassure those desperate to receive justice for their loved ones.

“I still don’t understand how you get to be the judge and the executer?” Bahbah’s sister, Ola Mohamed Ibrahim, asked from her small home in Mit Ghamr. “I don’t care what laws they author, I lost my brother, and I just want someone to be held to account.”

Karim Ennarah, an EIPR researcher who worked on Bahbah’s case, said the only way to protect witnesses was for civil society to make their stories public, while putting pressure on the state.

“This shaky transitional period – marked by inability to implement anything – will continue, as long as there is no real commitment from the ruling elite to ensure police accountability,” Ennarah said.

“Any attempt to pretend that Egypt’s institutions are functioning normally and are capable of enforcing laws like these, will be met with a different reality.”

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Egypt’s Fledgling LGBT Rights Movement

Ramy Yosef, a 21-year-old man from Egypt’s Nile Delta, came out on Twitter last year. His family responded by forcing him from their home.

Tarek, 28, recounts being beaten and robbed for “dressing like a faggot”—and avoiding the police for fear that they, too, would target him for being gay.

Though homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, coming out has always been complicated and even dangerous.

But now, even as Egypt becomes increasingly Islamized under Muslim Brotherhood rule, young gay activists are fighting back by building a rights movement and initiating a more public conversation about a subject long kept under wraps.

Tarek, who asked to withhold his last name for fear of retribution, is spearheading an awareness campaign. Yosef, meanwhile, recently started an anti-homophobia campaign on Twitter, which quickly went viral—within hours it had drawn thousands of re-tweets and mentions, quickly gaining support from mainstream activists and celebrities, with some people uploading photos of their partners—an unusual public display in what is still a conservative country. “It was overwhelming,” Yosef says. “It’s the right time to bring a community together.”

Under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the state persecuted gays and lesbians, charging them with offenses including “debauchery,” “contempt of religion,” and even “Satanism.” In 2001, in what eventually became the notorious “Queen Boat” trial, dozens of men were arrested on a party boat on the Nile and subjected to “anal testing” and other torture before they were tried. The raid and the subsequent court case was the beginning of a government-led witch-hunt in which security forces posed as gay men online; those arrested were often brutally tortured.

The vague and abusive “debauchery” legislation, which Mubarak used to imprison hundreds of people, remains embedded in the penal code. The Ministry of Interior “Vice Squads,” which during the early 2000s cruised downtown Cairo picking gay men off the streets, still exist. And the government’s attitude—in public at least—remains unforgiving. “Gays are not real people,” an Egyptian diplomat said at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last year.

But gay activists say that even though Egypt has become more Islamized, something has shifted, and there is renewed hope for their cause.

During Egypt’s 2011 revolution, lesbians and gays congregated on Tahrir Square, setting up unofficial headquarters of sorts near the Kentucky Fried Chicken. “For the first time, we weren’t aliens,” Tarek says. “The main challenge was to prove that, ‘yes, I sleep with men, I may be effeminate—but you have to respect me because I’m standing next you in this fight.’”

Riding the revolutionary wave after the ouster of Mubarak, some gay activists called for an LGBT stand on Tahrir. But those pushing a political-rights agenda were quickly silenced by others in the community who feared their demands would be met with a severe backlash.

Today, despite occasional disagreement about the best path forward, Egypt’s gay scene is flourishing like never before—some say because the government and the ruling Islamist elite are too distracted with other problems, including security, division, and the troubled economy, to pay attention to the rights demands.

Mido Hussein, a 26-year-old man who hails from the Nile Delta, said that Western websites and apps like Hornet and Grinder are popular among Egypt’s youth but so are more public and visible meeting spots. Across Cairo and Alexandria, popular bars now regularly host unofficial gay nights. Private parties are legion—and popular with everyone. “We meet in bars, cafes, gyms, the waterfronts in Egypt’s coastal cities,” he says.

Under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the state persecuted gays and lesbians, charging them with offenses including “debauchery,” “contempt of religion,” and even “Satanism.”

The social scene for lesbians—on- and offline—is also flourishing, even though many gay women are forced by their families to marry against their will.

As a consequence, many women live double lives, throwing lesbian parties when their husbands are away on business trips. Women also meet in salons, beauty parlors, or cafes, sometimes bringing their children along to meetings with girlfriends as “camouflage,” says Kholoud Bidak, a leading lesbian women’s rights activist.

In Egypt, many women who have sex with other women don’t identify themselves as lesbians, and in public, their orientation is often dismissed as a passing “phase,” even if a quick browse online suggests that language reveals much. Lesbians are referred to as “sett meet aragil”—a lady who equals a hundred men—a name for both lesbians and strong women, Kholoud explains.

At the same time, many gays and lesbians express discomfort when confronted with the word “community,” arguing the scene is too fragmented to build any kind of consensus on the ways and means, segregated as it is by class and gender, among other things.

To say that the scene in Cairo is a far cry from New York would be an understatement. And although many express hope for the future and a burgeoning sense of solidarity, Tarek warns that Egypt’s gays may, once again, be targeted for political gain, much as they were during Mubarak’s reign.

“We have an Islamic government, an interior ministry trying to purify its image, and a conservative masculine society,” he says.

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