Monday, January 30, 2006

Human Rights for Egyptian Gays

A chance to write about Wissam Abyad, a man who because of his sexual orientation found himself threatened, harassed, arrested and humilated by the Egyptian security apparatus. He survived, and with the help of Egyptian and international activists, is now free, although forced to live abroad. There's a charming and important story in the most recent edition of Bay Windows, a LGBT publication out of New England about Wissam and his reunion with his Egyptian mother.

Working on gay rights in the Arab Middle East, as for much of the world, is controversial. Many Egyptian activists refuse to do so, (although there are important and courageous exceptions). The arguments presented to us are crouched in comments about cultural imperialism, imposing Western values on another region -- although the arguments I hear against working on LGBT issues are often the same I hear from some Christians in my home state of North Carolina.

But Wissam's story makes it clear why we must work on these cases. The same security apparatus used to crack down on academics such as Saad Ibrahim was also used against Wissam and other Egyptian gays. The same "security courts" used against human rights activists and Muslim Brothers were used against Egyptian gays. The same system that tortures Egyptian defendants is faced with allegations of torture by gay prisoners.

This underscores why it is essential to work on LGBT cases. You can not defeat torture without ending torture of LGBT prisoners. You can not end unfair trials and not work on unfair trials against LGBT defendants. You allow security groups to entrap and harass gay men, and the same methods will end up being used against other groups. It is, in essence, the same argument I make to implore the U.S. to treat the abuses against Muslim Brothers as important as any other group.

I read Wissam's story, and having heard him before, I'm proud that Amnesty and other HR groups consider his case important. He is such a gentle, warm man. In a small but important way, his stand against oppression is as much a part of the human rights revolution in the Middle East as any.

Click here for AIUSA's Outfront page

Click here for a Human Rights Watch report on abuses against gays in Egypt.


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