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The rainbow flag is raised during the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Cairo on September 22nd 2017 (Credit: Egyptian Streets)

A brief glimpse on the etymology of the word homosexual in the Arabic language is reflective not only of the widely held belief and internalized homophobia in contemporary Egypt, but also of the nature of the laws persecuting queer bodies and viewing them as a threat to Egyptian society’s morality[1]. Multiple variations exist: Luti is derived from Quranic verses, referring to the practices of male sodomy the people of Lot engaged in that resulted in their destruction in the sinful city of Sodom; the more derogatory Shaz or ilq literally translates to deviant, pervert,  or faggot — mind you, it’s still the most common linguistic utterance used in the Egyptian dialect; the recently coined Mithli, meaning same, is the closest to the English word homosexual or same-sex lover.

Much like feminism — only recently acknowledged in the Arabic language as nasaweya — homosexuality is seen as un-African/Arab or Egyptian. It’s vilified as an imported Western product that tries to taint the Islamic Arab cultural values and lure its youth into debauchery and immorality to further destabilize the region. Homosexuality is also condemned as a pathology that needs psycho-medical treatment or as a major sin. Its sinful nature is interpreted in Quranic verses and Hadiths of the prophet that state how homosexual acts invoke God’s curse on earth and in the afterlife [2]. Alternative interpretations of Queer Muslims reconciling both their religious beliefs and sexual orientations have been made, but they are not recognized as valid by religious institutions or predominantly conservative societies in the East. While there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality, there are plenty of laws that were purportedly put in place to combat prostitution but which actually persecute LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. The charges issued under these laws vary from inciting debauchery to engaging in immoral acts, to inducing sexual deviance[3]; the sentences fall between 1 and 12 years of imprisonment.

Homophobia and violence directed against bodies that dare challenge the heteronormative patriarchal norm are nothing new. So why write about this now? In recent days a wave of allied support and LGBTQ+ pride as well as a counter-hate sentiment in Cairo have taken social media by storm. The events unfolded as follows: the biggest Mashrou’ Leila concert that took place in Cairo this past September saw a bittersweet display of the pride flag. The raising of the flag was met with surprising acceptance and even support by concert-goers and social media posts. Ultimately, however, the government and Egyptian society’s hate, animated by a fear for love and freedom, calls for the punishment of LGBTQ+ bodies and their allies.

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shadow lines

The Shadow Lines (Credit: La Collection/Laurent Goldstein)

In 1964, in the heart of the city of Dhaka, Tridib is brutally murdered. He is a main character in Amitav Ghosh’s renowned novel The Shadow Lines.  His death, along with many others, comes with what is known today as the East Pakistan riots. Recently, India and Pakistan have seen a tremendous escalation in riots resulting from their national conflict over the Indian administered territory of Kashmir, a state in North India. The Shadow Lines is a beautiful conception of events of post-Partition India that underscores the gross tension between the two nation states and the riots that took place in the wake of the Partition of India.

The novel explores the notion of borders — the effects of its physical, psychological and geographical manifestation. Ghosh’s novel deals with the effects of World War II in London and post-Partition India. It also concerns itself with the riots that spread across cities of India into Dhaka, the capital of then-East Pakistan and nowadays Bangladesh. The riots created an inevitable sense of disillusionment amongst the inhabitants within these borders. A dangerous sense of jingoism arose. The riots got worse, and so did the pseudo-nationalism.

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