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'Al-Akhbar,' Close To Hizbullah, Takes Stock of Tolerance of Homosexuality in the Middle E

April 17 2012 at 12:44 PM

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Pro-Syrian Lebanese Daily 'Al-Akhbar,' Close To Hizbullah, Takes Stock of Tolerance of Homosexuality in the Middle East


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The Al-Akhbar website published this image to accompany the article, captioned: "Members of a LGBT organization (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) protest against the murder of transgender activist in Mexico City; 18 March 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Edgard Garrido)"



On April 11, 2012, the English-language website of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Syria and to Hizbullah, published an article titled "Homosexuals Struggle For Rights in Post-Revolution Arab World." The article was written by Joseph Mayton, whom the website identified as "founder and editor-in-chief at Egypt's Bikyamasr.com and [who] can be followed on Twitter @jmayton."

The following is the article, in the original English: [1]

Chaos in the Region Leads to Violence Against Socially Marginalized Groups

"Change can often take years, if not decades. While the past year has seen both negatives and positives on the path to greater freedom, it has not stopped many of the LGBT youth in the region from continuing to press, in their own way, for a real and viable transformation. Unfortunately, local media and governments have not been helpful, and in Iraq's case, have been directly responsible for fomenting violence and at least one reported massacre against the gay community in the country. Not only did the Iraqi government allow the mass killing of teenagers for having 'emo' or gay appearances, they pushed the militias through violent language, then stood by and allowed scores of Iraqis to be brutally murdered. It is a startling reminder that violence, torture, and murder can quickly become the immediate struggle for the region's gay community.

"If there is a silver lining from the sad massacre of innocent civilians, it is in how the Iraqi LGBT community reacted to the killing. They linked their situation with the struggle of women, another beleaguered portion of Arab society that continues to see activists across the region demand full protection under the law. This is a sign of a changing mindset and an understanding of the current political and social developments in the region. Joining forces with other embattled groups could be a way to mold and develop relationships with local activists who may not have been aware of, or cared little for, the LGBT community."

"Some Islamists Are, At Least Outwardly, Appearing Willing To At Least Accommodate The Talk Of Minority Rights"

"In Egypt, following the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the LGBT community joined others [in] calling for freedom and greater rights. Many on the ground in the months that followed refused to push for single issues, including both women's rights and LGBT rights. By mid-summer last year, the rumblings of the Islamists were beginning to take hold in the country, leaving what many believed was little time to demand their rights. So the LGBT community announced plans for a pro-gay rally on January 1 of this year. It sparked much controversy among both conservatives and the liberals, with the latter arguing the timing was not appropriate. One leading activist told me at the time that 'we cannot push for specific issues because they all need to be under one umbrella.' This was the general thinking, but the LGBT community thought otherwise and began to release details of the protest. The protest was eventually cancelled. Maybe Egypt wasn't 'ready' for an LGBT rally, but the sheer fact that it had been announced, and for a number of days, promoted on local websites, in news articles, and on social media, does show that the country may be more ready than many believe to bring LGBT rights into the forefront. Slowly but surely, as the adage goes.

"Egypt was opening up, and despite Islamists taking power and pushing a more conservative agenda in recent months, optimism still abounds. And rightfully so. Even some Islamists have largely changed their tone toward homosexuals, and as author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East Brian Whitaker recently told me, some Islamists have begun talking about being gay as an 'illness' instead of invoking the Quran and religion as a way to counter the LGBT community. For Whitaker, and he argues this is happening in both Tunisia and Egypt, it is an important development that should not be overlooked. 'In Tunisia, for example, the Ennahda's main statement about homosexuality being an illness may have opened up scope for a debate about decriminalization.'

"But back in Egypt, when I spoke with the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Giza head Amr Derrag last year ahead of parliamentary elections, I broached the topic of gay rights. Although he refused to comment directly on the subject, he did allude to the idea that decriminalization of homosexuality could be on the agenda. 'The FJP stands for all human rights and justice, if people need assistance for something, we will give it,' was his elusive answer, albeit telling. It shows that some Islamists are, at least outwardly, appearing willing to at least accommodate the talk of minority rights."

"If My Family Were To Find Me With Another Girl In The Past, I Would Have Been Yelled At And Maybe They Would Not Have Talked To Me For Weeks... But Now They Would Turn Me In"

"In Tunisia, the new magazine Tunisia's GayDay has developed these channels even further, where they strive to combine local cultural distinctions while promoting a message of rights. In many ways this might be key to their success, as by focusing on the local, grassroots nature of Tunisia, it can go a long way in changing perceptions in the local community. Still, they must overcome barriers within society, also related to the Islamist rise, that are certainly to be addressed by their own community. And despite the growing fear among intellectuals and liberals over the role of the Islamists and the Ennahda party, even members of Tunisia's LGBT community say the level of conservatism in the country is not at its peak.

"'Tunisians are not as conservative as the world believes, and at the end of the day, they are more willing to let people have sex with who they want to and not make it a crime, but it is breaking through the idea that it is okay that is holding people back,' Hind, a Tunisian lesbian who requested to have her surname private, said. But Hind did add that the current social climate is changing and she has to be on her toes more when in public with her girlfriend, highlighting the difficulties still facing the community. 'If my family were to find me with another girl in the past, I would have been yelled at and maybe they would not have talked to me for weeks or something, but now they would turn me in. My brother even told me they would so it is more scary now than before, and all this after we had longed for change,' she explained.

"Despite these challenges, there is still hope that with time, the LGBT community can become full citizens in their society. Nothing comes easy and although the euphoria of revolution brought great hope for immediate change, it does take time. Whitaker points out that in the UK it took 10 years to go from draft law on decriminalization to passed legislation. While the Iraqi massacre of 'emo' teenagers suggests the region is regressing in terms of LGBT rights, the opening of public discourse has enabled the question of LGBT rights to surface in post-revolution societies. This should be seen as a positive, because it, at the minimum, reveals a trend toward openness and acceptance. It could take years to come to fruition, but it has truly begun for the LGBT community."


Endnotes:

[1] english.al-akhbar.com, April 11, 2012.

http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/6284.htm


[linked image]"The chief aim of all government is to preserve the freedom of the citizen. His control over his person, his property, his movements, his business, his desires should be restrained only so far as the public welfare imperatively demands. The world is in more danger of being governed too much than too little.

It is the teaching of all history that liberty can only be preserved in small areas. Local self-government is, therefore, indispensable to liberty. A centralized and distant bureaucracy is the worst of all tyranny.

Taxation can justly be levied for no purpose other than to provide revenue for the support of the government. To tax one person, class or section to provide revenue for the benefit of another is none the less robbery because done under the form of law and called taxation."

John W. Davis, Democratic Presidential Candidate, 1924. Davis was one of the greatest trial and appellate lawyers in US history. He also served as the US Ambassador to the UK.
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