Why Khaled Likes to Sleep Face-down: Queerness and Political Participation in Egypt

Khaled Abu-Elnaga

Khaled Abu-Elnaga

About a week ago, Egyptian actor-turned-political activist Khaled Abu-ElNaga publicly condemned military operations taking place in Sinai at the moment (aka Egypt’s ‘war on terror’) for their blatant disregard for the rights of the governorate’s residents, according to Khaled. The following are excerpts from some of the responses he got:

Tawfiq Okasha

Tawfiq Okasha

Tawfiq Okasha, host of the talk-show Masr Alyoum [Egypt Today]: “I want to ask you a question. Why do you sleep on your stomach (i.e. face down) instead of sleeping on your back when you get tired? Are there diseases? And if you do have any bone or muscle diseases, you should go visit a doctor…I’d also like to ask, why do you like bicycles, khaled? What are the reasons behind you liking bicycles?Link

Samir Sabry

Samir Sabry

Lawyer Samir Sabry joins talk-show host Ahmed Mousa on ‘ala Masooleyity to react to Khalid’s speech “[Addressing Mousa]You were earlier asking a very strange question. You were asking whether or not Khaled Abul Naga carried out military service. No [he didn’t]…If either him or Alaa Abdel Fattah went through pre-service physical examinations, it will turn out that they are not men* [i.e. homosexuals]…Khaled will definitely be identified as a homosexual, I am 100% sure of this. Moreover, whoever insults his country or his president or the state authorities, he is essentially a homosexualLink

Mazhar Shaheen

Mazhar Shaheen

Preacher Mazhar Shaheen also calls Mousa to offer his 2 cents “If Khaled Abul Naga doesn’t like the president, a president that was voted in by an unprecedented majority of Egyptians, then he doesn’t like the Egyptian people…If he doesn’t like the Egyptian president, then he (Khaled) can leave instead. He can go to Iraq where the police and military are lacking…or Syria. But he needs to watch out for his trousers, watch out for his wife and sister if they were to join him”  Link

I’ll go ahead and disregard the main issues here (i.e. analyzing the efficacy of the military operations or debating Khaled’s right to criticize them) in favor of focusing on all these ‘witty’ allusions to sodomy.

I’m not sure if I need to go through these and explain them, but I’d like to quickly go over some points.

Excerpt 1: Although, to my knowledge, sleeping face-down is not frowned upon in Egypt, here it’s used to allude to a sex position. I’m not sure, but I think the bicycle reference might be strictly Egyptian. Calling someone a bicycle means that they like to be ‘ridden’. It’s the equivalent of calling someone a faggot. Okasha’s inquiry about Khaled’s fondness of bicycles might be a strategy to sidestep slander.

Excerpt 2: If you’re not Egyptian, you might not get this one. Military service is obligatory for all Egyptian men of sound body and mind. Pre-service physical examinations are a pre-requisite to joining. So, basically, we can call it an obligatory physical examination that all Egyptian men go through at some point in their lives. Part of the examination involves the inspection of men’s anuses…supposedly to root out those who have been on the receiving end of anal sex. And, yes, everyone knows that this is an archaic and a completely ineffectual method of identifying bedroom practices, but we choose to do it anyway, because… (I have several theories. Let’s leave it for another blogpost)…What is possibly the bright side of this is that those who are ‘found out’ are banned from joining the military…a good thing if you don’t want to join in the first place. However, those dismissed on account of their gaping assholes rather than physical or mental imperfections get a ‘special’ kind of certificate that indicates the reason for their dismissal. ‘Military status certificates’ are required for viewing by all of the major employers in Egypt and are also required by some governmental departments  (e.g. Applying for new passports, border control agency).

Since I don’t have a ‘special’ certificate myself and do not know of anyone who has one, I am not sure of how much trouble special-certificate-holders go through to find a job or access governmental services. But, word on the street is that special-report-holders do not live the lavish life.

Excerpt 3: I’ve mentioned Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen in my previous post…he is not a fan of the queers. Here he uses the ‘at-least-we’re-better-than-iraq’ tactic, which we’ve been hearing a lot of lately, as if to accuse Khaled of not being grateful enough for the life he has in Egypt. Advising Khaled to watch out for his trousers is also a ‘witty’ way of telling the actor that someone like him would probably get raped in Iraq or Syria. Not sure what he means by “watch out for his wife”. If Abu-Elnaga is famous for anything, it’s probably his refusal to get married.

These ‘hilarious’ references to sodomy/homosexuality are not coincidental. In 2009, Abu-Elnaga was one of a few celebrities who were rumored/accused of being involved in a ‘network of sexual perversion’. Abu-Elnaga denied those claims and proceeded to take legal action against the source of those rumors, a journalistic nonentity. The newspaper was eventually banned after police denied having discovered this alleged network at all.

Abu-Elnaga’s inarticulate opinions aside, why is it that a person’s sexual practices are the first thing we refer to when wanting to discredit him/her? At what point of allegedly taking a dick up his ass does Abu-Elnaga’s mental capacity become impaired?

Also, what does our irrational fear of male same-sex relations say about us as a people? Not that we’re religious. This has very little to do with religion. Religion is a good excuse, but it’s far from our main motive for rejecting queer men. We are completely accepting of many other phenomena that go against religion (i.e. sexual harassment, abuse of human dignity, murder**).

Mo’taz Muturr

Mo’taz Muturr

It’s not all negative though. Talk-show host  Mo’taz Muturr recently spoke out condemning this behavior. Muturr also notes the striking frequency with which accusations of ‘perverse’ sex are used to incriminate/discredit/defame men in Egypt. So, some sort of acknowledgement of this absurdity!

…It’s just really irritating and sad to see this happen now. Discounting the state (specifically the police and judiciary), one would think that we, the human race, have been through enough experiences to realize that diversity is ok. At what point do we start realizing that our acceptance of injustice today (if even through complicit silence) will inevitably be used against us tomorrow? Must we always go through this tedious scenario of widespread subjugation, then revolt, then violence, then gradual acceptance?

Anyway, this too shall pass.

*The term used in Arabic was شُرك (Transliteration: Shorok). I am not aware of the exact meaning of this word. It’s not widely used in Egypt. One of the sources I’ve stumbled upon translated it as ‘homosexual’, but, judging by the context, I would guess it borders more on ‘sodomite’.

**It’s unfair to say that people can be accepting of murder without pointing out that the imposition of a threatening identity must precede the act of acceptance (i.e. terrorist, spy, zionist, pervert… then, off with their heads).

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Sexually Deviant Brigades

In a 2014 impromptu 1-minute interview with Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen, a prominent Egyptian Islamic preacher,  regarding the -reportedly admirable- efforts of Egyptian security forces in taking down a militant Islamic group that goes by the name of ‘The Helwan Brigades’ (HB), Shaheen dedicates about 50-60% of his interview time to revealing an “eye-catching” factoid about the HB leader’s sexual orientation. A crude translation of part of Shaheen’s statement follows:

“What I find interesting (eye-catching) about these ‘brigades’, as they are referred to, is that their leader, whose name was revealed to be Magdy Funia, is sexually deviant…they pretend to be men, yet they are led by a sexual deviant! What is one to say (to them) in this case? Go get cured first and find a man to lead you, a normal man…Egypt is not scared of perverts, or of the supporters of sexual jihad (Jihad Al-nikah) or anal jihad (Jihad Al-dobor) like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). This is, in fact, the nature of all Muslim Brotherhood members. Some of them are anal jihadists, some are sexual jihadists, and you’ll find that all their leaders are exactly like Funia, the same faction…”

Several things to talk about here:

  • You can google ‘Jihad Al-nikah’ or ‘Anal Jihad’ if you’re interested in knowing more about them. I’ll only explain them very briefly as I don’t think they relate to my main argument here. Both are highly contested religious rulings (alleged privileges bestowed upon men by god). The former allows (unmarried?) women to have sex with Muslim warriors (i.e. men) as a means of performance enhancement (in a way it also believed by some to be one of the religiously assigned roles for women during times of war). The latter allows warriors to practice anal sex with one another when they are away from home at a time of warfare.
    • (I would like to repeat that both are highly contested ‘privileges’ and are opposed by most followers of Islam in Egypt, if not the majority of the Muslim world.)
  • How does a question about the accomplishments of the Egyptian police lead to the discussion of sexual deviance? What is actually meant by sexual deviance? How did it come to be the more “eye-catching” aspect of a story about a militant group of Islamists?

I think it makes more sense to tackle the 2nd part of that question first.

What is “sexual deviance”?

‘sexual deviance’ or ‘sexual perversion’ are terms that are widely accepted to be the Egyptian equivalents of the English terms ‘queer’ or ‘homosexual’. However, it is important to note that the term has also been used in other Arabic news sources to describe pedophilia (here and here) and is used here in a popular Egyptian newspaper to describe anal sex between a married heterosexual couple. Hence, the term can also be used to describe all forms of socially-unacceptable sexual encounters.

Shaheen’s reference to manliness in his statement suggests he means to use the term in its standard sense (i.e. as a reference to ‘homosexuality’).

But how did the negative correlation between homosexuality and masculinity come about?

Who knows?

  • It might be a broad generalization based on the fact that some queer men exhibit feminine behavior. Gender non-conformity, therefore, becomes a central/defining characteristic of male homosexuality
  • Some people actually think there’s a solid connection between the  practice of anal-sex and masculinity… I don’t know how to explain that. It might have developed out of a belief that only women are made to be penetrated.
  • It can be explained by the deeply-rooted belief that all sexual/romantic relationships occur between masculine and feminine individuals. Many believe that even non-heterosexual relationships follow the same template (e.g. wondering which of the 2 men in a homosexual relationship is ‘the man’!).
  • I know this’ll sound ridiculous, but it might have something to do with our colonial history. Colonial powers had a knack for portraying their subjects as incapacitated and feminine. They would -more or less- highlight the cultural differences in each country they wanted to occupy and attribute the country’s inferiority (to Europe) to those variances. Some of those variances were related to sex/sexuality, where (surprise, surprise!) the Middle East was known to be more liberal. Our ‘promiscuity’, which included same-sex sexual relations, was one of the reasons that we were thought to be backwardly and incompetent by European intellectuals…At some point, we got to the point of thinking that the only way forward is to abandon our ‘licentious’ practices and adopt the Victorian family values instead. These values would soon become entangled in the Arab nationalism movement as the Arab world ‘united’ and took a stand against the abuse and humiliation brought about by the colonizers.
  • Most convincingly, the practice of homosexuality prevents males from realizing their state/god-given roles as husbands/fathers, thereby losing their status as men. If men are not fit for reproduction / fatherhood, they no longer satisfy the society’s definition of maleness/masculinity. They do not procreate and ,therefore, do not participate in the process of nation-building either.

Note I: This logic not exclusive to homosexual men, Inhorn’s (2007) study shows a similar link between masculinity and infertility, which leads to the conclusion that the mere inability to live up to the heterosexual standards of life is equivalent gender failure.

Note II: This might explain why anal-sex has come to be perceived as emasculating behavior. Since male homosexuality is -all too often- reduced to anal-sex and is also thought to correlate to a loss of masculinity, then…voila?

 

About the Segue

To me, the -somewhat awkward- segue serves -primarily- as a penis-measuring contest. Not unlike the all-too-common use of homophobic slurs in Egypt (and all around the world, really) as a means of asserting the user’s heterosexuality (and, hence, masculinity), Shaheen’s focus on sexuality is not so much done out of actual concern for his subjects’ sexual orientation or sexual practices (duh!…I know). It is more of a blow to their masculinity. Their alleged sexual orientations are “eye-catching” because, according to Shaheen’s bigoted views, they ‘prove’ their inferiority. If the MB, often portrayed to be present-day Egypt’s biggest enemy, are ‘gay’ —> They are, therefore, not real men, since, as we’ve established, homosexuality is the antithesis of masculinity —> They are, therefore, inferior and incapable of intimidating/standing up to the powerful/masculine Egyptian state; one that is especially masculine under the administration of current president Abd-Alfattah Al-Sisi.

My problem with this isn’t so much the completely unnecessary queer-bashing. This is more about an extremely irresponsible comment that is delivered by one of the country’s most prominent and -supposedly pragmatic- Islamic preachers; the “preacher of the revolution.” Is queerness really being used to insult a group of armed militants? How? When does consensual sex between adult men become more frowned upon than murder? Why?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a pretty useless rant….i realize that now. I’m glad I got it out anyway.

I guess the moral is…try to be more rational with your hatred

Reference:

Inhorn, M. (2007). Masculinity, Reproduction, and Male Infertility Surgery in the Middle East. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, [online] 3(3), pp.1-20. Available at: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_middle_east_womens_studies/v003/3.3inhorn.html.