Last edited: January 04, 2005

Gay Life – and Death – in the Arab World

Persecution of homosexuals increases in the Middle East

Utne Reader, February 5, 2002

By Kate Garsombke,

Gays and lesbians living in the Arab world are struggling against an alarming wave of government persecution, according to human rights groups. But a growing network of progressive-minded Muslims is beginning to fight back.

As Penny Dale of One World Africa reports, eight Egyptian men were arrested for the “practice of debauchery” on January 19, and gay rights groups fear the men may be tortured while in jail.

It’s a “steadily growing pattern of persecution,” claims the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a U.S.-based group that has decried the persecution of gays and people with HIV and AIDS worldwide.

Last year in Cairo, for example, 23 of 52 men convicted of “obscene behavior” were sentenced to five years of hard labor. Then, in December, two Egyptian university students who had responded to an undercover agent’s request for gay contacts in an Internet chat room were sentenced under the same law.

And Saudi Arabia punishes convicted homosexuals with the death penalty— most recently on January 1, when three Saudi Arabian men were executed. The trial proceedings remain secret, according to the IGLHRC, and Amnesty International claims the executions may be part of the government’s “determination to continue its appalling yearly rate of executions.”

“The pattern is the same,” says IGLHRC Program Director Scott Long. “People suspected of homosexuality are picked up and accused of prostitution. Police use informers and the Internet to entrap victims.”

Homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, but statutes are based on Sharia, or Islamic law—which condemn it as an immoral act. According to the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an international group for gay Muslims, homosexuality is seen as sinful and perverted in most Islamic countries based on verses in the Qu’ran.

But although mainstream Islam condemns homosexuality, the Al-Fatiha Foundation site claims “there is a growing movement of progressive-minded Muslims who see Islam as an evolving religion that must adapt to modern-day society.”

Groups like the Al-Fatiha Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society lead the way with others, like the IGLHRC and Amnesty International in opposing the persecution of homosexuals in Arab countries. The IGLHRC publishes online action alerts urging people to send letters to governments in which persecution of gays exists.

Related Links:

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: The IGLHRC is a non-governmental organization that responds to human rights violations of GLBT people and anyone living with HIV or AIDS. (

Al-Fatiha Foundation: An international foundation based in Washington, D.C., the Al Fatiha Foundation is dedicated to Muslim GLBT issues by providing news, discussion groups, and background information on Islam’s view of homosexuality on their Web site. (

Ahbab, the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society: Claiming to be the “first gay Arab radio station,” the New York-based Ahbab features news, articles, and essays about gay Arabs. (

Bint el Nas: In Arabic, the phrase “Bint el Nas” literally means “daughter of the people,” and is used to describe a woman or girl of good standing. The Bint el Nas Web site and its e-zine is designed for gay, bisexual, and transgender women who identify themselves ethnically or culturally with the Arab world, regardless of where they live. (

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