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Citizenship

As Egypt Continues Its LGBTQ Crackdown, Activists Say Media Can Help

Germany, Malta, Austria, and Australia all celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriages this year, marking huge progress for LGBTQ rights — in many other countries, 2017 was a difficult year for LGBTQ communities.

In countries like Egypt, Indonesia, and Chechnya, governments appear to be cracking down on LGBTQ rights.

But activists say there is hope.

Even under adverse conditions, progress is possible one step at a time, activists said at a panel hosted by OutRight Action International, an LGBTIQ rights NGO, on Thursday. And there is a role for the international community to play in that process.

Georges Azzi, Executive Director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, said that journalists and the international media can impact local communities’ understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ rights through news coverage.

Azzi pointed to Tunisia as example — which earlier this year banned forced anal exams for people suspected to have had anal sex, Human Rights Watch reported. Azzi said the Tunisian media has been generally supportive of the country’s LGBTQ community and has used more positive language, and that has impacted the government, which has taken small steps toward improving the LGBTQ right’s situation in the country.

Azzi added that similar strategy could be an effective way to support Egypt’s LGBTQ community, which has recently been subjected to a government crackdown after fans at a concert in Cairo raised rainbow flags as a show of pride in September.

Though the Northern African country does not explicitly criminalize homosexuality, it began arresting the flag-waving concertgoers for “promoting sexual deviancy” and in the weeks that followed targeted dozens of LGBT people through dating apps and websites.

Read more: Fans Arrested at a Concert in Egypt After Raising Rainbow Flag

Over the last three months, at least 75 people have been arrested, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Azza Sultan, Executive Director of Mesahat Foundation for Sexual and Gender Diversity, explained that though arrests of LGBTQ people under charges of prostitution, debauchery, or “incitement of debauchery” are nothing new in Egypt, the frequency of arrests has increased since the concert incident.

Sultan said that local media outlets, many of which have ties to the government, covered the concert in a negative light, calling it a “national and moral disaster” and that the extensive coverage of the incident prompted the government to take stronger action against Egypt’s LGBTQ community.

Of the dozens arrested, Sultan says 49 have already been sentenced to several years in prison.

And the situation may only worsen as more than 60 members of Egypt’s parliament put forth a bill last month that would officially and explicitly criminalize homosexual activities and relationships, Amnesty International reported.

But the media in countries like Egypt can be a double-edged sword for LGBTQ communities.

Read more: Electric Shocks, Routine Beatings, and Murder: What It’s Like to Be Gay in Chechnya

Where Egypt’s local media may have drawn attention to the country’s LGBTQ community making them a bigger target, Azzi said international media can help change local attitudes. By covering LGBTQ rights and events in Egypt in a positive light, foreign media outlets can offer alternative views to the harshly negative narratives of Egypt’s media and can help combat discrimination.

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation, which monitors the media and journalism in Egypt, banned media mentions of LGBTQ people in October, Human Rights Watch reported. However, LGBTQ people can be mentioned when the purpose is to shed light on the “danger” of homosexuality.

“This is a big obstacle, especially for media allies,” Sultan told Global Citizen. “But there is a move toward independent media and blogging. And the role of the media could be as simple as just using positive language.”

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