The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged homosexuality
Cairo's moral panic

On December 7, the police raided one of Cairo’s few working hammams, a run-down bathhouse in the center of the city where gay men sometimes cruised. They marched over twenty nearly naked, cowering patrons out into the street. A female reporter, Mona El Iraqi, and her investigative team instigated and filmed the raid for a program called “El Mustaghabi” (”The Hidden”). She defended her actions by saying she was trying to raise awareness on World HIV Day. The men have been subjected to anal examinations, which supposedly can determine if they are gay. They have been charged with prostitution and debauchery. 

This is just the latest, most shocking instance of what has now become the biggest crackdown in years on gay and transgender people. 

The authorities have also shut down some noisy street-side cafes in Downtown. A month after one venue was closed an official described it as an “atheists’ café,” whose customers also allegedly worshipped Satan.  Presumably said this was said to aggrandize the raid and to justify it. It also sustains a politically useful narrative about the kids hanging out Downtown — those same “revolutionary” ones — being troublemakers and worse. Some of the local media was happy to expand on the theme. A special report by El Watan about “The Street of Apostates’” in Cairo was sub-titled: “Violence and Drugs and Politics and Atheism.” Meanwhile, inviting (presumably terribly naive) atheists on TV only to yell at them, threaten them, kick them off the platform, call their mothers, or diagnose them as psychologically imbalanced remains prime entertainment. Men of religion recently got in on the act, announcing their concern over Egypt’s alleged 886 atheists (a mysteriously precise number that elicited a certain amount of skepticism and hilarity). 

When I was in Cairo recently I also heard that the Greek Club, a Downtown institution, has lost its liquor license. There are rumors that Horreya, a historic bar where in patrons drink Stella beers under high whitewashed ceilings, will be raided soon. 

Some have suggested that President Sisi and his men are trying, through these moral clean-up campaigns, to bolster their religious credentials — to appeal to pious Muslims and show that the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t born of anti-Islamic animus . But I’m not convinced this regime needs to compete for that sort of legitimacy. And there’s nothing particularly Islamist about targeting gays or atheists; this kind of bigotry in Egypt is deep and cuts across social classes and political ideologies. 

There are other explanations. First of all, the mercenary ones. What happened to the wallets and cell phones of the men arrested in the raid on the bathhouse? I would bet you they never saw them again. What does a cafe or bar in Downtown Cairo have to pay in bribes to operate freely, to take over the sidewalk, to have the noise complaints of neighbors ignored, let alone to keep a liquor license? Businesses that exist on the edge of social approval are easy pickings for extortion. 

Furthermore, the way I see it, in the summer of 2013 a terrible mechanism was put into motion. In this mechanism, the media generates hysteria, and the security sector produces repression. This mechanism now continues to run, although its primary target — taking the Muslim Brotherhood out power, putting the military into it, and undermining the aspirations of January 25 2011 — has been accomplished. But journalists still have to report about something, and the country’s economic problems, human rights abuses, and the conduct of its war on terrorism are all out of bounds. Other kinds of headlines are needed. Meanwhile, the police has a dangerously free hand. Officers want to show their zeal, to assert their presence, and to seize opportunities for advancement and profit. And the entire political zeitgeist requires threats. If these happen to be imaginary threats, or even in fact the opposite of threats — society’s most vulnerable minorities and “deviants” camouflaged as threats— all the better. It makes trumpeting the state’s efforts to fight them and its victories against them all the easier.   

There is a moral crisis in Egypt today: It’s the way the powers that be are encouraging and empowering all of society’s lowest, worst tendencies.

Links for Dec.13.09 to Dec.16.09
� Egypt puts archives on Web to boost Arabic content | But what's the address?
� Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities | Open Society Institute | Tons of interesting questions raised by this ground-breaking poll.
� Abkhazia Is Recognized by Even Smaller Nauru - NYTimes.com | Sharqeya next?
â�© Pro-Israel Lobby Group’s Iran Petition Features Lots of Questionable Names « The Washington Independent | Such as "Porn Sex Video" and Comfylovely".
� LedgerGermane: Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024 | Yikes.
� Future of US-Egypt Relations: A View from the Next Generation | Notes on another POMED event.
� POMED Event: U.S. Military Assistance: Obstacle or Opportunity for Reform? | Steven Cook, Emile Hokayem, etc. some discussion of Egypt-US military relations.
� Mideastwire.com | Zaitout: reports about Algeria-US agreement over temporary military bases | Handle with care.
� British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni | The Guardian | More of this please.
� Nights to remember - The National Newspaper | Arabian Nights conference in NYU Abu Dhabi.
� Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone | Must-read Matt Taibbi story on Obama's bailout of Wall Street.
� Al-Masry Al-Youm | Police raid home of prominent blogger | Wael Abbas sentenced to six months of prison in absentia for stealing his neighbors' internet??!?!
� We will not bow to this Moroccan king | Paul Laverty and Ken Loach | Comment is free | The Guardian | Strongly worded op-ed for Aminatou Haidar.
� David Ignatius - Jordan's ex-spy chief wasn't too good to be true | On former GID chief Saad Kheir - a dubious tribute.
� Orientalism in Reverse | Brian Whitaker critiques Joseph Massad's "Gsy International" theory.

Links for 12.04.09 to 12.07.09
ElBaradei on Zakaria's GPS - CNN | Check in at around 30:50 for his take on Egypt's current situation.
Egypt to re-evaluate subsidies for the poor - The National Newspaper | The debate over subsidies reform in Egypt.
Start the Week: 30/11/2009 | Andrew Marr interviews Eugene Rogan, author of "The Arabs". Also interviews on terrorism, etc.
Cyber Jihadis' LOTR obsession | Super funny post on the use of Lord of the Rings in jihadi propaganda
The Associated Press: Veil's spread fans Egypt's fear of hard-line Islam | I don't like this idea of the government backing a "moderate Islam" vs. some hardcore Islam. The government is as Islamist as anyone else.
AFP: Egypt detains 10 senior Muslim Brotherhood members | 227 Brothers behind bars so far.
Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from British Museum - Times Online | Fight to get antiquities back continues.
Why U.S. Mideast Policy is (Still) Screwed Up | Stephen M. Walt | "Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community."
Arms smuggling heightens fears Iran may be building arsenal | US-backed UAE crackdown on arms smuggling to Iran. Interesting story, who leaked it and why?
Congress.org - News : Rising military suicides | "More U.S. military personnel have taken their own lives so far in 2009 than have been killed in either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars this year."
The Generals' Revolt : Rolling Stone | Are the generals pushing Obama on AfPak because of Petraeus' presidential ambitions?
Egypt’s opposition misled by fixation with Mubarak’s son - The National Newspaper | Amr Hamzawy,
FT.com / UK - Muslim Brotherhood rifts widen | Habib lays out the divide for the FT.
Reset - Dialogues on Civilizations | Life | Interview with Joseph Massad on his ridiculous thesis of the "invention" of homosexuality ion the Arab world by the West and the "Gay International."
Iran whistleblower died from drug-laced salad - Yahoo! News | Nasty.

Links for 08.13.09 to 08.14.09
✪ tabsir.net » Hashish in the Muslim World | Interesting post quoting medieval scholar's research into the spread of hashish in the Arab world in the 12th and 13th century, and some examination of Ibn Taymiyya's verdict that smoking hash is a worse sin than drinking wine, which is an unusual interpretation today (indeed many will say that smoking hash is not forbidden at all, although that is a rather convenient interpretation!)
✪ The Case of Reda Helal and the Alienation of the Journalist Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Wow: "Asharq Al-Awsat recently published a report on Reda Helal, quoting some of his family members who learnt, via private means, that Reda was still alive and being held at an Alexandrian prison. However, no official comment has been made on this new piece of information." But most of the article is about the predicament of Arab journalists; I like this: "The journalist has two options; to have the skill of writing without really saying anything in particular, or to have the courage to reveal his true thoughts and positions regardless of the harm this might inflict upon him or, in some cases, the benefit he might gain; in other words, to accept responsibility for his words and ideologies. But very few are willing to do this."
✪ Asharq Al-Awsat Investigates: Tackling Yemen's Qat Epidemic Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Interesting and quite thorough article on the drug Qat, which a large number of Yemenis chew on a daily basis.
✪ Palestinians get their own Google domain | Today the internet, tomorrow the land!
✪ Bernard Lewis was my guide… (Then I went to the Middle East) | Must-read letter by a student who was a neocon until... he went to the Middle East.
✪ Faith and desire in Albert Square | Khaled Diab |Comment is free | About gay Muslims on Eastenders - the British soap opera.
Links for November 29th

Automatically posted links for November 29th: