"And since the fall of the Ottoman Empire," Sahib expands, "we have seen more secularisation
in what were once traditionally Muslim Arab countries. The rule in Iraq is now mostly secular
with Islamic law being enforced when it is in agreement with the current regime."
"Many Arab countries have laws which prohibit homosexual behaviour," he continues. "Some
of these are Islamic, others based on social or cultural morals. And I suspect Saddam's
recent death threat is secular and will probably be enforced as it suits the regime -
whether the accused is gay or not."
"From an Islamic point of view," he says, "there are at least two traditional death
sentences for homosexual behaviour: hurling the people involved from a high place
or collapsing a heavy wall on them. I know of a recent incident where several men
accused of homosexual acts were beheaded in Saudi Arabia and some individuals in
Afghanistan had a wall pushed over on them."
"From a more secular point of view," Sahib continues, "look at Egypt. It has no
specific laws against homosexual behaviour but arrested over fifty gays recently
and charged them with crimes against morality and such. Some were eventually freed
but others are still incarcerated. And of those found at the party in question,
only Egyptian citizens were arrested: Non-Egyptian Arabs and people from other
parts of the world were not. So you can see how discriminately these laws are
applied in such cases."
So how can queer Arabs express their sexuality these days?
"I must say the internet has been a godsend to the gay Arab population worldwide,"
says online mogul Sahib. "Over the years, I have talked to many people on the verge
of suicide who were simply overjoyed to find sites like ours. They had no idea
there were any other gay Arabs out there at all."
"And yes" - he concurs with Zoo - "just like anywhere else in the world, there
are many known places to cruise for other men. And in practice Arab publics
and police often turn a blind eye: it would not be surprising to find these same
authorities enjoying cruising grounds or known bath houses themselves."
"There is even a historic gay Arab tradition," says Sahib. "For instance Iraq was
once known as Mesopotamia and Baghdad was a cultural hub where poet Abu Nuwas (760-815 AD)
wrote odes to wine and boys. Today it is not unusual to hear of gay Arabs who are
accepted, protected and even celebrated for their talents - a famous hairdresser in
Beirut, a singer in Saudi Arabia or an actor in Egypt."
"And many gays in Arab countries have no desire to leave their homelands," he
continues. "Indeed, seeking asylum explicitly on sexual grounds would carry a very
high cost - never being able to return to your homeland or see your family again.
And those who happen to be gay and want to leave their country often do so to avoid
marriage rather than to escape abuse or live a more open lifestyle."
So is it, for instance, any easier being gay in London's Iraqi community than it is
back in Baghdad?
"From a community and family view I would say it is just as hard," says Sahib. "The
morals are virtually the same. On the other hand, there are obviously more venues
and outlets for gays in places like London than back home so that makes things a
bit better, but they'd still feel the need to be discreet."
A double life: better than none. And Sahib is actually keen to praise certain aspects
of Arab culture in general: "Many of the morals in which the West claims superiority
are mere hot air. In the Arab World, people are judged more by their actions and
intentions, not by their words or appearance. Also gay Arabs themselves tend to act
more like human beings who happen to be gay - not vice versa!"
And that's not the only pluses for a gay Arab these days. Admits Sahib with a
glint: "At least a quarter of those visiting our site are non-Arabs. Some have this
Arabian Nights fantasy: a few Americans actually think we still live in tents and
ride camels! Others just know what they like - or are simply curious."
More Info :
GayArab.org - a website for gay Arabs, their friend and admirers.
Amnesty International has published a report outlining Saddam Hussein's
edict making homosexuality an offence technically punishable by death.
Peter Tatchell's website has a graphic account of fundamentalist Islamic, though not necessarily Arab, gay human rights abuses.