Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

January 21, 2019

TV Personality in Egypt Get One Yr Hard labor for Interviewing Gay Man


Mohamed al-Ghiety

 An Egyptian TV presenter has been sentenced to one year of hard labour for interviewing a gay man last year.
A court in Giza also fined Mohamed al-Ghiety 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($167; £130) for "promoting homosexuality" on his privately owned LTC TV channel.
The gay man, whose identity was hidden, had talked about life as a sex worker.
Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalised in Egypt, however, the authorities have been increasingly cracking down on the LGBT community. 
They routinely arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of "debauchery", immorality or blasphemy. 
The most recent case came about after lawyer Samir Sabry, who is well known in Egypt for taking celebrities to court, filed a lawsuit against Ghiety for his interview which took place in August 2018.
The TV host, who has voiced homophobic views on a number of occasions, spoke to a gay man who expressed regret over his sexuality and described life as a prostitute. The man's face had been blurred to conceal his identity.
Egypt's top media body, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, immediately took the channel off air for two weeks, citing "professional violations". 
The prosecuting lawyer, Mr Sabry, accused the TV host of revealing there to be financial gains of "practising homosexuality", state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reports.
In addition to the jail term and fine, the misdemeanours court also ordered Ghiety to be put under surveillance for one year after serving his sentence, Mr Sabry said. 
The verdict could be appealed against and suspended if Ghiety paid bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds, pending the appeal's outcome, he added. Egypt's media council banned homosexuals from appearing on any media outlet after a rainbow flag was raised at a concert in Cairo in 2017, in a rare public show of support for the LGBT community in the conservative, mainly Muslim country.
A crackdown was also launched on suspected homosexuals with dozens of people arrested, in a move decried by human rights groups.
The authorities rely on a 1961 prostitution law that criminalises "habitual debauchery" to charge people who they suspect of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct. 
Mr Sabry was also the lawyer who filed a case against Egyptian actress Rania Youssef on charges of "inciting debauchery" over a see-through outfit she wore at an awards ceremony last year. He later dropped the case after Ms Youssef apologised.
He has filed hundreds of similar cases in recent years.

August 25, 2018

Dad Gets Sick Daughter and Wife Take him in Ambulance Where Mom and Dad Died} Egypt's Thomas Cook Hotel


If youa are going to Egypt, you might want to wait for more information of how it is that tourists dropped dead at a hotel~~*
Thomas Cook is removing all its customers from a hotel in Egypt after the death of a British couple.
John Cooper, 69, and his wife Susan, 63, from Burnley, died while staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada.
Egyptian authorities said Mr Cooper was taken ill with heart problems, but the couple's daughter said the cause of their deaths was unclear.
Kelly Ormerod said her parents had been "fit and healthy".

'Died in front of me'

Mrs Ormerod, who was also at the hotel with her three children, said in a statement to Lancashire-based radio station 2BR: "They had no health problems at all.
"We have no cause of death, a post-mortem is under way.
"Dad never went to hospital, he died in the hotel room in front of me. I went to hospital in the ambulance with Mum, where she passed away."
Mrs Ormerod praised the support from Thomas Cook, which said it had received "further reports of a raised level of illness among guests".
Aqua Magic resortImage copyrightDEUTSCHE HOSPITALITY
Image captionUp to 1,600 guests are staying at the hotel, according to owner Deutsche Hospitality
In a statement, Thomas Cook said 301 holidaymakers will have options for alternative hotels from Friday onwards and those wishing to go home will be flown back on Friday.
It added: "Safety is always our first priority, so as a precautionary measure we have taken a decision to remove all our customers from this hotel.
"While we understand this is upsetting for those on holiday, we believe this is the right thing to do." 
Sven Hirschler, senior director of corporate communications for the hotel's parent company Deutsche Hospitality, said there was not an unusual level of illness among the 1,600 guests staying at the hotel.
He added Mr Cooper had complained of low blood pressure and was treated by the hotel's on-site doctor on the night he died.

'Tired and exhausted'

Other guests have told the BBC about their experiences with illness during stays at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic.
Janine Traviss, from Oldham, and her partner fell ill with a stomach bug during a holiday which ended earlier this month.
"I subsequently have been ill for several weeks now since returning and had to visit the doctors on two occasions with two full weeks of antibiotics. 
"I am still recovering and still feel very tired and exhausted most days."
Thomas Cook said it is working closely with the hotel and is supporting the local authorities with their investigations. 
It stated the hotel was last audited late last month and received an overall score of 96%.
"We will be contacting those customers due to travel to the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada in the next four weeks to offer alternative holiday options," the tour operator added.
Thomas Cook store Burnley
Image captionSusan Cooper worked at the Thomas Cook branch in Burnley, which was closed on Thursday
Mrs Cooper worked at the travel firm's Burnley branch, which was closed on Thursday.
She was earlier described as "loyal and long-serving" member of staff by the company. 
The listing for the hotel on the Thomas Cook website includes a line saying: "Sorry, there is currently no availability."

Are you a guest at the hotel Steigenberger Aqua Magic or staying elsewhere in the resort? Share your experience by emailing

June 20, 2018

LGBT Community in Egypt Sees Dark Days Ahead


Ahmed Alaa describes raising a rainbow flag at a crowded concert in Cairo last September as "the best moment" of his life. In photos from the event, he looks ecstatic as he waves the flag in the spotlights of the outdoor stage hosting the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou' Leila.
Ahmed Alaa, shown here in Cairo, spent three months in prison for raising a rainbow flag at the concert of a Lebanese band in Cairo last year.
Jane Arraf/NPR
He posted the photos on Facebook, and others did too. The next morning, he woke up to death threats.
A few days later, he was arrested in Egypt's biggest crackdown on the LGBT community in years. He says his sexuality is a private matter, but his hands on the rainbow flag — a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride — became evidence of what the Egyptian government considers dangerously deviant behavior.
"I was shocked at the number of comments threatening to kill me and drag me in the street," Alaa told NPR in Cairo in March, after he was out on bail.
Alaa is 22. Wearing a black hoodie and a denim vest over his slight frame, he looks even younger. Hunched over on a sofa in the back room of a coffee shop, lighting cigarettes, he seemed almost haunted. But his face lit up as he described raising the flag.
"It was a great moment for feeling free, for helping people to practice their rights," said Alaa, a law student. "It makes me happy. It makes me feel human. I can speak. I can share my opinion in public. It was the best moment of my life."
A brutal awakening
The lead singer of Mashrou' Leila is gay, a sexual orientation generally accepted in his native Lebanon but not in many other parts of the Arab world. The band's September concert was believed to be the first time the rainbow flag was raised in public in Cairo.
For Alaa, after the euphoria of the concert came the brutal awakening.
Alaa's university publicly condemned him. His sister was bullied at college and his father, a land realtor, was shunned in his home village. His best friend was detained. And then Alaa was arrested.
"The law is ambiguous enough to allow the judges to punish people for their sexual orientations and sexual practices, and sometimes even for their perceived orientations," says Dalia Abdel Hameed, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights organization. "The worst wave of the crackdown happened after the Mashrou' Leila concert."
Homosexuality isn't illegal in Egypt, but in a country where some officials have equated homosexuality with terrorism, there are other laws for prosecution, including those governing "habitual debauchery." Human rights groups say the law has been used extensively since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi took power five years ago.
Abdel Hameed says more than 100 people are believed to have been arrested after the Mashrou' Leila concert and charged with misdemeanors. She says dozens, some of them entrapped through social networking apps, were given sentences ranging from six months to six years in prison.
But the most serious charges — criminal charges — were leveled against Alaa and an Egyptian woman, Sarah Hegazy, who was also at the concert. Abdel Hameed said she believed this marked the first time a state security court was used to prosecute homosexuality cases.
Alaa says he was charged with belonging to an illegal organization that aimed to disturb public peace, disseminating the group's ideas, "inciting fornication and immorality" and communicating and receiving funds from foreign entities. Hegazy faced similar charges.
After his arrest, Alaa says he was placed in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners — many of them ISIS. With the cells full of smuggled cellphones, he says everyone knew who he was.
"The prison was four floors," he says. "The four floors would chant my name, 'the faggot from the Mashrou' Leila concert.' People would start shouting threats."
Dashed hopes and opportunities
Alaa was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and had memorized the Quran as a child. In prison, he pretended he had been high on drugs when he grabbed the rainbow flag and didn't know what he was doing. He grew his beard and started leading prayers to convince other prisoners he was one of them.
When ISIS attacked churches and killed policemen in Giza province in October, he pretended to join in the prisoners' celebrations inside the jail.
Alaa says his time in prison was terrifying, but he wasn't beaten or tortured. He says because of the international attention his case received, he was not subjected to an anal exam during an interrogation aimed at determining whether he had sex with another man — an unscientific practice used in Egyptian and other prisons and deemed by the U.N. as "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
"Egypt at that moment cared about its image, so luckily, they kept me away from all these procedures," Alaa said. "They did it to many others before me."
After three months in jail, both Alaa and Hegazy were released on bail to await the date of a trial that could land them up to another 15 years in prison.
Alaa said his and his family's lives had already been ruined. In Cairo, he moved from house to house. He was afraid to take taxis in case a driver recognized him and beat him up. He never went back to university after his arrest, and expected to be expelled.
"I don't know how I can ever have a job, because when you apply for a job in Egypt, you have to provide your criminal record and this will be my stigma forever," he told NPR in March. "There are things like university and work that seem impossible at the moment."
Seven years ago, when Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled after three decades in power, he had high hopes for his future.
"After the Egyptian revolution, most of the people have their own dreams about the country and the future," Alaa said. "Now we can't even talk, we can't say anything about the public situation because of fear ... fear of the government, fear of the police."
As for his dreams, he said matter-of-factly, "Now I want to die. I don't have a life. I can't live like everyone else. Every step, every place I go — 'this is Ahmed Alaa, the guy who raised the rainbow flag at the Mashrou' Leila concert.' I hurt most of my friends. They're stigmatized because of me. Just because I'm Ahmed Alaa."
He was still afraid — especially that former prisoners might track him down and kill him, once they realized he believes in LGBT rights.
Alaa's lawyer and friends kept an eye on him. But a few days after he spoke with NPR, he took an overdose of sedatives. He says he was trying to kill himself.
"For them, I was a criminal"
Hegazy, 28, is the eldest of four children in a conservative, middle-class family. After her father, a science professor, died, she helped her mother care for her younger siblings. She was working as an IT specialist with an Egyptian firm when she was arrested, and says after her arrest, her boss was ordered by state security to fire her.
"Anything that involves national security, they make sure to destroy the person's life," said Hegazy, speaking in Cairo in March. A slender young woman in jeans with short, dark hair, Hegazy gave similar reasons to Alaa for raising the rainbow flag at the Mashrou' Leila concert last September.
"It was an act of support and solidarity — not only with the [Mashrou' Leila] vocalist but for everyone who is oppressed," she said. "We were proud to hold the flag. We wouldn't have imagined the reaction of society and the Egyptian state. For them, I was a criminal — someone who was seeking to destroy the moral structure of society."
Hegazy said she does not want to discuss her own sexuality. She said she was arrested at home a week after the concert. According to her lawyer, she faced some of the same charges as Alaa -- joining an illegal group and promoting its ideas, and additional charges of "promoting sexual deviancy and debauchery." At the police station, authorities asked whether she was a virgin and why she no longer wore a head scarf. Hegazy said they incited other female detainees to grope her.
Hegazy spent three months in a women's prison, awaiting trial. She said the other prisoners included sex workers and a woman who was thrown in jail because she couldn't pay a $3 debt. After nine days in solitary confinement, Hegazy was put in a cell with two other women who were ordered not to talk to her. She was not allowed to join other prisoners for exercise outdoors.
"I left this experience after three months with a very intense, serious case of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Hegazy told NPR. "Prison killed me. It destroyed me."
She looked down at the table in a downtown Cairo coffee shop, rarely making eye contact. The only time she smiled was when posing for a photo.
She had just been released from a psychiatric hospital, where she was diagnosed with severe depression. She said she also experienced hallucinations, imagining "people who are nice, who discuss things and don't attack me" in the room with her.
She laughed bitterly when asked what she wanted to do.
"It's a dark future, of course," she says. "All I dream of is to be able to leave Egypt. If I found out I was banned from traveling, I won't let them imprison me."
She said she once tried to kill herself with an overdose and was prepared to try it again.
Escape to Canada
Within a few weeks, though, both Alaa and Hegazy separately found their way to Canada, where they are now seeking asylum.
Abdel Hameed, the activist, says with each crackdown on the LGBT community, she sees dozens of people leave the country. It has become harder to seek asylum in Europe, and Canada is currently among the most welcoming of countries.
While there has been pressure on the Egyptian government regarding Alaa and Hegazy, many more are jailed after being entrapped whose names are unknown. She says they include people who are simply signing onto social networking apps to explore their sexual orientation.
"We can't, for example, publish their names and say we are demanding their freedom," she says. "There are people who are exploring and they are being entrapped through this and in many cases we can't even reach them."
Alaa, who had removed his earring and dyed his hair from blue back to its natural black, escaped Egypt through Saudi Arabia. By phone from Canada, he says he is fine. Lonely, but fine.
"The important thing is I feel safe," he tells NPR from Toronto. "I miss my friends and my family and my brothers and my sister. Not Cairo, not the place, but the people."
He says he still considers raising the flag a great moment.

December 16, 2017

An LGBT Supporting Firm is Promoting Anti Gay, Killing Egypt's Government

 The men you see behind bars or hiding their faces are accused of being gay and attending a gay wedding in Egypt. All charge with debauchery which is the charge-cover-all even in countries where gay sex or being gay is not illegal

A D.C.-based public relations firm that supports LGBT rights is promoting the Egyptian government in the U.S.

Avi Asher-Schapiro of the Intercept — a website that Glenn Greenwald edits — on Dec. 6 reported APCO Worldwide in July signed a $1.2 million contract with Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate — the country’s intelligence agency that is known as the Mukhabarat — to “promote the Egyptian government’s interests in D.C.”

The Intercept reported APCO “quickly assembled an intercontinental 12-person team” in the U.S., Europe, and Israel “to work on behalf of the Egyptian government.”
APCO reportedly reached out to the Associated Press, CNN, and other media outlets “to push positive stories” about Egypt. The Intercept reported APCO “contacted” the Wall Street Journal in October to “emphasize” the country’s “shared values with the United States.”

Anti-LGBT crackdown sparks worldwide outrage
Authorities in September arrested at least seven people who waived a rainbow flag during a Cairo concert that featured Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay lead singer who publicly advocates for LGBT rights.
Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign have both said dozens of LGBT Egyptians have been arrested in recent months, with many of them undergoing so-called anal tests to determine whether they engaged in the same-sex sexual activity. Egyptian lawmakers in October introduced a bill that would criminalize the country’s LGBT community.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are among those who have publicly called upon the Egyptian government to end its crackdown. The Intercept reported APCO ignored it “and instead wrote and distributed flattering pamphlets praising the Egyptian government, reached out to influential American think tanks on Egypt’s behalf, tried to persuade American news outlets to write upbeat items about Egypt’s trajectory and circulated positive news articles about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi — whose public prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, spearheaded the attacks on gay Egyptians.”

The Egyptian government has previously hired PR firms to improve its image in the U.S.
The Associated Press in January reported the country’s General Intelligence Directorate signed contracts with Weber Shandwick and Cassidy and Associates worth $1.8 million a year.
APCO took over Weber Shandwick’s contract that it ended. Cassidy and Associates continue to work with the Egyptian government.

Firm has ‘been a strong defender’ of LGBT rights
The Intercept reported APCO in June celebrated Pride month by creating a video and hashtag campaign that acknowledged its LGBT employees. APCO Global Creative Director Howard Pulchin also wrote an essay the firm posted on its website.
The Intercept notes APCO in 2014 was a corporate sponsor of Live Out Loud, a New York-based group that advocates on behalf of LGBT youth.

An APCO spokesperson on Wednesday told the Washington Blade the firm “has supported, sponsored and worked with a number of LGBTQ and human rights organizations over our history and will proudly continue to do so into the future.” The spokesperson in their statement did not specifically identify the LGBT organizations with which APCO has worked.

APCO Executive Chairman Margery Kraus, who founded the firm in 1984, on Monday reiterated the spokesperson’s statement.
“APCO, since its inception, has been a strong defender of the rights of the LGBTQ community and continues to strongly support our LGBTQ staff worldwide,” she said in a statement that APCO sent to the Blade. “Our global LGBTQ colleagues are represented at every level of our organization, including executive leadership. Our work with Egypt is about promoting the country and its broad potential in an inclusive way and not about defending any specific actions of its leadership.”

Militants with an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State on Nov. 24 killed more than 300 people at a mosque in Bir al-Abed, a town that is located in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The massacre is the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history.
“Enabling Egypt to be better understood in the context of the geopolitical and terrorism threats it faces, such as the recent horrific bombings, is the first step to providing the security needed to foster change in a very complex environment,” said Kraus in her statement. “We believe our work on behalf of the government and the people of Egypt does just that.”
Kraus added APCO does not “require people to work on accounts for which they are not comfortable.” 

“Those working on this account are comfortable with our mandate of promoting stronger ties and dialogue between the United States and Egypt,” she said. “The APCO global community does not condone, nor would we try to justify, specific policies or actions like those directed at the LGBTQ community, but, as a matter of principle, we believe that healthy discussion, dialogue, and inclusion in the global community is a better longer-term path to change than isolation.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade.
Posted on the Washington Blade

November 29, 2017

Egypt in an Act of Terror to its Own People Sentences 16 Men to 3 yrs For Displaying The Rainbow

Sixteen men arrested last month during a crackdown on homosexuality by the authorities in Egypt have been sentenced to three years in prison.
A court in Cairo found 14 of them guilty of "inciting debauchery" and "abnormal sexual relations" on Sunday. The other two were convicted on Monday.
However, they have reportedly been freed on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($282; £211) each pending an appeal.
The verdict for the 17th man on trial in the same case has been delayed.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says at least 75 people have been arrested since rainbow flags were raised at a concert in the capital on 22 September, provoking a public outcry in the socially conservative country.
Only 10 of the arrests are believed to have been related to the flag-raising. Most of the others were entrapped through online dating apps, according to the EIPR. At least five men were subjected to anal examinations.  
Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalized under Egyptian law. Instead, the authorities have relied on a 1961 prostitution law to charge people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct with "habitual debauchery".
The bill defines "homosexuality" for the first time and sets penalties of up to five years imprisonment. "Promoting or inciting homosexuality" is also punishable by up to five years in prison. But someone convicted on multiple charges under different provisions of the law could face up to 15 years in prison.
The public promotion or advertising of any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) gatherings or parties would also be punished by up to three years in prison, as would the display, promotion, sale or marketing of LGBT signs.
The bill also includes a clause that licenses the authorities to publicly "shame" individuals convicted of a related offense by publishing their names and sentences in national newspapers.
"This deeply discriminatory bill would be a huge setback for human rights and another nail in the coffin for sexual rights in Egypt," warned Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's North Africa campaigns director.
The draft bill is expected to be reviewed and discussed by parliament during its current session and if voted for, it would be sent to the president for sign-off.

November 6, 2017

What is The Head of The Anti Gay US Evangelical Family Council Doing in Egypt Meeting President Sisi The Persecutor of Gays There?

 Gays arrested for attending a wedding

 President Sisi Meets with Tony Perkins Hater Group

 What would Jesus Say about Persecuting a community, any community?

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council (FRC), joined a group of evangelical leaders from the United States to meet with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has been criticized as a dictator responsible for Egypt’s harshest political repression in the country’s history.

The el-Sisi government is also responsible for the murders of hundreds of protesters and the jailing of thousands of political opponents. And since 2013, it has also arrested hundreds of LGBT people — primarily gay men and trans women — as part of a larger crackdown on social freedoms.

“What’s happening now is unprecedented,” said Gasser Abed El Razek, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which has been monitoring the crackdown.

On November 1, the evangelical group that included Perkins spoke with el-Sisi for nearly three hours at the presidential palace in Cairo, according to The Christian Post, where they discussed a series of issues, including the persecution of Egyptian Christians by Islamic extremists.

“I appreciate the opportunity to meet with President el-Sisi to discuss the concerns we have,” Perkins was quoted in The Christian Post as saying, “as American evangelicals, for the plight of religious minorities in Egypt, especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Other prominent evangelicals joined him, including Rev. Johnnie Moore, former U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and Egyptian-born author and pastor Michael Youssef. In August, Bachmann was announced as the leader of a ministry to the United Nations that was launched by anti-LGBT pastor Jim Garlow through his Skyline Ministries. Moore once served as faith advisor to current Department of Housing director Ben Carson.

According to Perkins on the FRC website, the trip was organized by Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian who is known for his End Times writings. Perkins claimed that the delegation of evangelicals “made the trip to Cairo to try to repair the damage done by Barack Obama’s indifference to international religious freedom.”

Perkins also said that the meeting went from one hour to three, as the delegation then met with Khalid Fawzi, chief of Egyptian intelligence, and Andrea Zaki, president of the council of Protestant Churches in Egypt.

The FRC post did not address el-Sisi’s dictatorial policies toward his own citizens or the draconian policies currently being enacted toward LGBT people and their supporters, including a proposed law that dictates prison sentences for those who engage in homosexuality, those who support it, and media that “promotes” or mentions it.

No surprise, really, since Perkins has appeared wishy-washy in the past for the proposed anti-LGBT Ugandan bill (2009), which called for the death penalty in some circumstances.

In 2010, a congressional resolution (H. Res. 1064) was proposed to condemn the Uganda bill and FRC was criticized for lobbying against the resolution. A lobbying report noted that FRC paid $25,000 to deal with “Res.1064Ugandan ResolutionPro-homosexual promotion” (sic).

Perkins claimed that FRC did not lobby against the resolution, but rather against language FRC wanted removed from the resoluton that dealt with “assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.”

The resolution stated that “all people possess an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, and share fundamental human rights.”

FRC doubled-down on that point in 2012, stating that the organization has never supported a policy that imposes the death penalty on homosexuals. Rather,

What we do oppose is the suggestion that gay and lesbian acts are universal human rights. So when Congress introduced a resolution in 2010 denouncing Uganda’s punishment for homosexuality, FRC fought—at the request of some Members—to strike the pro-homosexual “human rights” language from the final measure.

With such views on human rights and LGBT people, it’s no surprise that Perkins participated in a conversation with an authoritarian leader responsible for jailing and massacring hundreds of protestors and currently arresting LGBT people in his own country.

October 27, 2017

Egypt's Crack Down on LGBT Music Band and Gays Over 2Fans Rainbow Flag

Fans of Mashrou' Leila show a rainbow flag at the concert in Cairo, Egypt, last September. Benno Schwinghammer/picture-alliance/DPA/AP Images

It was a beautiful night for Mashrou' Leila. Over 35,000 concertgoers showed up to see the Lebanese band and two other Arab rock groups perform at the daylong Music Park Festival in an upscale suburb of Cairo, Egypt, late last September. During their set, spotlights glittered in carnivalesque colors and mega-screens displayed images of a woman wearing a hijab doing interpretive dance – a clip from the music video for their popular song "Roman" – as they strutted through their funky, violin-adorned, socially-engaged indie rock. 

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During the show, fans were photographed waving a rainbow flag – the universal symbol of gay pride – in solidarity with the group. Singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay, and the band has long been outspoken about LGBTQ issues in their music and public statements. In the days afterward, the images circulated on social media and Egyptian TV commentators and newspapers turned it into a public scandal. The local musicians' syndicate banned Mashrou' Leila from playing in the country, and Egyptian authorities launched what activists and human rights observers are now saying is the worst-ever crackdown on the country's gay community, arresting dozens on "debauchery" charges.

"The concert itself for us was just magical," Sinno recalls to Rolling Stone with a heavy sigh. "It felt like such a loving, happy audience. It's been really difficult, sort of hitting that high and then having it get perverted into what it is now."

In a region where it's rare and often risky to be open about one's non-heteronormative sexuality or gender, Mashrou' Leila has offered visibility for queer cultural expression. One of the most popular rock bands in the Middle East, they've written bold and compassionate songs that address gender and sexuality in addition to politics and other topics, and while they've faced online backlash, concert bans, and even death threats, they've always stood their ground. "My life spent with rights mortgaged off to your sentiments / My history erased from our books like they were yours to claim," Sinno sings in their song "Tayf" ("Ghost"), a solemn but defiant tribute to a Beirut gay bar that was shut down by Lebanese authorities in 2013.

But Sinno has struggled to process this painful ordeal: He wasn't prepared for his fans to come under attack, too.

"For a couple days after, I really started to question everything we've been doing for the last 10 years," Sinno says, speaking by phone from a recent tour stop in San Francisco. "A big part of what we do and why we address politics and gender and class and whatever – be that through our music and through our positions in the public eye – a big part of that is about trying to create sort of a cultural roster for people to identify with and feel emboldened by. And it felt like for a few days, we had to doubt whether we were actually doing that, or if we were just feeding the trolls."

Mashrou' Leila (which means "A Night Project" in Arabic) formed in 2008 at the American University of Beirut. Over the years, the quintet has come to be associated with a handful of Arab indie bands carving out an alternative lane for young music fans, eager for fresh sounds in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring – and the band has been making an impact. They have over 500,000 Facebook followers and their songs have gotten millions of YouTube hits. They're currently staying in the U.S., making tour stops across the country while teaching a one-day-a-week, semester-long course on the intersection of music and politics in the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University.

The crisis in Egypt broke out right as the band arrived in the U.S. to start the course – they ended up rewriting materials for the first class, turning their situation into a case study for the NYU students.
Hamed Sinno (left) is the openly gay singer of Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila

 "We thought it was sort of important for them to look at that as one situation and to see how the media that's generated around a musical event can more often than not redefine what that musical event is," Sinno says.

Mashrou' Leila's fourth album, 2015's Ibn El Leil (Son of the Night), is a layered opus of funky bass, propulsive dance beats, orchestral arrangements and literary references. In "Tayf," Sinno sings in a smoldering baritone, weaving a poetic call to resistance in Arabic while the rest of the band drives the message home with a chugging four-to-the-floor beat and a spare melody from violinist Haig Papazian. It's one of many examples of the band negotiating issues of identity and politics through their immersive productions, eye-catching music videos, and passionate live show.

Prior to the concert in September, the band had played many times in Egypt, receiving positive reviews from local bloggers and media outlets. But as they've built a huge fan base, they've also faced a backlash. In 2016 they were barred from performing in Amman, Jordan, and this summer Jordan's Interior Ministry canceled yet another planned performance after members of parliament protested Sinno's sexuality. It's experiences like this that Sinno says make it that much more important for them to keep pushing forward.

"The amount of hate that you would be able to see on social media is a testament to how necessary it is to constantly have that conversation in the public domain," Sinno says. "We're talking about victimless actions between consenting adults, and this kind of hate is completely irrational. So on the one hand, that debate obviously needs to be happening. But on the other hand, it's also really important for us and for the LGBTQ-plus community to have access to images of itself that are self-authored, that are not coming from a place of hate and condemnation, that are just about people having their lives and doing their work and surviving."

Egypt is a conservative country with a predominantly Muslim population, but it's also a major cultural center for the Arab world. With a population of 20.4 million people, the capital, Cairo, is home to a thriving underground scene of musicians, artists, and other socially-engaged young people, and in the months following the 2011 revolution — which saw the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak — the LGBTQ community reportedly enjoyed a period of openness in areas like Cairo's downtown, full of street cafes and rooftop bars.

But in 2013, Egypt's elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup led by current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. As the government secured control over the country, police began to crack down on the gay community, launching a series of raids and arrests while pro-government media outlets stoked public sex scandals.

Homosexuality isn't illegal in Egypt, but LGBT people are typically charged under debauchery and prostitution laws. According to Dalia Abdel Hameed, gender and women's rights officer at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, gay men specifically are often targeted in entrapment schemes through dating apps like Grindr. Police will set up fake profiles to lure men into dates, and then arrest them and later use pictures and messages taken from their profiles as evidence that they were "publishing online debauchery." Sometimes individuals will also be subjected to humiliating anal examinations to supposedly determine if they've participated in anal sex, a practice that human rights groups condemn as torture.

Between September 19th and October 15th, Abdel Hameed says 70 individuals have been arrested in the latest crackdown – including two concertgoers who are alleged to have held up the pride flag at the Mashrou' Leila concert. Twenty-seven have already been convicted with sentences ranging from six months to six years in prison, and seven have been acquitted or released. The two who were charged with raising the pride flag is facing more serious charges under Egypt's national security prosecution, Abdel Hameed says.
Fans of Mashrou' Leila show a rainbow flag at the concert in Cairo, Egypt, last September. Benno Schwinghammer/picture-alliance/DPA/AP Images
"I can't find a justification for this whole thing. I still don't know what is so provocative of people waving a flag," Abdel Hameed says. "This is not [an] ISIS flag."

Speaking by phone from Beirut, one LGBT activist who's been coordinating with others in Egypt – and who asked to not have his name used for fear of reprisals – says many queer people in the country have come to watch out for each other, with activists hosting workshops on how to stay safe while using apps and social media.

"People have their own circles, their own networks. People take care of each other," he says.

Sinno says he and his bandmates first heard murmurs of something going on shortly after performing their concert at Music Park Festival. A few days later, they were en route to New York from Beirut when news of arrests started blowing up in the Egyptian media and on their Facebook page.

"By the time we got off the plane everything had sort of gone to shit," he says. "We automatically got in touch with as many activists and reporters that we know in Egypt on the ground, and no one was able to verify anything for a few days. People didn't know if the arrests were actually happening."

At first, the band was hesitant to comment on what's going on, worried that it might make the situation worse, and then when it became clear that the situation was getting worse they released a statement condemning the crackdown. In recent days, the band has been touring and teaching their NYU class, while in Egypt the government's media regulatory body has issued a statement barring local media from depicting LGBTQ people, except in cases where they "repent" for their behavior. For Sinno, all of this makes him reflect on his role as an openly gay artist making music in the Middle East and North Africa – feeling a sense of responsibility towards LGBTQ fans, while also feeling the need to be an artist and person on his own terms.

"Do I get that feeling of responsibility? Yes and no. I mean, I think it's something that's impossible to avoid once you're in the public eye, right? And I acknowledge that and I try to honor that as much as I can," Sinno says. "But at the same time it's also something that, like, you need to figure out how to not carry it with you the whole time, because it becomes impossible to write anything the moment you feel like the rest of the world is implicated. You lose your voice the moment you start trying to speak for other people."

"I realize completely that this has nothing actually to do with the band," Sinno adds, his voice grave as he reflects on the situation. "This is essentially about our governments being regressive and refusing to stop taking away peoples' rights that are their rights. This isn't about the band at all. But it still feels like it is."

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