Prisoners of Sex

Oooops double posting. maalesh.

Negar Azimi has an interesting article about gay rights (or lack thereof) in Egypt in the NYT Magazine. I remember at the time of the Queen Boat arrests being on the periphery of some of the debates in the human rights community whether to take on the case of not -- I was advocating being as aggressive on this as any other issue that involves unlawful arrest and police brutality, and pushed for giving decent coverage of the case in the Cairo Times at the time, going against the judgement of its publisher, Hisham Kassem, who was (and still is) the president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. While I could understand some of the reluctance human rights activists, already tarnished as fifth columnists, had in giving their support to this case, I thought they should on a purely technical basis -- i.e. as defenders of human rights, not defenders of gay rights.

Those Egyptian human rights activists who decided to avoid the case received a lot of flak from major Western donor organizations, while those who took it on found that certain embassies and rights groups were now keen to donate funds for projects. It is understandable that some people will see this as a form of Western pressure, thus reinforcing the fifth columnist image of the human rights community. But I wonder how people would see a similar case today -- after 9/11, after MEPI, after the rise of the whole clash of civilization discourse on both sides of the Mediterranean. Would it make them more or less likely to take on a case like the Queen Boat? This is an excellent case to test the impact of the mostly Western funding of human rights groups in the Arab world and its relationship to "cultural politics."
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.