Anyone who closely followed the events of the Arab spring knows that the demonstrations that rocked Egypt and other lands drew a unique and highly complex mix of people into the streets in opposition to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
The public faces of these events were young, urban and, by the standards of the region, “liberal.” Some could even be called “secular” — some, but not many (check the confusing, but fascinating data from a well-timed Pew Forum survey).
Now the Washington Post has jumped behind those early images to ask a logical question: How have these events affected the lives of gays and lesbians in urban Egypt (as opposed to smaller cities, villages and rural areas)? In particular, what does the future look like for homosexuals in light of the large majority of the population that has, to one degree or another, Islamist views about governance?
This news feature is, as you would expect, packed with urban details. But here is a crucial passage — featuring the voice of Kholoud Bidak, a 33-year-old lesbian — dedicated to a crucial fact:
On Jan. 25, the day the demonstrations began, Bidak remembers spotting a large group of young gay men with tweaked eyebrows, shiny lip gloss and skinny jeans among the protesters. The next time she saw them, on Jan. 28, the day security forces cracked down most violently on the revolt, the men had ditched the glam and braced for battle, carrying vinegar and onions to make the sting of tear gas bearable.
“I think being queer played a huge part,” she said about their motivation to protest. “It was useful for us to be visible and prove that we’re here, that we’re human beings, that we do exist. You can see us.”
Bidak said she spent several days fighting alongside bearded members of the Muslim Brotherhood. As she perfected the art of assembling molotov cocktails using plastic bottles, some of her comrades didn’t realize she was a woman.
Days after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 ouster, Egyptian women expressed hope for greater rights. Fundamentalist Muslims started plotting a political comeback. Coptic Christians spoke of a more visible role in society. Although gays celebrated largely in silence, many began feeling somewhat empowered.
The goal, you see, is open acceptance in Egyptian society and in its law. The story makes that clear.
So if that is the case, and large slices of the Egyptian people are on the record as saying that Egyptian law and life should be based on the Koran and Islamic teachings (several competing views of sharia are in play), wouldn’t it be logical for this story to offer some factual material on how Islam views homosexuality?
I ask this question with the assumption, of course, that there is no one, iron-clad view of the subject. I assume that the increasingly visible Salafi minority has somewhat different views from the slightly less conservative Islamic Brotherhood. I know that the Coptic Orthodox would teach that homosexual acts are sinful, but would almost certainly have differing views on how this would be addressed in the nation’s laws. A crucial question: Are there any Muslim voices in Egypt that openly favor gay rights to any degree?
Behind this looms a more basic question: What are the specific sources in the Koran and Islamic tradition that are being debated, when these issues are discussed? How about one or two sentences or even paragraphs that offer insights into these facts?
How does a reader grasp the serious, practical hurdles that are facing these activists without a few of these facts?
Do not look for them in this piece. Instead, readers are merely told:
… (For) Bidak and many other Egyptian gays, the enthusiasm has fizzled. Islamists, all but certain to become politically powerful in the coming elections, have been calling for a strict religious state; dogmatic politicians have been ascendant in Tunisia, which is among the most liberal of Arab nations.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s security forces, now run by military chiefs, are resorting to tactics the old regime used to silence critics.
Once again, what is missing? What is missing is even the most basic facts about religion, law, tradition, etc.
IMAGE: Cairo nightlife