Egypt’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown that gained traction after a rainbow flag was raised at a concert in Cairo last November is worsening; where October 2017 saw 70 people arrested and a significant number sentenced to multiple years in prison, gay Egyptians are still feeling the fear and uncertainty of life under active persecution well into 2018.
While homosexuality is not explicitly criminalized under any law in Egypt, the LGBTQ community has been pegged as a convenient scapegoat by the current government, which frequently uses the General Directorate for Protecting Public Morality to prosecute anyone accused of engaging in “transgressive” behavior; even in the event that one is not imprisoned for homosexual conduct or an affiliation with the LGBTQ community, perceived association with so-called “debauchery” can wreak havoc by inciting public humiliation and physical violence.
In a country where the intricacies of gay private life are being broadcasted through the most public of channels for ridicule, apps like Grindr and Hornet can be important aspects of maintaining a sense of community and, more pressingly, safety; beginning in 2014, Grindr began broadcasting messages to their Egyptian users about maintaining account anonymity.
But even these dating apps, often treated as havens for queer contact in the Western world, can be sites for predatory violence and attempted entrapment. It isn’t uncommon for police to masquerade as civilians or for blackmailers to use hook-ups as a front for extortion. “I lost my sex drive for a long time,” one Egyptian man called Omar told a Verge reporter, going on to explain that the pressure to have a sexual life seemed impossible when stacked against the stories of exploitation and imprisonment.
A report by OutWatch International revealed that Egypt is one of 55 countries where LGBTQ-affiliated groups do not have the right to legally register, making it difficult for human rights organizations to document the international response to the nation’s crisis; still, some Egyptians claim that Egypt’s allies in Europe and international organizations have taken no initiative, leaving the people to fight for themselves as grassroots groups on the ground are actively dismantled.
This radio silence, coupled with the pervasiveness of Europe’s current migrant influx and the rise of conservative and far-right political figures in global contemporary politics, makes it difficult for many Egyptians to imagine leaving their country to set up a life there. Nevertheless, Omar says, “it’s time to speak out.”