Gay in Egypt – the plight of acceptance

Scene taken from the movie "Tol omry" (All my life)

By Hanan Solayman

EGYPT. “All my life I’ve been lonely” or Toul Omry A’yesh le wahdy… a famous song by prominent Egyptian singer Mohamed Abd el-Wahab in the late 1930s that evokes loneliness and difficulty in finding the soul mate. A song that better describes the life of homosexuals in Egypt as Maher Sabry used it as a background melody in his digital film ‘All My Life’ (Toul Omri), the most daring and sexually explicit LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trends) film to ever come about homosexuals in the Arab world in 2008.

Life of homosexuals in Egypt cannot be easy mainly because of religious reasons (both Muslims and Christians regard it as a grave sin). There’s no specific law that criminalizes homosexuality, however, it’s covered by general legislation governing public morality. In their world, you can understand the other only by looks especially if you’re standing in front of a famous fast food restaurant in Tahrir Square or a nearby coffee shop.

The state responds

According to Mostafa Fathy, author of ‘Balad el-Welad’ (country of boys) book about gays in Egypt “No human should judge another human… God is in heaven not on earth”. Mostafa created a fuss lately when el-Diwan bookstore cancelled his book signing event and refused to sell his book because of its content although it hit the bestsellers’ list in other bookstores.

This was not the only incident that reflects how homosexuals are living in Egypt or how the state deals with them. A quick overview of LGBT related-incidents include: a recent crackdown on ‘el-Balagh el-Gadid’ newspaper for ‘falsely reporting’ on a gay ring that involves 3 famous actors; the film “Toul Omry”, considered to be the first Egyptian film that tackles homosexuality which provoked Egypt’s ex-Mufti, Nasr Farid Wasel, who called for banning and burning it and the arrest of 52 men (a few imprisoned from 1 to 5 years) in the famous raid on Queen Boat in Cairo back in 2001 for ‘Spreading obscenity and incitement to debauchery’.

‘Curing the love’

Dr. Awsam Wasfy, Coptic therapist experienced in treating homosexuals and author of “Curing love”, book on homosexuality, realizes the difficult situation of homosexuals in Egypt as they’re regarded as voluntary sinners besides being chased by the police. Homosexuality, Dr. Awsam says, means that the person is born oversensitive, yet, it has more to do with genetic influence rather than genetic determination (like obesity). He explains that a certain surrounding can favour homosexuality, which can be prevented if the person is on guard.

Dr. Awsam notes that during childhood, homosexuals tend to stay with the opposite sex and this might influence their lifestyle (cross dressing, playing with dolls, speaking softly and walking gently). These boys are either distanced from their fathers or subjected to sexual assault in their childhood which turns them into a “Mom’s little boy”… the opposite happens with girls.

As Mohamed, 23 years old, recalls “My older brother sexually assaulted me when I was 8 years old and when I went to college, I started seeing gay websites and chatting with homosexuals but I never had sex because I fear God”. Mohamed managed to get over his homosexuality but he’s still waiting to get attracted to the other sex.

“Homosexuals are people whose sexual growth stopped due to some conditions. We should accept them not approve what they are” Dr. Awsam said. Other psychiatric methods treat homosexuality by curbing the desire. As an Egyptian homosexual told me, they give anti-depressants that make them sleep, increase their weight and sometimes make their hair fall. For that reason, last April, Dr. Awsam launched a special school named Unwanted Sexual Attraction Counseling Training School (US ACTS) or “Motamem” to train Arab psychiatrists how to deal with homosexuals. The National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) in USA has recognized this School.

Between conservatism and openness

In a country where homosexuality is considered a religious and social taboo, Egyptian TV, press, cinema and literature have started recently to sneak into this hidden world. The most famous production ‘Emaret Yacoubian’ or Yacoubian’s Building movie is a clear example. A few programs and articles tackle homosexuality as a problem that needs to be solved instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. A story written by a homosexual and published in el-Ahram, first newspaper in Egypt, announces a new approach.

Nonetheless, Khaled Youssef, famous Egyptian director has a different point of view. He believes that Egyptian society is becoming more conservative due to religious prevalence. “We were more free in the past but now the situation is deteriorating”, Khaled said recalling harsh criticism he got for showing a lesbian couple in his movie “Heena Maysara” despite presenting it as a result of poverty. Homosexuality, Khaled says, is a social disease and a phenomenon that needs to be discussed.



Filed under Middle East, Society

4 responses to “Gay in Egypt – the plight of acceptance

  1. Dear Hanan,
    I think this is a very interesting story, showing not only the life of homosexual people in Egypt, but also showing how different the value systems of our two countries is in regard to gay people. Ofcourse, gay people meet some troubles in Sweden as well and in the rest of the Europe and the world. I have heard of these centres for “curing the homosexuality” in other parts of the world, in the US for example. However, I do not agree with the doctor above, about the homosexuality being a disease. But I do agree that it needs to be discussed more in any society.
    thanks fro showing us this

  2. Andrea Hillaire

    In some countries there are parades and in others “special schools”, haha. Our world is indeed an interesting one. Thank you for a good read!

  3. Krisztian Gal

    indeed a good read and a very interesting point she made!

  4. nasry (Egypt)

    in Egypt it is very shameful to be a gay .. it is not only related to religon but it relates more to how the society is dominated by certain male values .. for example people can tolerate secular thinking but being a gay is like the worst shame .. and people can ignore that lesbians do exist around but being a gay is even worse …. the word gay is a bad insult slang and u can call people, actions or even things gay but lesbian is never used and it is not an insult and this why many Egyptians could be easily labeled as homophobics when they travel to Europe .. some of them may have never been introduced to homosexual people all their lives.

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