If you want to imagine what it was like living in the US before the Stonewall Riots, you can look to Egypt today.
Just like the US back then, Egypt’s government and police have perpetrated a sustained persecution of LGBTI people.
It started under the former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2001 when 52 people were arrested and charged under prostitution and debauchery laws.
When Egypt rose up and rid ourselves of Mubarak, things got no better. If anything, it is now worse than before the 2011 revolution.
Crackdown on the Egypt LGBTI community
The next President, Mohamed Morsi, may have promised a better Egypt, but that obviously didn’t extend to LGBTI people. In 2013, Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, surgeon, physician, media critic, and television host, Bassem Yusuf revealed he had fallen foul of anti-gay laws.
Yusuf was the host of TV show El-Bernameg, a satirical news program. But it was on the American equivalent of that show, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, that Yusuf revealed in 2013 that the Morsi government had charged him with ‘propagating and promoting homosexuality and obscenity’.
By 2017, there was yet another government in Egypt. That September, some brave LGBTI people waved rainbow flags at a concert by Lebanese band Mashrou’ Laila in Cairo. It was a natural place to do so – the band’s the lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay and an LGBTI advocate.
With a matter of weeks, police had detained 57 people. And just a month later, politicians were proposing the most homophobic law in the world.
Despite this, many outside of Egypt ignored what was happening. In fact, Gay Star News was one of the few outlets to consistently report on the crackdown.
The ongoing persecution of LGBTI Egyptians
So what is it like for LGBTI people living in Egypt under such repressive circumstances? It’s fair to say we live through the kinds of persecution that sparked Stonewall on a daily basis. We are obliged to hide our sexual identity wherever we go to avoid falling into trouble.
Many LGBTI people here thought things would get much better for them after the 2011 revolution. After all, at the time we believed had just won Egypt’s freedom by toppling Mubarak’s regime.
Of course the next government, under Morsi, was known to be conservative. Notably, it was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. But at that time at least some non-governmental organizations working for minority rights in Egypt were able to operate more freely.
But later, things got worse after Egypt slipped into the 2013 coup d’etat. The coup pretty much paralyzed any democratic movement. It effectively stopped people from even discussing how to get their basic freedoms. And, of course, that affected LGBTI people severely here – putting our lives and liberties in real danger.
We’re stuck like we’re waiting for Godot or our Stonewall’s dream to come true.
The way to a Stonewall in Egypt
However, let me be optimistic. I believe nothing is impossible. After all, we often witness miraculous changes in social attitudes, particularly towards LGBTI people. But in a country like Egypt, it would take time.
Why? Well, put simply, ‘freedom’ doesn’t come all at once. Sadly, history tells us you have to accumulate it a bit at a time. That starts with you becoming aware of the rights you should have and taking collective responsibility for winning them for yourself and others.
I guess it would take time for Egypt to go through that. Adding to that, this country is still run on the basis of autocratic totalitarianism which has deep roots. It extends from the authoritarianism of oriental parenthood through to the bureaucratic nature of the ruling regime. We can’t hope to dismantle the conservatism this creates overnight.
Despite this, we Egyptians have proven our bravery. Back in 2011, we stood together against one Mubarak and one of the worst ever regimes in Egypt’s uniquely long history. And eventually, I still believe we will be able to do it again and again against any form of authoritarianism and tyranny.
The moral of Stonewall
This week, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, I see Stonewall as a kind of a lesson in human empathy and resistance. It paved the way for coming generations of political and social activism on all levels.
Without Stonewall, would we have had the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, OutRage!, GLAAD, PFLAG or Queer Nation?
Let’s hope we may witness the day in which Egypt and the whole of North African and the Middle East find a path to embracing the LGBTI community, preserving our human rights and giving all citizens an equal, dignified life.
Stonewall 50 Voices
Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community. They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.