Egypt doesn’t have anti-gay laws, but is arresting music fans for raising the rainbow flag

Rainbow flag
Rainbow flag
Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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At a sold out Cairo concert of indie rock Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, a group of Egyptian fans raised rainbow flags in a celebratory gesture of awareness about the LGBT community’s plight.

Photos of young Egyptians showing solidarity with LGBT members were shared widely on social media. However, they quickly turned into a firestorm of homophobia and political commentary in a deeply conservative and religious society.

Seven fans were arrested overnight on charges of debauchery and ‘inciting immorality’ for raising the flags.

On Tuesday (Sep. 26), in a separate case, a Cairo court quickly handed down a six-year sentence to a student who attended the concert and was arrested later near his home for ‘lewdness’.

Egyptian law does not criminalize homosexuality, but in a country where sexual violence is rife it is frequently railed against by the Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority.

Last month, Coptic Pope Tawdrous II, while on a visit to Australia, said homosexuality a sin when asked about his views on same sex marriage as Australians vote on its legalization this week.

Authorities have regularly targeted the LGBT community especially in 2001 when where 52 gay men were arrested aboard a boat docked on the Nile.

The ongoing crackdown on civil society since 2013 when Mohamed Morsi’s was overthrown, has widened to encompass gay men. In December 2014, police arrested 33 men in a Cairo bathhouse on charges of debauchery in coordination with a TV program to simulate a live sting operation.

In the wake of the arrests, there have been calls by the ultra Salafi Islamist bloc in parliament and the music syndicate to ban the popular Arab band known for their heartfelt political and social lyrics to be banned from ever performing in Egypt. Jordan has previously prevented Mashrou’ Leila fronted by gay singer Hamed Sinno twice from performing.