In 2017 it was widely reported that Egyptian police arrested 57 people after they were allegedly seen raising rainbow flags at a concert in Cairo. They were reportedly detained for “promoting sexual deviancy”. Among them was the only woman arrested, a lesbian activist, Sara El Hegazy, who after finding refuge in Canada, according to media and Twitter reports, has died by suicide.
El Hegazy while detained and in the custody of the Egyptian authorities suffered torture and beatings. Her trauma was severe: “Although the iconic and queer activist was eventually freed on bail, her three-month experience in prison had been physically and emotionally taxing, leading to a development of severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a failed suicide attempt.” (Source: Egyptian Streets.)
In 2017 the Egyptian prosecutors had opened an investigation after images from a concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila – whose lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay and supports LGBTQU rights- went viral.
El Hegazy left a suicide note that read:
“To my siblings – I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. To my friends – the experience [journey] was harsh and I am too weak to resist it, forgive me. To the world – you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.”
After her arrests in an NPR interview Hegazy noted:
“It was an act of support and solidarity — not only with the [Mashrou’ Leila] vocalist but for everyone who is oppressed. 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.”
Eventually El Hegazy found asylum in Canada where she had been living in the last couple of years.
Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalized under Egyptian law, however like many countries which do not criminalize per se, the anti-homosexuality sentiment and homophobia renders a milieu of criminality, and LGBTQI people or those perceived as such suffer enormous discrimination, ostracizing and violence by state and private actors, alike. In some countries such as Egypt, authorities arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of “debauchery”, “immorality” or “blasphemy”.
My comment as ED of African HRC:
What many people may not realize is that once an asylum seekers receives sanctuary or refuge, the protection of another country, the trauma does not vanish, and with life’s triggers it may exacerbate. The work only just begins. I believe it is our responsibility as an LGBTQI community to show care for those who have suffered so greatly at the hands of inequality, injustice and torture. We must be observant. We must be involved. We must be available. We must be do much more. Each and everyone of us has a duty to our community to offer services, friendship and show that we care, beyond mere lip service. Melanie Nathan
If you, or someone you know is suicidal, depressed or suffers from anxiety, PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP-
CALL National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Phone: 1 800 273 TALK (8255)
Lifeline Crisis Chat
Veterans/Military Crisis Line (for active U.S. service members, veterans, and family members)
Phone: 1 800 273 8255, Press 1