To what extent has queer globalism influenced Egyptian society?

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Introduction

Khanna (2011)  draws attention to the unnaturalness of speaking of Indian sexuality in the context of a global framework. Mohanty (1991) argues that Western feminism does not always take into account ‘third world women’ and criticises the hegemonic nature of the movement. These two claims concur in positing that there are limitations to the implementation of Western  views on sexual liberation in contexts other than those of the West. However, I believe that the intervention or prevalence of Western feminism does not necessarily harm developing world  societies. In this post, I focus on Western notions of sexual equality in Egypt, particularly the spread of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) rights, a development known as “queer globalism” (Amar 2013), and discuss its impact on Egyptian society.

Queer Globalism and Egypt

According to Amar (2013), the introduction of queer globalism to Egypt occurred in association with economic growth and the modernisation of consumer spaces through the rise of tourism in the 1980s. However, in a homophobic society constructed by a traditional Islamic and patriarchal culture, the representation of homosexuality is necessarily constrained and sexuality is not openly discussed. Nevertheless, queer globalism and the new terms associated with it such as “sexuality”, “gay”, “lesbian”, “homosexuality”, etc. have opened a crack in the debate on sexual identity in Egypt.

Positive impacts – sexual identity  and sexual democracy

Adopting such terms  as “gay”, “lesbian” and “queer”, people categorised into these groups gain “alternative” rights based on their sexuality, reframe their sexual identities, and attain freedom. According to Long (2014), the term LGBTQ has gained acceptance in Egyptian society, especially by those living in Cairo and a few other urban centres, and has encouraged people to experiment with their sexualities in new ways, with the help of the burgeoning availability of the Internet. In other words,  gay people are empowered to reconstruct and reify their identities.

Combining with a movement which called for the liberalisation of the repressive politics of President Mubarak, the Egyptian revolution of 2011 encouraged the expression of homosexual identities in public spaces. Moreover, in the centre of Cairo, images of homosexuality were used as a symbol of the beginning of a new age. Thus, it could be argued that, in a sense, queer globalism has been as a key player in the democratic movement.

Negative impacts – target of political oppression

Yet, queer globalism has also had a negative impact on Egyptian society. It has proved to be a trigger for the politicising of sexuality as it has drawn attention to homosexuals. Terms such as “gay” and “homosexual” have made people who had previously hidden behind the homophobic culture hypervisible and come to be seen as target for the crackdown. In the end, gay men were portrayed as ‘hyperaggressive agents despised traitors who menaced national integrity, invaded or infected the country, and trafficked in practices that police categorized as threats to national security and framed in a new discourse of sexual terrorism’  (Amar 2013, p.78).

The “Cairo 52 ” incident is a typical case in point. On 11 May 2001 , Egyptian security forces raided the Queen Boat, a riverboat nightclub moored on the Nile between two of Cairo’s five-star hotels. The Queen Boat was not part of the underground scene but a visible and well known gay club. During the raid, all the Egyptian men present were arrested, put in jail overnight, and exposed to humiliation and extortion. Responding to this, Human Rights Watch (2004)  strongly condemns it as an ‘assault on justice’. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Massad (2002) argues that such criticism by Western human rights groups can be acceptance of Western cultural hegemony.

Furthermore, we cannot deny that Egyptian gay people are exploited for political purposes more than in the past. In an interview in The Guardian, Mahmoud, an activist on gender issues, argues that ‘[the crackdown against gay people] help[s] show government and police can be society’s moral gatekeepers and their point is that even though the Islamists are gone, we’re still going to keep an eye on the behaviours that may, according to them, disrupt society .’

Conclusion

On balance, it seems that queer globalism is a double-edged sword for Egyptian homosexuals. On the one hand, it has led to alternative sexual identities and emancipation from the oppressed and ambiguous framework of sexuality. However, on the other hand, open usage of terminology around homosexuality has drawn attention to such people and encouraged discrimination against them by those in power.

References

Amar, P. (2013) The Security Archipelago; human-security states, sexuality politics, and the end of neoliberalism. London: Duke University Press.

Human Rights Watch (2004) ‘In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct’. Available from: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/egypt0304_0.pdf (Accessed at 10 Nov 2014)

Khanna, A. (2011) ‘Meyeli Chhele becomes MSM: Transformation of Idioms of Sexualness into epidemiological forms in India’. In Cornwall, A., Greig, A., and Edstrom, J. (eds.) Men and Development: Politicizing masculinities. London: Zed Books, pp. 47–57.

Kirchick, J. (2007) ‘Queer Theory’. New Republic. Available from: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/queer-theory (Accessed at 10 Nov 2014)

Kingsley, P. (2014) ‘Egypt’s gay community fears government crackdown’. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/egypt-gay-community-fears-government-crackdown (Accessed at 10 Nov 2014)

Long, S.  (2014) ‘Brutal gender crackdown in Egypt: The tomorrows that never came’. A Paper Bird. Available from:   (Accessed at 10 Nov 2014)

Mohanty, C. T. (1991) ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’. In Mohanty, C.T., Russo, A.  Torres A., and Torres L. (eds.) Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp.51–80.

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