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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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The Speakers and Moderator of Panel VII (credit: Tamar Maare)

Organized by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam in co-operation with numerous esteemed institutions including our very own Bard College Berlin, the three-day conference titled The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime brought together researchers, artists, historians, academics activists, journalists and students from all over the globe to reflect, act and help resolve current issues facing Europe’s outdated migration structures and discourses. Divided into 7 discussion panels, performances, and an art exhibition, the conference aimed to tackle highly politicized and controversial questions surrounding how Europe’s migration regime is reacting to recent demographic changes and migration movements. The conference challenges the regulation of migration and further complicates the notions of ‘integration’ and diversity by looking at the history behind global migration movements.

Chaired by Dr. Kathrin Kollmeier (ZZF Potsdam), Panel VII on Crafting New Narratives considered how the forms in which migration narratives are verbally (re)produced not only influence the way academics conduct historical research but also how humans, as active cultural agents, conceive of and perpetuate hierarchical social structures and categories of knowledge. The speakers examined the interwoven nature of discourse, politics and identity by tracing discursive labels throughout history and analyzing the views of the employees in the Ausländerbehörden (Immigration Offices), ultimately putting forward a redefinition of ideas of national belongingness, collective identity and inclusion.

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Book Cover of Meat Market by Laurie Penny (Credit: Hana Khalaf)

“There is something paradoxically feminist about the violent inverted logic of eating disorders – a desperate and deadly psychological stand – in for the kind of personal and political freedoms we have not yet achieved. Women and girls who have been denied their own autonomy find a measure of that autonomy in physical and psychological self-destruction of eating disorders: a rebellion by self-immolation, by taking society’s standards of thinness, beauty and self-denial to their logical extremes.” – Laurie Penny, Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism

Some say it was self-harm.

Some think the notion of self-destruction is romantic:

Too many great writers took their lives, after all.

It was destruction, but not in the glorified sense.

It was self-annihilation. Erasure and dissemination of my female body and feminine existence

For many years. Yet I never ceased to be.

It wasn’t just mental

It was outright political.

A screeching cry for justice

For humanity.

Romanticized notions of starvation

combined with capitalism made me call them

Ana and Mia

I looked like them

I was triggering to some, and disgusting to most

They were my only trusted companions.

And today feminism saved me.

Or rather, empowered me to save myself.

I no longer want to die.

Especially not from a fetishized and glamorized

Erotic capital disorder

I will not be a victim of sexual abuse

Nor a textbook case of bulimia

I will continue to fight, love, live, cry and feel.

I will dismantle the systems that made me lose years of my life.

Consumed by hunger and the classic self-hatred

Existing, but not really alive. Not there. Not functioning.

The systems that the voices of many continues to challenges,

yet their structures never cease.

The systems that survive off their disintegration and consumption of lives.

Dreams, laughter and ambition.

Like zombies feed off brains.

The systems that enforce the shrinking of the female body and call for erasure of its power

Masochism will cease to take over.

I no longer want to stick my head in the oven like Sylvia Plath.

My death will not be tragic and won’t have the hint of romance.

The capitalist patriarchy that sucked me dry and left me an empty

Bony shell will never win.

I will never let it happen.

Because my life is worth the fight.

I’m hungry.

Not just for food, but for life

Love, education, air, politics, water, literature, beer and the sun.

For my own sexuality and empowerment.

To reclaim my own body, my long-alienated self.

To occupy the space with my body and voice echoing defiance and unabashed anger.  

I’m hungry

for the perfect imperfections of all humanity.

And for myself.

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مالكش تلمسني حتى لو شلحت trans. You don’t get to touch me even if I stripped (Credit: Ganzeer, b. 1982. Urgent Visions, Brooklyn)

Tattoos are forbidden by their god

Their god who is them

Your body will not enter heaven

The body cannot be a canvas

Skin cannot be art

It has to carry its wounds

Visible, scarred, shamed

Violated with no chance

Of empowerment

The bodies are a cradle of shame

The inherent female guilt

Your yellow dress

Your thigh flower tattoo

Hiding a past of unwanted fingers

Nails. Gnawing at your insides

No, also at your exposed skin

The unexposed too

You are shame… they say

Your tattoos and dress are not art

You are guilty of art, of beauty,

Of being born

You.

A woman.

An object of sin

A site for battlefield

Condemned to a lifetime with your oppressor

Who is your oppressor?

Welcome to the rest of your life.

Too bleak?

Maybe you found your voice

Which unlike Ariel, you never gave for a man

You were robbed of it by centuries of silence

By your ancestor’s rape

Your grandma’s pain

Your mother’s tears

Complicity.

She is you. They are all you.

You are her. You are all of them.

Revolt. Speak up. Don’t smile

A Pharaoh is only one because of you

A woman.

Rise. Rage. Rebel

Against a world that feasts upon your body

And condemns it shameful.

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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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A mural painted by the artist eL Seed in a part of Cairo inhabited by garbage collectors (Manshiyat Naser) quotes a third-century Coptic bishop: “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.” (Credit: David Degner for The New York Times)

You read the words of Mahmoud Darwish,

his nostalgia, revolution and melancholia swirl the desert dust over times and places

to reach your eye.

Yes, I swear. This is how the tear settled on my dry cheek.

And Nizar Qabbani whose eroticism, love and poetic (but also political) fight for social justice make you tingle and long for something.

You don’t know what it is you seek or long for

something that the poem will never make tangible.

You let the words and language sink in

You notice how smoothly your eyes glide across the Arabic calligraphy on the yellowed pages

How much easier internalizing their words and worlds is getting

You sense the physical and metaphysical barriers dissolving

Barriers of your many selves.

The displaced and the disowned,

or like Edward Said, those “out of place.”

The one that claims she’s home,

but will always have a soft spot for a man who speaks in her tongue.

Tongues intertwine as the barrier gradually shifts

What put it there? How and when did it come into being? Who let it? Who is to blame?

The blame game makes it easier.

You think, dream, make love and write in another’s tongue

Some would say a colonizer’s tongue.

Yours is shackled by a barbed wire,

the same one endlessly running through Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

Is it a barbed wire, or streaks of crimson blood interlaced with dirt left behind from the last missile?

Or perhaps it’s the red wine you spilt trying to reach for the glass

after a touching poem, or a great orgasm.

But you let it.

You were happy about it at some point of time. To be fluent in many other languages

as yours rots and decays like the slums and streets of Cairo.

Cairo.

A permanent layer of dust, grey ashen dust, seems to have settled on everything

from decayed buildings to jagged streets,

to a man’s once white galabeya,

and most probably to the Coptic woman’s black attire.

You just can’t see it, because black hides it all. Even her son’s blood.

You observe as your chauffeur drives you in the air-conditioned car.

You’re disgusted.

You’re disgusted not at the sudden hyper-awareness of your privilege, but at your privilege itself.

Your privilege and pacifism.

You go back to your book.

You’ll write about this, you think.

You should do something

…one day.

But will you?

You arrive at the pub downtown.

Your friends already ordered the red wine.

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► Monday: Between Spaces – Art, Urbanism & Public Space

Space only ever exists with a context, charged with socio-political and socio-economic interests, shaped by power structures and defined by boundaries. The 15 artists featured in this exhibition explore issues in urban life from 1970s New York to 1980s East Berlin through the mediums of photography, sculpture, drawing and painting.

  • When: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Where: ZKR – Alt-Biesdorf 55, 12683
  • Admission: 5,50€
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► Monday: MyFest 2017

Join Berliners as they honour worker’s day by joining the Street festival and 1st of May parades. This year’s MyFest is against violence. It challenges previous violent clashes between the police and demonstrators by reclaiming the spaces around the Kiez in Kreuzberg and celebrates with peaceful festivity, culinary delights, performances, and live concerts.

  • When: 11:30
  • Where: Mariannenplatz, 10997 Kreuzberg
  • Admission: free
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