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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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A Kurdish YPJ fighter with smoke behind her rising from an ISIS held area near the town of Al Hol, Hasakah. (Photo credit: Delil Souleiman)

Make way for the young!

I’d hate to be the one to break it to you

(or no, not really, I don’t care),

but you’re dying soon.

Stop being so selfish, will you?

Are 70 years of living, dominion and destroying not enough?

Make some space

or at least allow us to claim some.

Lift the censorship off our voice, our ideas, our creativity and our eroticism.

Don’t persecute our idealism and turn it into radicalism or cynicism.

Ideas cannot be sent into exile like oppressed bodies

they only get spatially and temporally displaced.

You’re only hindering the inevitable.

The youth will wake up from this death-like sleep

and they will rise,

their voices will be heard and their ideas will materialize,

doing away with your old convictions, structures and oppressive systems.

They say cats are liquid, they fit wherever they sit.

We weren’t liquid.

We weren’t that malleable,

but did we have a choice other than to change our body’s materiality

or disappear into the lurking shadows of a dusty apartment in Tahrir square?

The youth’s hair is greying.

And, no, not just the trendy silver.

The faces are dry

and a wrinkle appears where the frown never ceases.

Many give up, even more burn out.

But some, some have this radical hope

that others call naïve.

And the pharaoh will succumb to the young.

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Having been born and raised in Cairo by upper middle class Egyptian Muslim parents, gender issues and women’s rights weren’t topics typically dealt with in my family despite how “open-minded” my parents claim to be. A patriarchal culture filters through life’s many branches in Egypt, silencing the voices demanding the downfall of the patriarchy and the end of misogyny that has long infested the Egyptian culture. To try and understand such matters, one must avoid looking only at the similarities in the Arab countries’ attitudes towards gender and sexuality as they ultimately have defining differences in their historical contexts and the operation of their societies today. My intimate experience with Cairo compels me to make it the focus of my article.

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As the warm days of June approach the city of Berlin, the Die Bärliner summer team will be taking more and more trips to exhibitions, festivals, and other events happening this summer in the realms of our beautiful and exciting city. The first in the series of my summer articles about the city of Berlin is on an exhibition in the Neues Museum, In the Light of Amarna: 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery (7th December 2012 – 4th August 2013), which I warmly recommend to everyone even vaguely interested in archeology and ancient Egypt.

In the Light of Amarna 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery Poster

In the Light of Amarna 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery Poster

The special exhibition on the Amarna period, organized by the ‘Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection’ at the Neues Museum, located on the “Museum Insel”, marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the bust of Nefertiti on December 6, 1912. With approximately 400 objects from the period, including the borrowed artifacts from other museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and the British Museum, the exhibition places the time, in which Queen Nefertiti lived, within the historical context of the city of Amarna, the capital of ancient Egypt during Akhenaten’s rule, and celebrates the discovery of the famous bust during the excavations in 1912 and 1913, led by Ludwig Borchardt, a German Egyptologist from Berlin.

At the center of the Neues Museum archeological collection on ancient and modern Egyptian history, stands an embodied history––the bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of pharaoh Akhenaten. My fascination with ancient Egypt and my interest in Nefertiti as a prominent female figure in its history has been part of my life ever since childhood. However, it was not until after I began researching the “New Kingdom” dynasty period for my final project as a high school senior last year, that I started to truly share the admiration for her legacy with a number of Egyptologists who made her history known and presentable to us here and now in Berlin. Who was this woman exactly of whose influence we still hear today and why are her bust and life story the central focus of the Egyptian collection at the Neues Museum?

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Talk With Thomas Hasel

On May 15th, ECLA of Bard had the pleasure and privilege to host a talk on post-revolutionary Egypt with Thomas Hasel, co-producer of the Deutsche Welle documentary After the Storm: A New Beginning for Egypt’s Economy, which deals with Egypt’s economy after Mubarak’s fall. The event was organized by ECLA of Bard’s Politics and Ethics concentration seminar Democracy: Ancient and Modern, taught by Professor Ewa Atanassow. The discussion was moderated by our BA2 student from Egypt Aya Ibrahim, who actively contributed to its course with her firsthand knowledge.

The screening of the documentary preceded an insightful talk with Thomas Hasel. Mr. Hasel is a German journalist and political scientist. Since 1994 he has specialized in political and economic systems in the Arab world and published a number of press articles on the Arab states in North Africa. His evident expertise and interest in the Egyptian situation made the discussion very lively and fruitful from the very beginning. Mr. Hasel was patient enough to answer our every question, and his answers were informative at all times.

The documentary After the Storm: A New Beginning for Egypt’s Economy deals with the development of Egypt’s economy after Mubarak’s fall, arguing that the revolution in early 2011 was a protest not only against an authoritarian ruler, but also against the country’s economic misery, corruption and unemployment rate. The film gave the audience enough background information on the current situation and helped us to better understand its practical underpinnings, which later inspired some very thought-provoking questions addressed to Mr. Hasel.

One of the main points highlighted by the documentary and raised by the students is the division between lower and upper social classes in contemporary Egypt.

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