Thursday, 25 January 2018

#Jan25 revisited

A rock n roll band. A flag. A state-run media backlash. Arrests. Anal probes. All in the name of dictatorship.

We look upon 25 January with nostalgia or despair or in some cases, horror, and we remember when we had hope for Egypt, when a hashtag #Jan25 was about power of the people. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi has created a dystopian nightmare from the ashes of that hope, a nightmare full of police brutality, lawlessness and vigilantism, torture, violence, and death.

"Fighting terrorism," an excuse made popular by the President of the United States George W. Bush, is the justification given for the crackdowns on human rights in so many countries, especially in Sisi's Egypt, who seems to be under the impression that he is some sort of pharaoh divinely appointed to rule Egypt. From "fighting terrorism," he has expanded his facetious legal arsenal to oppress. The West mostly ignores what is happening, choosing to side with a "partner" in the "war on terror" rather than standing up for real human rights, even if Sisi's "war on terror" includes opposition, dissidents, comedians, teenagers on Facebook, or LGBT citizens.

2017, to put it simply was a year of horror for Egypt's LGBT community, especially after the Lebanese rock band Mashrou' Leila - whose lead singer is gay - played a concert in Cairo on 22 September. Images of a rainbow flag unfurled during the show spread across the internet, igniting the self-righteous fury of the intolerant establishment and fueling the mass arrests of at least 75 human beings who by the coincidence of their birth were born gay in Egypt. Many were subjected to anal probes to determine whether or not the men had anal sex, despite such probes having been scientifically debunked ages ago.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but in a dictatorship, what is truth? The Sisi regime uses an age old tactic in finding some other dubious law on the books and spinning events to fit that law. In this case, "debauchery" is the charge. One of the favorite tactics of so-called law enforcement is to set up sting operations through dating apps. Apparently, Egyptian police have nothing better to do than to play on Tinder and Grinder and seek out gay men for dates.

According to a November 2017 report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 232 Egyptians were arrested and prosecuted for sexualities or sexual practices, actual or perceived, from October 2013 to March 2017, many months prior to the flagwaving incident.

But let's not give Sisi all the credit for being the monster he is. Members of the Egyptian Parliament support the suppression tactics of the regime. More than 60 legislators have signed onto a bill that would criminalize homosexuality. In an Egypt that is mired in economic stagnation with no end in sight, this popular stance is a welcome diversion for the inept politicians. And with Sisi all but a shoo-in for this spring's presidential elections and the military controlling a third of the nation's economy, Egypt will see more of the same in 2018.

So what is one to do if he or she is LGBT in Egypt? Flee? To where? One small thing that can be done is protect yourself in your online communications with encryption. Egyptian law enforcement is actively watching for LGBT activity online, ready to raid at a moment's notice. So take care, Egyptians. Download our VPN and messenger apps for an added layer of protection. You have our support.

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