The Gay Star News feature on the future for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people in Egypt, which we ran in January, attracted both criticism and praise.
Much of the most vociferous praise came from LGBT people actually living in Egypt. The critics were in the minority – and although well-informed and, in some cases influential, were exclusively non-Egyptian.
All of which indicates a need for Egyptian LGBT voices to be heard.
It is also clear that the future of Egypt lies in the balance. We still can not be sure, for example, how much control the military will allow the parliament or president. The military’s resistance to democratic reform has been much commented on.
Meanwhile it’s not clear what attitude the religious lobby, which holds many parliamentary seats, will have or what stance there will be towards human rights in general, let alone gay equality. All that has lead some to worry about the future role of religion in a previously (formally at least) secular state.
These concerns were recently summarized by Omar Sharif Jr, the grandson of the famous actor.
He recently expressed to the Advocate, a US-based gay magazine, that he was worried about the possibility of returning from America to Egypt as he was not sure he would be welcome, being half-Jewish and openly gay.
‘The full spectrum of equal and human rights are now wedge issues used by both the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Islamist parties, when they should be regarded as universal truths.
‘Will being Egyptian, half Jewish and gay forever remain mutually exclusive identities? Are they identities to be hidden?
‘From the vaunted class of Egyptian actor and personality, I might just become an Egyptian public enemy.’
Against this background GSN spoke with several Egyptians who wished to share their voice and their opinions about the future.
Ahmed the owner of an Arabic Facebook page called ‘Movement to raise awareness about homosexuality’ is pessimistic: ‘The revolution was a great thing that happened in the country.
‘But now, many LGBT people want to get out of the country because they are afraid of what is going to happen next and I am one of them. The issue is not just the religion; it is impermeable norms of the society here, which supports anything against homosexuality. So people can be easily be influenced by religious speech against LGBT rights.
‘The question is will the Muslim Brotherhood and parliament dominated by religious parties be prepared to recognize human rights? Will they introduce laws to protect the rights of minority groups in the community?
‘If they are now talking about general topics like women’s costumes, wine and touristic resorts; what will they do about the subject of homosexuality?
‘The only exception might be transsexuals converting from male to female or vice versa, because it is in fact not against religion and normally takes place here regardless of the society’s opinion.
‘Now, I only hope that at least the situation remains as it used to be, because it will never be better than that, but it can only be worse!’
Fatma and Azza, who have been girlfriends for almost four years, also feel the future for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Egypt has somehow been put into reverse.
‘We never thought that we will be getting LGBT rights any time soon, but at least be on our way,’ they said.
‘No women had been accused of being lesbians in Egypt before. But it is not only that, it is more about freedom in general, freedom of speech, religion, sexuality… etc.
‘For example, will they track us now, and accuse us of saying this? This is our current fear.’
The gloom is not universal, however. Kareem, the writer of a gay blog in Arabic, thinks that there is a chance to chance the gay, bi and trans community in Egypt for the better.
He commented on failed plans for an LGBT protest at Tahrir Square, the heart of Cairo and the center of the revolutionary struggle, on 1 January that the timing hadn’t been right.
But he does suggest another way forwards.
‘The first step should be based on the work of associations or centers, or any form of organization which supports LGBT people and is socially acceptable.
‘They need to work directly or indirectly, by whatever means is available legally, to create social activities for homosexuals to give them an outlet and inspire confidence in themselves. They need the chance to accept themselves for who they are and help to grow as individuals.
‘This work would give LGBT people the feeling that there are others who share their concerns and their problems and care for them, and will be beside them in times of legal and social requirements or sickness.
‘Email campaigns should begin to explain that the gay community is real. This should then transform into community awareness campaigns on the ground to change the negative image of gays in society.
‘This will show, through messages of tolerance and acceptance of others, that homosexuality does exist everywhere, and they are human and they are social forces that must be taken advantage of.
‘Repression is dangerous psychologically and socially for the whole of society. That should be stressed and that is done by shining a light on the honorable homosexual figures that have contributed and affected the society and the world and participated in building the human cultural heritage.
‘After all those steps we could come out openly, as the road will be paved in front of us. But coming out now is not the proper step.’