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Published On: Sun, Mar 1st, 2015

Being a non-heterosexual, non-Cisgender in Egypt, Part Three

In Egypt, the January 25 Revolution ushered in a new society that is more open to different topics related to human rights. Despite this, the current regime is cracking down on dissidents, both political and on those that don’t conform to the societal and cultural norms of sexuality and gender. 

Providing support is necessary

People of diverse gender and sexuality are more susceptible to violence of all kinds, which is why physical support is needed to help re-stabilize them, especially after receiving great life traumas for example coming out to their families. That support is to be provided in the form of psycho-social and legal support, resulting in more people gaining strength to carry on with their lives and not get trapped in such a situation that can hinder them backward, so that they can presume their destiny and still be an active person in the society advocating for sexual and gender diversities.

Rally for Egyptian democracy in New York City, 2011. (Photo by: Daniel Latorre)

Rally for Egyptian democracy in New York City, 2011. (Photo by: Daniel Latorre)

Creating safe spaces where people can gain, exchange or disseminate information about their own gender and sexuality, increase their knowledge and acceptance of themselves and others, while promoting diverse sexual orientation and gender identity rights in a broad human rights context, proved to be very good in gaining public support to such cases. Such a dual mechanism is needed to gain momentum and reach a critical mass of internal and public support.

Social networks have become risky

Social networking tools have given people in authoritarian regimes a powerful voice, which can be heard well beyond their own country, and a new means of communication that is not risky especially in offensive contexts. But the use of social networking tools has also given the governments’ ways to identify and retaliate against users. Egypt has suffered from offline oppression for decades which gave social media a very important role as a new communication technology for people to exercise freedom of expression and share their ideas in addition to mobilize others around it. Yet following the fall of Mubarak, the state started to realize that it is no longer stable to deal with the traditional methods of surveillance of the Internet and all means of communication in general.

For years this surveillance has hinged on the legal prosecution of users on different charges as defaming a public figure, debauchery and/or Blasphemy, but now the government obtained a mass surveillance system titled the “Social Networks Security Hazard Monitoring Operation” (public opinion measurement system), which monitors all users’ digital activity. This is not limited to public content only, but would also include private conversations and messages sent through mobile applications like Viber and WhatsApp. This adds another layer of oppression highly restricting freedom of expression and violating the right to privacy under the name of national security and protecting society morals, it also brings a huge risk to sexual and gender diverse groups who live their lives virtually for fear of being prosecuted or discriminated against; according to Human Rights Watch Egyptian men suspected of being homosexual are at risk of being harassed, arrested and tortured.

In a copy of the tenders issued by the Interior Ministry, and published on several Egyptian news sites, the ministry spelt out some types of online communications it will be searching for which is connected to their intention to eradicate homosexuality: “Blasphemy and scepticism in religions; pornography, looseness, and lack of morality.” This surveillance system openly violates rights to privacy, freedom of information and freedom of expression as enshrined in articles 17, 18, and 19 of the International Covenant of Civic and Political Rights.

Gay dating app warns their users

Grindr which is a famous dating site for homosexuals, has warned users in Egypt to hide their identities on social media following the arrests of scores of gay men, and fears Egyptian police are using the social network to seek out members of the country’s LGBT community. Consequently, online targeting for sexual and gender diverse groups and human rights defenders by the new surveillance project is highly expected since sexuality is chiefly political for all the recent regimes ruling Egypt, therefore there should be strict security measures taken in the online platform to ensure the anonymity and non-revealing of location, whether of users or partners.

For all the previously mentioned reasons, people who are running the platform should be well secured also as several cases of prosecution have been made for administrators of many pages that discussed sensitive topics previously, administrators should be preferably outside the country with very secured communication tools to ensure their safety and project sustainability.
It is very much expected to have hate speech, homophobic and transphobic language from users, thus well administration and instant removal of it is needed to protect the willingness of other users and prevent losing support momentum.

Safety necessary to claim rights and progress towards democracy

Mobilizing people through creating a safe space to exchange knowledge and experience, in addition to engaging with public with a more holistic human rights approach to gender and sexuality in a contextualized manner can be very effective in reversing the wheel and encouraging people to demand their rights, protect and support the rights of others.
Article 27 of the international covenant on civil and political rights stated: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.” Interpretation of such an article includes different types of minorities as sexual and gender diverse people, consequently by supporting sexual and gender diverse groups, they can claim their rights, promote acceptance, diversity, and increase their chances of participation in decision making, in addition to fulfilment of their potential also contribution to the creation of democracy.

Thus it is very clear that there is a direct correlation between the human rights of these groups and progress towards democracy in Egypt.

 

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