Egypt’s new president: Slim pickings for gays in the final election race
GSN asks LGBT Egyptians who they will choose in the second-round presidential vote and finds neither candidate appeals
As Egypt prepares for a second round run off between the two leaders in the presidential electoral race, LGBT people have apparently lost faith in politics – although they maintain some belief in their fellow citizens.
The first round has left Egypt with two choices, to be put to a vote on 16 or 17 June; the old authoritarian regime and a new Islamic one.
Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, a part of and apologist for the old regime, is seen as anti-revolutionary and a yes man for the military who currently rule the country – while it awaits transition to civilian political control.
While some see him as the option for ‘stability’ in times where Egypt is facing an economic downturn and rising crime rate, most of the revolutionary and liberal supporters see him as a criminal who at the very least is indirectly responsible to the horrific attack on the peace Tahrir Square protesters which left many dead and wounded on 2 February 2011.
Many fear that Shafiq would at the very least put a stop to, or worse, reverse some of the democratic and legislative reforms gained since the revolution. For Egyptian LGBT people it may well seem a return to the days of the Mubarak regime where they were persecuted and felt like a political tool abused by the dictatorship whenever it wanted to demonstrate ‘moral supremacy’.
If the former seems like a bad choice, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, is seen as a hard-line Islamist who if elected would mean almost complete domination of Egypt’s government by Islamists.
Many fear this would lead to the re-drafting of the constitution in a far more conservative religious direction. He is seen as uncharismatic, unappealingly, vague and inconsistent on fundamental questions such as Shari’a law.
Add to that mix fears that he is dangerously opportunistic when using religious rhetoric to knock down political opponents during all three elections.
He is the chair of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and there are some who believe he and the party are committed to human rights and a moderate Islamic ideology .
But others, including many LGBT Egyptians remember the party’s vice chairperson, Dr Essam el-Erian infamous comments during the notorious Cario 52 or Queen Boat incident in 2002, a round-up of people who were then put on trial for being gay.
El-Erian said at the time: ‘From my religious view, all the religious people, in Christianity, in Judaism, condemn homosexuality… It is against the whole sense in Egypt. The temper in Egypt is against homosexuality.’
Nine years later in post revolutionary Egypt he stated: ‘The issue of human rights has become a global language… although each country has its own particulars, respect of human rights is now a concern for all peoples.’ But he specifically excluded LGBT rights.
So for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Egyptians, the choices are equally unfavourable.
The two other candidates, Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came in third, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Futouh, who came in fourth, were seen as similar to each other, attracting votes from moderate Islamists, revolutionary, socialists and liberals.
But that just ended up splitting the vote of these more liberal groups.
Meanwhile the favourite in preliminary polls, Amr Moussa, came in fifth, widely seen as a disingenuous opportunistic politician whose populist stance could not hide his connections to the old regime.
Gay, bi and trans voters in the country have now had a little time to consider the options open to them and when Gay Star News interviewed some of them about their views there was some hope but more pessimism.
‘Ahmed’ told us: ‘People are so disappointed from the results of the first round of the elections. The choice now is between one of the people in the old regime or the Muslim brotherhood. There is no choice for a real revolution.
‘We hope for justice, we hope Mubarak [former president] and his regime to be sent to court, after what they have done from corruption in the country.
‘For LGBT, there are no any expectations of hope at all. On the contrary, they will be more suppressed, especially if an Islamic president wins in the end, which has a high probability of winning against someone from the old regime.
‘As an LGBT person, I am definitely thinking of leaving the country. The revolution didn’t bring a democratic regime. Gay people will suffer more than they used to. However, the young people in Egypt now are open minded and are critical thinkers, which gives me hope for a better future but with a lot of hard work to be done before we get there.’
‘Rashad’, by contrast, is determined to stay in the country and keep fighting for a better future for both Egypt and himself.
He predicts it will be Morsi who wins.
‘In this case, we have started a new situation that might be harder than the old regime, and we might need another revolution against them,’ Rashad told Gay Star News.
‘But I will not fear again as we used to before. One day I will find a way to live openly as I want to, and will find the people that will stand with me.
‘I will not leave this country. I will fight for my freedom, instead of taking the easy way of going to another country that has freedom already there. I was one of the people who believed in the revolution from day one and I used to put myself in danger and I will continue to do that to get complete freedom.
‘Unfortunately, The revolution was stolen if the presidential elections were won by Morsy or Shafiq. None of the candidates ever said that he might help the LGBT rights in Egypt. Even if he actually does [support gay rights], he will never say it. It would have put people against him. LGBT rights need a lot of work to change not only straight people minds but also LGBT people themselves.’
‘Hassan’ says that Sabbahi was the only candidate that might have been liberal enough to one day stand up for gay and trans rights.
He told us: ‘The revolution was not stolen but it will be once the Muslim Brotherhood takes the Presidential chair. If the Islamist win, LGBT people will suffer more for sure, but I will continue living in Egypt, and join every protest against them.
‘Even though I am still considered very young, I am 18 years old, I learned to accept my sexuality which other teens are still having problems with and I hope they get the help they need to accept themselves.
‘I was never a politics kinda guy, as for the revolution I was against taking down the president so I wasn’t part of it. But who knows maybe I will keep on the struggle beyond that too.’
And ‘Wissa’ said: ‘I have many hopes as far as my own life is concerned, but very few ones for Egypt’s politics. I do so hope that the people would open their eyes. It’s quite obvious that the majority is blindfolded by even more corrupt parties than we ever knew that use a religious cloak as a way to promote their agendas.’
From the gay and trans campaigning point of view, Wissa feels it’s going to be a long time before activists are able to have open conversation with the Egyptian public on the key issues.
‘I do not foresee that happen anytime soon. Remember that as long as people won’t accept the difference and the right to freedom of choice and orientation, differently orientated people won’t have an ounce of a chance to live peacefully with their preferences.’
But however unenviable the choices, Egyptian LGBT citizens still have to make a decision on who they vote for. The answer remains far from clear.
Ahmed told us: ‘Personally, I will have to choose the Islamic president over someone from the old regime who was part of killing the rebels last year during the revolution, plus his views of the revolution in general.’
But Wissa’s view was very different: ‘As for the Islamists, I’d rather not support them even if I were a Muslim. We simply shouldn’t mix politics and religion.
‘And that issue won’t affect the LGBT communities only, but the whole country as a whole; economically, politically, socially, and much more. Islamism or any other denomination that want to rule over a people in today’s times is merely suicidal. It is like water versus electricity, it is fatal.’
Wissa still has some hope though, pointing out that homosexuality was also a crime in France, the US and beyond just a few decades ago and suggesting that what is needed is gradual, careful change: ‘If we take it from that angle, an evolution in the right the direction could be possible.’
The names of Gay Star News’ Egyptian sources have been changed to protect their safety.