Eight Egyptian men were sentenced to three years in prison plus three years on probation for allegedly attending Egypt’s first same-sex wedding. The harsh sentence was condoned by Egyptian TV host Tamer Amin and the Egyptian Minister for Religious Endowment. Despite the high hopes that existed in the wake of the Arab Spring, the plight of homosexuals in Egypt and the Arab world has deteriorated.
According to Al Jazeera, an Egyptian court sentenced eight men to three years in jail for spreading indecent images after allegedly publishing a video of the country’s first gay marriage ceremony, which showed two men kissing each other. The court also sentenced the participants to three years probation once they finish their prison terms. The Egyptian chief prosecutor alleged that the images were “shameful to Allah” and “offensive to public morals.”
While homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt, homosexuals who made their identity known in public have faced legal difficulties in practice. In the past, homosexuals have been jailed for “scorning religion” and engaging in “sexual practices contrary to Islam.” According to the Al Jazeera report, the Egyptian prosecution prosecuted this group of eight Egyptian men for publishing images that “violate public decency.”
According to the MEMRI website, Egyptian TV host Tamer Amin explained the official Egyptian position on homosexuality: “We are all sinners. We all make mistakes and commit sins. However, the best among sinners are those who repent, and ultimately, we will all face our Lord. The issue is not whether I make a mistake. The catastrophe is when someone boasts in public about his mistakes, his depravity, his obscenity, or the sin that he commits. This is what I am concerned about.”
“I don’t care if so-and-so drinks alcohol,” Amin claimed. “I don’t care if he fornicates. If he steals…in this case, I do care. If I know who it is, I must expose him. If so-and-so makes a mistake on his own, in private, I leave it to Allah to reckon with him. I, Tamer, don’t care. I do care that he boats about his depravity in public. If he appears on TV and says that drinking alcohol is good, for example, this is unacceptable. This constitutes encouragement of depravity. Now he has to deal with society and the law. This holds true for the prison sentences handed down against the young men who appeared in the video of the homosexual wedding.”
“The homosexuals were sentenced to three years in prison and three additional years on probation. This sentence is the epitome of justice,” Amin declared. “They were sentenced to three years imprisonment and once they are released, the government will keep tabs on them for another three years, in order to monitor their behavior. If they do it again – we will do this again. If they resume this behavior, they will face interrogation and prosecution. If they learn their lesson and are deterred now, that will be the end of it. Some believe that liberties mean the freedom to do whatever you want. It is time to correct this notion. People should learn that freedom is constrained. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. The state and the law had to intervene in order to create deterrence: Whoever steps out of line will be punished.”
According to the BBC, homosexuality used to be more socially acceptable in the Arab world in the 19th century. However, with the rise of colonialism in the region, Western ideas on prudishness have since been largely abandoned, and the codification of anti-gay laws became common in the Middle East. While many gay Middle Easterners had hoped for positive change in the wake of the Arab Spring, they have had their hopes dashed in recent years with the rise of radical Islam. In Egypt in particular, despite Sisi’s commitment to secularism, the BBC has reported that the crackdowns have gotten worse and that anal testing to prove homosexual activity continues unabated.
The BBC reported that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is protected by law and the country hosts an annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, which is considered to be one of the most gay-friendly tourist destinations in the world. Since 1993, openly homosexual Israelis have been free to serve in the IDF, well before the U.S. and other western countries permitted the practice. Many gay Palestinians have fled to Israel in order to escape being persecuted by their families and society.
Given the contrast between Israel and Egypt on this issue, recently Egyptian Minister for Religious Endowment Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa has used the homosexuality issue in order to attack and scapegoat Israel. When asked on Al Hayat TV why atheism has become widespread in Egypt, he explained: “There are two reasons for this atheism. One reason is the hijacking of religious discourse by the extremists and terrorists. Some people have their own opinion about our religion. The other reason is the colonialist Zionist force, which sponsors and supports atheists and atheism, and finances homosexuals and homosexuality, in order to fragment this society. They want to undermine the stability of our region any way they can – by means of terrorism, of atheism, of nihilism, and of deviance. So we must confront atheism, nihilism, homosexuality, and moral depravity the same way we confront extremism and terrorism. Our society cannot thrive unless we take a moderate approach.” For Gomaa, being gay or Zionist is no better than being a terrorist.