Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sun, Feb 15th, 2015

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

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. 

Freedom of information is considered a fundamental right; the touchstone of all human rights as stated in 1946 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression. “Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if the people have no access to information as its basic to the democratic way of life”; therefore everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression which also includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers, either verbally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of the person’s choice.

Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1949.

Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1949.

By focusing on these rights it becomes obvious that the right to information is universal and without any distinction on any basis, especially with regards to sexual orientation or gender related identity. Despite this fact, non-heteronormative and gender diverse populations have always been left out, oppressed and discriminated with little access to information where their voices have been silenced by regimes, societies or even themselves based on hateful incidents affecting them on daily basis.

Important to inform about basic rights

By fulfilling the people’s right to knowledge and information, peace can be achieved since a more knowledgeable person is less likely to commit hate crimes or be manipulated by false or misleading information. According to study led by Tori DeAngelis at the University of Colorado at Boulder, psychologists found that “when people don’t know much about a group, they’re likely to ascribe to them the notion of a cultural ‘essence’; a sort of innate temperament they erroneously believe defines the entire culture”. In this case, non-heteronormative and gender diverse people might be sexual deviants, prostitutes or even Satanists, as described by media.

Homophobia is fuelled by a lack of awareness, and educating young people about sexual and gender issues is fundamental in order to overcome widely accepted prejudice. Furthermore, when information and support is provided, people of diverse gender and sexuality are more likely to be themselves which, in turn, enables them to feel like they’re a part of society and thus be happy.

Online media have proved to be an efficient tool in providing and disseminating information that mobilize groups (mostly young people) towards social change, although previous experiences have shown that it takes more time to organize a movement, especially if it concerns such sensitive topics. The mobilization processes created by different online groups prior to the January 25 Revolution was encouraging in a time when the idea of revolting against Hosni Mubarak wasn’t even on the table. Online media was efficient in suggesting it as the way for change; such mobilization processes took over six years of continuous efforts yet social change, unlike political change, takes more time as it usually strikes at deeply rooted thinking patterns and habits.

Mobilizing through Facebook

In 2011, a secret Facebook group under the name of Rainbow City was formed. It included most of the activists from Cairo and Alexandria in addition to much of the LGBTIQ community in Egypt as well as some heterosexual supporters. The main aim of the group was to disseminate proper information and help create an underground movement in Cairo and Alexandria respectively. The group was to become a stepping stone in mobilizing the community and providing activists with a space for discussions related to gender and sexuality as well as exchange experiences and knowledge with other members of the group. It also revealed that many of the LGBTIQ people themselves were unaware of their own problems and how to deal with them as homophobia and discrimination exists in various degrees within such groups. The main reason for such viewpoint and attitudes was due to the lack of knowledge on various topics including understanding their own as well as other orientations and identities. By providing the group members with further information resulted in better understanding, and increased their abilities to support their colleagues.

During the January 25 Revolution, political initiatives drew upon the icon Khaled Said – a middle class young person who was tortured to death by the police – as a catalyst to mobilize and raise support for other issues. This specific case gathered the middle class by breaking their silence and false sense of security. Similar methods have been applied to issues concerning sexuality and gender and it seems to be attracting support and responding well as to how people view sexuality as part of their privacy and personal decision. For example, in the last successful campaign against Mona Iraqi – a journalist who reported a Cairo downtown bath house to the police, resulting in the arrest of 26 men who were accused of debauchery on the basis of homosexuality – the case attracted huge criticism nationally and worldwide accusing the journalist of interfering in people’s private life.  

The same technique can be used to mobilize people to protect their right to privacy and non-discrimination with regards to their sexual and gender related choices by breaking their comfort zone as a first step. Such an approach is, however, quite tricky and may backfire if not supported by proper contextualized information about sexuality and gender, noting that it can also be affected by the timing and approach.

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>