12 Years into the Arab Spring Revolutions: What Positions Do Women Occupy Among Sexual and Gender Minorities?
By: Malak Al-Kashef
Since 2010, after the outbreak of the Tunisian Revolution, and then the start of the series of revolutions of the Arab Spring, regimes have fallen and others have risen, whether from the ranks of the revolution or the remnants of the former regime.
During this political change, the countries of the region, which were directly affected by this political movement, went through a state of continuous change in their political and economic system, ideological identity, and collective consciousness to achieve the demands called for and chanted by the revolution.
And the subsequent factional demands with each political and/or societal clash, which for 12 years formed the current political map of the region, and developed the concept of politics between the private and the public.
Therefore, this article is an attempt to narrate events from a queer feminist perspective. It focuses on the positions of women from sexual and gender minorities, during and after the largest political change in the region’s recent history.
Where have they been? Where should they become? What does politics mean to them?
The infamous movement!
“Life, Freedom, Social Justice.”
These 3 chants summarized the demands of the twenty-fifth of January 2011 Revolution, which was a revolution for all the people, including all segments of society.
Women from sexual and gender minorities were involved in political work through parties, political movements, and civil society institutions, hoping for a broader perspective of politics and freedom-an intersectional concept, which allows their issues in the private sphere to become visible and audible in the public sphere.
This continued even with the progress of events, the rise in the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity, and the accession of political Islam in 2012. Then the impeachment of the Muslim Brotherhood, the armed forces taking over, and later the closing of the public sphere.
They were tough years during which women from sexual and gender minorities added to the ranks of the civil movement. They were targeted and persecuted by security, societal violence, and media incitement.
In 2017, after a concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, in which several LGBTQ people carried the gay pride flag, led by the late Egyptian activist Sarah Hijazy, who was arrested, subjected to fabricated accusations, and tortured for expressing her identity as a gay woman, after her arrest, the public scene was divided.
Many human rights groups, parties, and institutions have stood in solidarity with Sarah and the LGBTQ community in Egypt.
Others chose to declare their solidarity with Sarah for being a prisoner of conscience, without mentioning that she was a gay woman who was arrested for raising the gay pride flag, defying the Anti-Terrorism Law and Law 10 of 1961, which have been arbitrarily targeting LGBTQ people since the nineties. However, Egyptian law itself does not criminalize homosexuality in both text and law.
The younger generation in those groups protested internally against the rhetoric used. Independently, they issued a more intersecting and fair statement.
The rest of the groups chose not to engage in events for fear of the bad reputation that their solidarity with Sarah might cause, and thus the loss of a politically more important conservative public base.
After that period, we all realized that concepts such as personal and political may differ for those who are less intersectional, even if terms such as “what is political is personal and what is personal is political” have been used since the seventies.
We realized that societal and political calculations are what magnify differences between the political and the personal, which see solidarity with us as a tool to destroy reputation!
We also realized that freedom is what fits with the societal, religious, tribal, central, and masculine concepts. And that social justice is gender-based, governed by the concept of men and women in the conservative heterosexual Egyptian society.
The Revolutions of the Arab Spring… Centralization of Change
“Female is not a curse, gay is not a cuss!”
I always believe that the Lebanese Revolution is the most intersecting revolution in the region – taking into account the context – while the popular demands of the other countries of the region were snatching the right to political participation from the regime, and eradicating poverty and favoritism, the popular demands of the Lebanese revolution were the elimination of the deliberate exclusion of marginalized groups and minorities.
There were even women’s demonstrations led by transactivist Naya Rajab chanting “Raise your voice, raise your voice against transphobia in Beirut!”
This progressive revolutionary discourse, though comprehensive, did not reverberate beyond the suburbs of Beirut but was extremely central.
While under Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, Lebanese authorities detained women from sexual and gender minorities, women in the provinces and rural areas were subjected to anal examinations, in addition to arrest.
Although the Order of Physicians and the Ministry of Justice criminalized examinations in 2012, following a campaign launched by Lebanese activists to oppose these examinations considering them “shame examinations”, some investigative judges outside Beirut still require doctors, in cases in which LGBT people are accused of “sex outside the framework of nature” according to Article 534, to conduct anal examinations and some of these doctors are responding.
While women from sexual and gender minorities claimed positions within the progressive political movement in Beirut, queer women in rural and marginal areas were trapped between a reactionary conservative discourse, and religious and tribal customs, with no positions to grab, and no equal opportunities for empowerment.
This centralization was born by politicians, businessmen, clerics, and militias, who all agreed, metaphorically, that Beirut is a socially free zone and exclusive to change.
Measured against the central political movement inside Beirut, the abolition of articles criminalizing the sexuality of sexual and gender minorities in the Lebanese Penal Code was not on the list of priorities of the Revolution. Rather, it was placed entirely on the shoulders of the LGBTQ community
Women from Lebanon’s sexual and gender minorities were fighting political corruption, economic collapse, and sectarian strife, in addition to societal violence, centralized justice, and law all at once.
They slept in police stations, underwent forced physical examinations, and faced deliberate policies of impoverishment and societal and sexual violence while hearing about a radical change in which they were unable to participate.
All women? “Feminism Doesn’t Kill; Violence Does”
Considering Tunisia’s experience, it somehow reaped the seeds of its revolution and ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, giving way to another more open regime where laws began to change in favor of women, compared to the rest of the region. Tunisian women have obtained the right to marry a man of any religious background thanks to the legalization of civil marriage, and their legal right to protection from violence by article 58 which stipulates criminalizing violence against women, and a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
These are gains that Tunisian women have struggled to seize for years, during which feminist institutions have worked to raise societal awareness to create a safer public space for women.
Even if these changes are at the legislative level, and have not yet been materialized, Tunisian women now have a constitutional motivation to reject and confront violence.
However, the situation of women from sexual and/or gender minorities in Tunisia was not much different from other countries in the region.
Article 230 of the Tunisian penal code criminalizes homosexuality despite its incompatibility with the constitution, as according to Article 23 it is obligated to protect the sexual life of citizens.
For example, last year, Tunisian authorities arrested activist Rania Amdouni on false charges after she went to the police station to file a complaint against security personnel who assaulted her for being an LGBTQ activist.
Rania was met with accusations of “assaulting an employee on duty, causing confusion and disorder”, a form of arbitrary detention, in an attempt to silence her from defending all the issues she supports, and all that her intersecting identity represents.
Rania’s trial proceedings passed quickly. She was sentenced in just a few days, convicted of the three charges, and sentenced to six months in prison until the Court of Appeal released her and replaced her sentence with a fine.
Moreover, the Law on the Protection of Women from Violence does not include violence against women from sexual and gender minorities, due to the implementation of Article 230 on them, and the consequent arbitrary detention based on sexual and gender pluralism and violence in detention facilities.
Therefore, the demands that produced laws to protect women against violence, and completely ignored the lives of women from sexual and gender minorities, were not for all women, but were exclusive to those who are heterosexual and cisgender.
The Arab Spring Revolutions: Priority Discourse is an Exclusionary Discourse!
This article is not material for theorizing or practicing one-upmanship about the struggles of others. It is not to tell you that our issues take precedence over what you are fighting for.
On the contrary, the priority speech that initially saw one issue over another, and which excluded us for years, is what made me write today, to tell you that I am afraid of being arrested as a transgender, so you see my detention as apolitical.
In this case, you are afraid to tarnish your reputation with my support and continue to describe me as “apolitical”, and reduce the meaning of politics to what is public, forgetting that what is personal is political and that my rejection of violence in my home is a rejection of the culture of violence that society has exported to my home.
My protest against society’s exclusion of me is a protest against the culture of exclusion that the state has imposed on society to exclude me. My refusal today to your excluding me from the scene is a rejection of the state’s exclusion of you.
My rejection of the discourse of priorities produced by the revolution is a rejection of the discourse of any dictatorial regime that saw that your issues are not a priority, and that protest between private and public is always a political act.