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- What speaking Arabic at a gay sauna in London made me realise about my identity | The Independent
A Saudi friend studying at university blurted out over coffee that he had fallen madly in love with an Afghan boy working in a carpet shop, and asked for advice on how to pull him. In Tunisia, two friends came round for dinner. A Justin Bieber special started on the cable TV channel, and I reached for the remote to turn it off. In fact, they spent the rest of the evening using my computer to chat with a French women one had hooked up with a few months earlier when she was holidaying there. Like most of the young, unmarried Arab men I befriended over the decades, they knew a gorgeous boy when they saw one, but would have considered it absurd to attach to such desire an all-consuming social identity symbolised by the rainbow flag.
Last week, an Egyptian parliamentarian, Mustafa Bakri, inadvertently hinted at why this flag triggers such panic. Still, not to worry. The commotion will blow over and Egyptian boys, like Arab boys everywhere, will get back to banging each other like rabbits as they have been doing for millennia.
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It would take more than the rantings of an MP to eradicate such a deeply entrenched tradition. The golden rule, though, will remain: Who needs the gay ghetto and the equally ghastly dating apps, still less the infantile nonsense that passes for gay cultural expression, when the souks and coffee shops are teeming with charming boys perfectly happy to jump into bed as long as they trust that the next day you will not tell all and sundry what you got up to?
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Gay, Arab and Israeli: Living in a minority within a minority
Roger Scruton: An apology for thinking Roger Scruton. Inside the Brexit Party launch: Dear Remainer parliament: Samir occasionally goes to Saudi cafes known to be popular gay hangouts, but his public engagements stop there. He and his friends are constantly wary of officers from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice , the kingdom's religious police, who patrol for and punish men they suspect of being gay.
Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia , but the charge calls for four witnesses to make a case. Arrests by the religious police are far more arbitrary. In a recent case they apprehended one man at a Jeddah shopping mall, suspecting he was gay from his tight jeans and fitted shirt. In Saudi Arabia, where men and women are strictly separated, there is some space for gay life. Gay men can go cruising -- a term for picking up partners -- and socialize in male-only sections of cafes and restaurants. In line with sex-segregated social norms, gay lovers can often spend intimate time together without arousing suspicion.
But gays and lesbians in Saudi Arabia still need to accommodate the pressures of public life, in some cases pairing off to accommodate a freer lifestyle. It's the perfect solution," says Samir, adding that he wouldn't mind a lesbian wife of his own.
For Samir, the dozens of emerging Web forums for gay Arab men are a freer alternative to the offline Saudi society. I met him in one such forum, called Arab Gay Love, e-cruising for new friends and partners. Some of the users there surf with screen names that specify their sexual role: Web forums like arab-gay. Using proxy servers men can get around the bans to the blocked sites, connecting with potential dates and building a knowledge base for gay life in the Arab world. One blog from Syria, largely considered a repressed society, details a tourist's guide to gay hangouts in Damascus and Aleppo.
There are four hammams in Damascus where you could play safely, but always be careful," he writes, then listing the most popular "hammams," or bath houses. He goes on to name the Safwan Hotel in Lattakia as "the most famous gay-friendly hotel in the region.
From his home in Mecca, Samir can surf the web forums and Facebook groups that connect him to the gay Arab world. But he does so with care, fearing that authorities will follow and flag gay activity online.
If they have their eye on you, they can follow your every move," he says. If Samir's approach seems paranoid, it's conditioned by horror stories of harsh crackdowns by Arab governments on gay life. In Egypt, where police have systematically arrested and tortured suspected homosexuals, vice squads have logged on to chat rooms posing as gay men.
What speaking Arabic at a gay sauna in London made me realise about my identity | The Independent
Forming friendships under a false identity, the police set up an expected first date, then meet their "suspects" with a brutal arrest. I was dragged, almost carried to the police car The vice squad's practice of covertly hunting gay men in chat rooms cooled once the teeming gay Internet scene in Egypt slowed down. Fear and suspicion effectively shut down one of gay Egypt's few free outlets. At one point online entrapment was yielding one arrest per week, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Web was part of a greater crackdown in Egypt, a country that was once a liberal environment for homosexuals. Government-led assaults on homosexuals intensified in The pivot point was a mass arrest known as the "Queen Boat" incident. In the early morning hours of May 11, , police raided a floating nightclub called the Queen Boat, a then-popular gay hangout moored on the Nile River.
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Suddenly surrounded by uniformed and undercover members of the Cairo Vice Squad, dozens of gay men were arrested, detained and tortured. What ensued from the Queen Boat arrests was a show trial -- forced confessions, some extracted under torture and a media circus designed to amplify public fear and maximize the government's political gain from the arrest.
Though Egypt claims to have no law against homosexuality, it routinely criminalizes and prosecutes gay men under a law prohibiting "juhur," or debauchery, a charge originally levied for prostitution. In the heat of the case, one article in the state-owned Al-Gomhoureya newspaper gave full names and identifying details of the accused, depicting the arrested homosexuals as part of an underground religious cult. The paper ran one headline, "Satanist Pervert Surprises: Analysts point out a number of ways the Egyptian government gains from crackdowns like the Queen Boat raid.
News pages full of homophobic rants are a useful distraction from issues like a faltering economy and rampant corruption, which erode government support.