Despite its being a place where most of its civilisations adopted LGBTQ+ communities as a part of their heritage, the Middle East is still not a safe place for them. As for Iraq and Persia, they were known historically for their LGBTQ+ inclusiveness in their literature under the Abbasaid dynasty and their famous poems about love between men, like Abu Nawwas like in his Poems of Wine and Revelry: The Khamriyyat of Abu Nuwas. The same also went for Ancient Egypt.
However, that was in the past and as we know, all civilisations somehow evolve through history whether to the best or to the worst. So let’s have a look at Egypt, one of these countries today, and see how it is like to be an LGBTQ+ person there.
What it is like to be an LGBTQ+ person in Egypt?
As for modern Egypt, it’s scary to be an LGBTQ+ person due to many reasons; such as the conservative attitudes within our society, the sticking to customs and traditions, and the stereotypes about what is a proper relationship due to the reasons mentioned above. As for my experience, here is a real situation I have been through with my mom that tells you how it is like when you’re an LGBTQ+ person in Egypt and the family pressures that we face. One day, my mom asked me about all this:
Mom: Hey Bodi [my mom’s nickname for me] How are you doing sweet man? [Kissing me].
Me: I’m OK Mom. How about you?
Mom: I’m OK. And I will be happier when I see you married and giving me grandsons.
Me: Mom, would you please stop pushing me to do that all time? I love you, but marriage isn’t only about this. It’s a responsibility.
Mom: What’s wrong? I’ve never seen any man refusing marriage before. Men marry women and this is how life goes.
Me: Yes, this is how it goes for you. But it is like an able-bodied person asking a disabled one to walk like him just because he is just a person like him. Would you please understand that I’m not like everyone else?
Mom: What’s wrong?
Me: Well, nothing Mom. Forget about it.
Mom: I feel like something abnormal is happening with you, but I can’t tell what. Are you hiding anything from me?
Me: Nothing, mom.
Mom: There is something awfully screwy happening here and I have to know what.
The Egyptian state versus LGBTQ+ people
Even for the Egyptian state and the civil law here, it is prohibited and you would even be fined and imprisoned under the morality law. There are even many occasions in which the Egyptian state have cracked down on the LGBTQ+ people like the Queen Boat accident under Mubarak Era. This has happened more recently when in 2017 in a musical concert held by the Mashrou’ Leila band, where dozens of people got arrested and even fled the country due to a pride flag being shown at the concert.
Moreover, some official narratives and leaders in Egyptian society try to relate the concept of LGBTQ+ as being something which is a foreign intervention in local affairs. That even reaches toward accusations toward others of treason for no reason other than being themselves.
How do LGBT people usually get to know each other or meet?
Based on some of the social attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people I just mentioned above, it’s easy to predict what it is like when it comes to meeting each other as LGBTQ+ people.
Most of the LGBTQ+ community in Egypt get to know each other through social media platforms, usually through Facebook, or through LGBTQ+ dating apps such as Hornet, Grindr, Tinder and some others. Most of them, at least from of my personal experience, are meeting there under hidden identities so as not to be traced or hurt by their state or their families.
Relationships: expectations versus reality
“Better safe than sorry" would be the only sentence that would sum up how the concept of same-sex love and relationships looks like in the LGBTQ+ community in Egypt. Due to the severe restrictions put on LGBTQ+ people here, most of them tend to naturally be short-term relationships. Because of this, most of it is all about one night stands because of the mistrust and uncertainty and sheer difficulty of forming long-term attachments due to the society we live in. Finding love becomes so much more difficult.
My own personal final insights
I believe that acquiring rights is a cumulative thing and it starts with the belief that rights deserve to be respected regardless of a person's own background. It all started like this, so lest we shall not forget the Stonewall riots after which the LGBTQ+ community in the USA compelled the wider society and even the authorities to respect their rights and their existence. I hope that this will happen for Egypt.
Article by: A. Rahman Fathy