Crackdown on LGBT Egyptians: Why now?

North Africa and Middle EastOn May 25, 2014 76 CRIMES reported: 1. Media sensationalism feeds the arrests.

Scott Long says, “A typical headline from Youm7: ‘Crackdown on a network of shemales in Nasr City. Ahmed says, “I changed my name to Jana after being raped by the grocer and my psychologist. We get our clients from Facebook and we act like females by wearing makeup and adopting feminine attitudes. Are they going to put us in a men’s or women’s prison?” ‘ Photo caption: ‘Ahmed, the accused.’ ” Long states: “I blurred the face: Youm7 didn’t.”

“Each juicy story gives police more incentives to pursue publicity. Youm7 (“Seventh Day“), a privately owned paper, is the worst offender.

They’ve blared out each new arrest with hungry glee, publishing names and faces, marching into jails with police collusion to capture the miscreants on video camera…  Since the Revolution, (Youm7 has) become unofficial mouthpiece for the military and the security state.

During the Morsi presidency, it whipped up hysteria against the Muslim Brotherhood… More recently, its editor-in-chief was one of the elect anointed to tell a waiting world that Generalissimo Sisi planned to run for President.

A typical headline from Youm7:  “Crackdown on a network of shemales in Nasr City.”  Youm7 and its imitators dehumanize the arrested “deviants,” portraying them as both pathological and irrefragably criminal. Each article offers new images and verbiage of degradation.

2.  The government is feeding these stories to the media.

Graffiti in Cairo by street artist Keizer, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Scott Long)

Spreading stigma is a defining mark of the post-coup military regime. The whole strategy of Sisi’s government has been to divide and conquer Egypt… It started last summer…  The circles of lives unworthy of living, of those expelled brutally from both the society and the species, keep expanding.

Egypt is now devouring itself in an infuriated quest to define who is no longer Egyptian. The “perverts” are just the latest victims.

Police and media together have generated a full-fledged, classic moral panic… Walking downtown during Friday prayers, I heard a sermon piped over loudspeakers in the very heart of Cairo:

“Why do we now see men practice abominable vices?” the imam demanded. “Why do they put on makeup, lipstick, and behave in the way of women?”  …

These forms of “deviance” are now the common topic in corner mosques as well as national news. …Youm7 interviewed pundits about the “problem”:

“Recently a serious phenomenon has surfaced in our society, with devastating effects on individuals, society and the nation. This phenomenon is the crime of homosexuality [“الشذوذالجنسى,”sexual deviance.”]…

“Homosexuality” is an affront to all humanity…

Western criticism of the arrests [“proves”] there’s a foreign conspiracy against Egypt’s morals and manhood.

3.  Manhood is basic here.

Grafitti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Cairo, 2013. On the left, the original version calls the police “gays.” Other activists painted over the insult and made a different statement: “Homophobia is not revolutionary.” (Photo and caption courtesy of Scott Long)

The crackdown mainly targets the people in Egypt’s diffuse and fragile LGBT communities who are most vulnerable and visible, those who defy gender norms.

This is despite the fact that, while Egyptian law does criminalize male homosexual conduct, it says nothing about “crossdressing” or “effeminacy.”

Still, in many of these cases people were convicted of homosexual acts with no evidence but their looks (or the clothes or makeup in their handbags) alone. ….

Many of these folks don’t define themselves as “trans,” nor are they bound to particular gendered pronouns. One way to put this is that “gender identity,” if it means anything in Egypt, often exists in a continuum with “sexuality” rather than as a disaggregated axis for identity…. with being “ladyboys” (a term often heard in LGBT people’s Arabic), or fem, or trans.…

I’ve written here before how the Revolution raised a nervous question about what Egyptian manhood meant. The generals who seized control of the country after Mubarak fell began at once to disparage dissenting youth as effeminate: long-haired, culturally miscegenated, and incapable of masculine virtues … revolutionaries adopted a language of attacking others’ manhood: “Man up,” a call to courage and defiance suggesting that opponents were wusses…

What resulted? An environment where all sides constantly debated masculinity and leveled accusations at its absence. Coupled with a fear of national vulnerability and diplomatic irrelevance… this created ideal conditions for defaming transgressors against gender as traitors to culture and country.  Continued

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