Next time you see someone waving a rainbow flag at Pride, think about this. In Cairo, on Sept. 22, thousands of Egyptians attended a concert for alternative bands—including the Lebanese group Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay. Three or four youths in the audience ecstatically, boldly waved a couple of rainbow flags. Now at least 57 people are jailed, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The horrors started within hours. Photos of the flags went viral on social media. A moral panic spread, fed by the popular talk-show host Ahmed Moussa and others in the tightly state-controlled media, who called for immediate punishment of the unknown flag-wavers. The Supreme Council for Media Regulation has essentially issued a blackout on LGBTQ people or support in the media. The Ministry of Interior declared that merely showing the rainbow flag or “inciting” homosexuality, warranted up to three years in prison; one lawmaker threatened to ramp up penalties for same-sex acts to 10 years. Arrests began almost immediately.
The EIPR now counts almost five dozen people seized since the concert, in four cities across the country. Most had absolutely nothing to do with the performance or the flag. In one case, according to local activists, a victim arrested on suspicion of homosexuality two days before the concert—entrapped over the internet by undercover police—was rushed to trial, and his sentence doubled to six years, apparently because police found songs or photos from the band on his phone.
Most of the detainees are held incommunicado, but one, Sara Hegazi, told her lawyer that guards goaded other inmates to beat her in her cell. On October 1, Egypt’s dreaded secret police force, with its long record of disappearances and torture, got involved, arresting at least two more accused flag-wavers. Egyptians have a term that’s sometimes used for disappearing into the state security gulag: going “behind the sun.” Cairo authorities and many straight/cisgender Egyptian citizens now see the rainbow flag—a symbol of peace and diversity—as a national security threat, and homosexuality itself as treason.
We are two activists, from Cairo and New York respectively, who know the Egyptian situation well. While this panic might seem like an outbreak of collective insanity, our experiences—and recent history—confirm it’s not. Egypt’s persecution of LGBTQ people is a calculated strategy. (It imitates an equally political campaign against gays launched in 2001 by the Mubarak dictatorship, this time on a vaster scale.) The only incomprehensible thing is how Western governments, and Western LGBTQ activists, give Egypt’s homophobic brutality a free pass. Read more via Slate