by Rosie Alfatlawi
A video of individuals from a number of Arab nations taking part in a Canadian LGBT pride event has gone viral in the Middle East.
The flags of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia fly alongside the rainbow flag in the 43-second clip of Montreal’s annual pride parade, last Sunday August 20.
People wearing the fez hat associated with the Ottoman period and belly dancing costumes can be seen dancing to Arabic music.
The mood of the clip is unrestrained joy and delight.
When the footage was shared on a number of pages back home in the Arab world, however, the responses were far from joyful.
On the page “Lebanese jokes 18+”, which has over 1.5 million likes and shares mostly risqué content, the comments section consists largely of homophobic jokes.
The video itself is titled with an obscenity, while one Lebanese commenter wrote “rest in peace, manliness” and a Libyan added “Oh Syria, oh Lebanon, what is this? Shame!”
Another page which shared the footage, “You exposed us in front of the foreigners”, with 1.2 million likes, saw similarly hateful comments.
“History will not forget that Arab flags gathered together for a party of gays,” declared one Egyptian, another Lebanese expat simply commented a word meaning “I spit on you”.
Even on an Iraqi secularist page, “Secularist, you are free”, the majority of the comments were homophobic, describing the dancers as “devils”
Still, one Iraqi wrote “the problem in our countries is not with the homosexuals, our problem is with poverty, lack of housing, deprivation of services, the collapse of education, lack of security and the stealing of public funds. These are our problems, not the homosexuals.”
Another added “rather a homosexual than a terrorist.” The comment was liked five times, with two positive replies, and the sentiment was mirrored in several other responses.
While it is possible, then, to find growing tolerance for homosexuality among certain liberal residents of Arab nations, the prevailing social attitudes are decidely homophobic.
These attitudes are reflected at an official level. In fact, of the ten countries that have the death penalty for homosexuality, all are Muslim-majority and six are Arabic-speaking.
Elsewhere in the region, homosexuality is often punished with lengthy prison sentences or, where it is not illegal, under other laws, such as those covering “debauchery”.
While not always strictly enforced, these laws reflect official disapproval of homosexuality, and the denial of LGBT rights.
Homophobia manifests itself in other ways, too. In June this year, Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, the lead singer of which is gay, was banned from playing in Jordan for contravening “our customs and traditions”.
- Investigating the LGBT Narrative: We Interviewed 11 Jordanians on the Mashrou' Leila Ban
- ‘Quasi-men’ or ‘Coexistence’? Saudi's Homosexuality Debate Reveals Extremes in Attitudes
Many members of the LGBT community in the Middle East seek refuge elsewhere. In 2016, the British Council interviewed Mahmoud Hassino, a Syrian journalist and gay blogger who works at a refugee shelter in Berlin. Hassino, who "work[s] with LGBT refugees from all over the world" indicated that homophobia in the Middle East was driven by lack of understanding and experience.
In contrast, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that American Muslims are considerably more accepting of homosexuality than their white, protestant counterparts.
On the Pride Montreal website, the organization’s president, Éric Pineault, described that above anything its “mission is to continue to highlight how much more work is necessary to truly eradicate homophobia, both at home and abroad.”
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