In the Arab world, LGBT+ has been marginalized in the face of controversy


Dubai (AFP) – ‘The World Cup will end, FIFA will go and the hate will continue’: Many in the Gulf and Arab world are complaining about the West’s pro-LGBT+ campaigns against Qatar, which they fear will fuel homophobia in the region.

The 32-year-old Bahraini, who is close to the LGBT+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer), teases, “It’s not ideal to live in the shadows, but it’s not good to be in the spotlight either.” this Gulf kingdom where homosexuality is not officially criminalized.

The young entrepreneur from Manama, who wishes to remain anonymous, does not hide his anger at European teams who insist on wearing the rainbow-colored ‘One Love’ armband, a symbol of the LGBT+ community, during the FIFA World Cup. a country where homosexuality is criminalized.

“We’ve never asked a member of the gay community here what they think about it,” says the 30-year-old Bahraini, who says he’s “concerned” about the future with an avalanche of homophobic reactions on social media and the surrounding area. .

A few months ago, he was already burned by some American embassies in the Gulf by raising a rainbow flag or posting messages about the rights of sexual minorities, especially in Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

“I don’t necessarily hide who I am, but I don’t walk around waving the rainbow flag either,” quips the youngster.

Western campaigns, he said, “do a lot of damage” to LGBT+ communities in a region that is “very homophobic” but where the authorities and society are used to turning a blind eye, especially to its own citizens and some expatriates. lives in a privileged manner.

“No change”

In recent months, Gulf authorities have made sweeping decisions that are rare for a region where taboo subjects are usually absent from public space.

As in Qatar last year, Saudi officials seized rainbow-colored toys this summer in a country where homosexuality is theoretically punishable by death.

In early June, Kuwait summoned the US attorney general to protest pro-LGBT+ tweets.

In Bahrain, messages of support for the traditional family abounded, with posters featuring a father, mother and two children holding a large rainbow umbrella.

Major American productions have been banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates due to openly gay characters.

For Saudi researcher Eman Alhussein, despite the “relaxation of certain laws and social restrictions” aimed at attracting skilled immigrants and foreign investment, “the LGBT+ issue is unlikely to be discussed at the local level anytime soon” in the Gulf.

“Since many citizens of the Gulf countries remain conservative, maintaining certain restrictions is considered crucial to protect all sections of society,” says this expert in the region. According to him, it seems unlikely that Western pressure “can bring about change, at least in the short term.”

“Big opportunity missed”

The World Cup in Qatar is therefore a “huge missed opportunity” to “concretely” support the rights of the country’s sexual minorities and the entire Arab world, laments Tarek Zeidan, director of the Lebanese LGBT+ NGO Helem, the first in the region, founded in 2001. .

“Obviously, despite the attempts of some to prevent it for cultural or sovereignty reasons, we have to have a discussion about human rights,” he stressed.

But in his opinion, it was necessary to “pay attention to the anger of the West” and “make the voices of the people who are victims of violence heard” instead of getting caught up in noisy positions that “do not help”. .

A Lebanese activist who lived in Qatar in the past notes that “the hardening of positions on both ends of the debate, LGBT + people will suffer.”

Tarek Zeidan fears a “very harsh, even fatal backlash” due to the “forced and unprecedented place” the topic occupies, with homophobic policies on the rise in recent months from Lebanon to Kuwait, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. “The next decade will be very difficult for LGBT+ people in the region.”

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