In what would have been a seemingly innocent act driven by fervor, a small group of fans raised and waved a rainbow flag at the concert of Mashrou’ Leila, an alternative rock band from Lebanon. Waving lighters, cell phones and other portable items is a regular thing in concerts. Waving a rainbow flag should be acceptable behaviour in a Mashrou’ Leila concert whose lead singer is openly gay.
But instead the photo went viral and initiated a hate campaign against gays. Some raised conspiracies that gay and lesbian groups were funded by foreign groups. Regulators pushed to have gay people banned from appearing in all forms of media unless they were to “repent”.
Sarah Hegazy was arrested on charges that she was the one waving the flag and is one of 57 people rounded up in Egypt’s latest and most extensive crackdown on gay people. The 28-year old Hegazy denies waving the flag but was nonetheless beaten and abused by cellmates allegedly on instructions from the police.
If found guilty, Hegazy could face a life sentence in jail for promoting what the authorities deem “sexual deviancy”.
Egypt has been criticised for its human rights record. The country is a key ally of the United States in the Middle East. U.S. President Donald Trump came under fire from human rights organisations for his failure to bring up abuses in the region during his visit to the Middle East.
The government of Egypt has adopted a zero-tolerance response to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the predominantly Muslim country.
Al-Azhar issued a statement saying it would stand against gays in the same way it has shown resistance to Muslim extremists. Al-Azhar is the nation’s 1,000 year old centre for Islamic learning.
Four people including Hegazy and a 21-year-old identified as Ahmed Alaa have been arrested for the flag- waving incident.
However many others have been arrested not for their participation in the flag- waving case but simply on suspicions about their sexual orientation.
Police have conducted investigations at homes and parties suspected to be owned or patronised by gay people. Some have launched entrapment operations by using dating apps to lure gay men then placing them under arrest.
It should be noted that homosexuality is not outlawed in Egypt. However, it is a conservative society and tolerance for the alternative lifestyle appears to have run its course. Gays are arrested with greater frequency and charged with crimes such as debauchery, immorality and blasphemy.