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    Q & A: Arab Activists Organize Anti-Homophobia Campaign

    By Farah Samti | May 8 2013 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

    Tags: anti-homophobia , Aswat magazine , equality , gay rights , homophobia ,
    Homophobia Aswat

    A photo stating “Love for All,” submitted as part of the Aswat anti-homophobia campaign. Image courtesy of Aswat’s official website.

    The online magazine Aswat has launched an anti-homophobia campaign called “Love for All” that will last throughout the month of May. In a statement issued on April 29, Aswat called on citizens from throughout the Arab World to submit pictures of themselves holding signs with messages rejecting homophobia.

    The campaign commemorates the International Day Against Homophobia, May 17, a date chosen because homosexuality was removed from the national classification of diseases by the World Health Organization on that day in 1990.

    “We started this campaign to peacefully protest online the upsetting conditions that our community lives in the Arab world, to demand revoking laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and to protect sexual minorities within their own societies,” read the statement.

    Homophobia Aswat

    A photo stating “Oppression will not prevent joy. Traditions will not kill hope… We will live.” Submitted as part of Aswat’s anti-homophobia campaign. Image courtesy Aswat’s Facebook page.

    “We, Aswat magazine, believe it is our moral responsibility to raise awareness about the occasion. The success of the campaign has been overwhelming and LGBTQ Arabs have been sending us their voices through signs they made,” said Maher Alhaj, a member of Aswat’s staff.

    Tunisia Live interviewed Maher Alhaj, a US-based Jordanian LGBTQ activist, who told us more about Aswat.

    TUNISIA LIVE:  What is Aswat? When and how was it created?

    Maher Alhaj: We are a group of Arab activists and writers from around the Arab world who are a part of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc) community. Aswat is an Arabic online monthly magazine founded and led by Marwan Said from Morocco, where it is now operating. The magazine was first launched in April 2012 and we are now on our 13th issue. It is published monthly in a PDF format where people can download it for free. Our website is visited by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people daily.

    Maher Alhaj

    Maher Alhaj of Aswat magazine.

    What are the goals of Aswat and what audience is it trying to reach?

    Our goals are to educate the Arab world about LGBTQ issues and to fight for our basic human rights. We have voices that need to be heard. We address various issues that pertain to our existence and situation as oppressed sexual minorities from sexual health, gender and sexual identities, psychological health and education, creative writing, LGBTQ activism, advocacy, organizing, etc. We aim to educate not only the LGBTQ Arab community but also reach out to others as well who might have many misconceptions about us. We are humans like others, we exist everywhere and we deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated within the fabrics of our societies like all other groups in society.

    Where are you based? And are you interested in covering issues in that country only or in the Arab World in general?

    We are based in Morocco but our writers and staff and guests contribute to the magazine from all across the Arab world and abroad.

    Do you think that the situation of the LGBTQ community has changed since the Arab Spring or not? If yes, how so?

    Well, there is certainly a slight improvement in the situation when it comes to women’s rights and LGBT rights. We have more people who are working on changing our unjust predicaments. Many of us are doing that from abroad more freely like myself because of my circumstances, and others are doing it more heroically from inside the Arab World.

    I don’t know if the Arab Spring has a lot to do with this or not, but I believe the Internet is playing a major role in this improvement because it allows us to be more connected, to learn from what others are doing and to be inspired.

    Recently in Tunisia, two men were allegedly arrested for being caught in the action of sodomy in a hotel. The law in Tunisia does not criminalize homosexuality per say but sodomy between all couples. Is the legal framework the same in the Middle East? How would you describe such laws and the laws in your region?

    Most countries in the Middle East and in other Muslim and Arab societies criminalize homosexuality from a legal framework. A few don’t (such as Jordan for example) but that does not mean it is celebrated or accepted. Homosexuality is not accepted or practiced publicly in our Arabic and Muslim societies and violating that results in extreme punishments. However that is not to say homosexuals do not exist. We do and people have homosexual encounters but it is the ultimate “don’t ask don’t tell” and all behind close doors.

    This is not only due to the laws in place but also to our Arabic cultural, religious, scientific, and other understandings of the issue. Morocco is no different. Article 489 in the Moroccan Penal Code is used to criminalize homosexuality. Homosexuality is natural and a beautiful thing and our laws need to change to accommodate that. They will sooner or later.

    What should be done in terms of raising awareness and addressing LGBTQ issues? Would Arab countries prioritize raising questions about gay marriage or adoption or gay pride parades for instance, or do they have other concerns and different questions?

    I see the role of media as crucial in raising awareness about LGBTQ issues. It has to be done in a positive manner though. We are mainly portrayed as sinners and abnormalities in the limited instances that shed the light on our existence.

    Our laws need to change to allow for our protection, but I believe also that in order for that to happen we need to change the conversation in the Arab world and to educate people about our beautiful existence and to “normalize” this issue.

    Aswat magazine is just one media outlet that hopes to do that and to affect change. Our LGBTQ community exists but we are invisible, and that has to change. With that said, I think our fight is still in the primitive stages and before we fight for marriage and adoption rights, we need to fight for our existence and visibility.

  • By Farah Samti  / 
  • Topics






        • FreeTunisian /

          Would you please mind your business and the business of your country .. instead of telling other countries what to do and interfering with their affairs. Or is it a characteristic of Americans to be neo-colonialist imperialists .. trying to impose their culture and depraved morals on other countries?

          • Ahmed Medien /

            inti you’re so free that you became paranoid. mili5ir, 9alik fama some people that want to show affection and be in relationship with people from the same-sex. 9alik, it adheres to their universal human rights. Fhimtha hethi. If you deny them that, you’re denying them their very universal human rights and you’ve no rights to do so. Cultural heritage mich cultural heritage. The fact that people lived in way or believed in something for hundreds years doesn’t justify that now in 2013 where other countries are legalizing gay marriages that you can still oppress people in that sense. ESPECIALLY, with all the scholarship out there about sexuality. One’s religion does not justify the oppression of other people. w mat9olich may land my rules, 7ata houa/hia, his land his rules. Point barre.

    1. ramzy /

      Get a life and people enjoying a simple life without all your problems it should be your life and how you want to behave.

    2. Ahmed Umar /

      Best of luck to you guys .. Hand in hand we will change our lives and our world .. Peace and love from Norway <3

    3. pauli /

      well done ..this will be a long road to plod…..and many will fall on the way…but politically it is viable to give gays the same rights as all others….and as all families have gays in them, usually society realises the truth.

    4. Patrick Batchelder /

      “Aswat called on citizens from throughout the Arab World to submit pictures of themselves holding signs with messages rejecting homophobia.”

      I did not “see” any citizens holding signs. Until people can be brave enough to show their faces nothing will change.

      • Ellen Gödecke /

        You do realise that if they show their faces they risk being arrested right?

        They are showing that they exist, that is better than nothing. Things like this take time. Unfortunately.

        • FreeTunisian /

          “Things like this take time. Unfortunately.”

          It is amazing how neo-colonialist imperialists, such as you, are becoming more and more shameless today about their attempts of cultural colonization of other countries.

          It seems that you supremacist westerners have no respect for other countries. You want to force your culture and way of life on everybody else even if by using military force as you are doing in Afghanistan and Irak. Your aspirations for world cultural dominance are worse than Hitler’s. At least Hitler was honest enough to lay his plans publicly, but you .. you are even more evil .. you are pursuing the same imperialistic hegemonic dream of Hitler .. but in secret, without the publicity … or rather publicizing the same project under the slogan .. “fight for freedom” .. which is ironic .. given the objective of it.

      • FreeTunisian /

        Hey dude .. why don’t you mind your own business and the business of your country instead of coming to a Tunisian website and putting your nose in other People’s affairs? What are you? a Neo-colonialist trying to impose your culture on other Peoples? The Tunisian, Arab, and Muslim Peoples do not accept perversion .. so keep perversions for your country and in your home .. we do not need it here.

        Here is a video of one of your western “thinkers”, Lawrence Krauss, rationalizing incest ..


        and I guess more and more intellectuals and media voices like him will rise in your countries .. and in a few decades from now .. we will be seeing LGBTQ-like organizations advocating for the rights of adults to have incestuous relations, and just as gay advocates are saying today, in 20 years from now they will say “it is progress and natural evolution of social values”. Yaaaaay!

    5. Ahmad /

      Homosexuality is actually widespread in Arab and Tunisian society…remember that it is in the Arab world where one is not considered homosexual when he penetrates another man, only when he himself is the one penetrated. With this mindset and a societal hypocrasy regarding “sex outside marriage is not done” guys turn to guys for “favours”.

      The only golden rule that one has to abide is to do it in secret, as long as that is the case you get away with it easily. But that goes for many more things in the Arab world….publically “no”! Secretly…”do your thing mate”.

      • FreeTunisian /

        Oh .. it seems our friend here went and checked on most Tunisian’s private lives. What are you? A mosquito!! which can enter people’s privacy without being noticed and sees everything they are doing?

        I especially loved this part of your comment :
        >>>”“sex outside marriage is not done” guys turn to guys for “favours”.”

        That was hilarious man ..
        Dude .. it seems that you spend too much time with gays dude .. which is making you think that everybody must be turning to other men to satisfy his sexual desires .. basically making thinking that all men are gay. Duuuuude .. wake up .. and try to spend some more time with normal people!! hhhhh

      • maria /

        Nothing to do with being gay. Many Muslim men also have anal sex with women so they can say they are still virgins..common knowledge. this topic has been talked to death and everybody knows the dirty little secret….maybe not all take part but a lot do….this is also known to have existed in Arab countries for many many years…I fail to see what all the shame is about….if thats what you do just own it. There is too much pretense around this subject…..

        According to Google Trends, the top five countries that search the keyword “anal sex,” are

        2- India (with160 million Muslims),
        3- Algeria,
        4- Morocco,
        5- Indonesia.

        Before any one attacks me I am not gay, lesbian or bi….just straight heterosexual.

        Each to their own in my opinion but the finger pointing and hypocrisy around this topic should stop. its getting boring

        • FreeTunisian /

          Its interesting you always bring up this subject of anal sex again and again and again .. if you have a fixation on it .. or were used to doing it to keep your virginity .. do not think that everybody else does. A pervert thinks that everybody likes the same perversions he likes. Plus, if you do not mind your son or your husband having anal sex with another man .. it is your son or husband .. you are free .. but do not call for popularizing and generalizing it to the general public so that you can ease that subconscious feeling of guilt that you have once you see that your filth has become publicly accepted.

          As for those google statistics which you keep bringing up .. pathetic .. that’s the least I could say about them .. because the first five countries that come up in google trends with the search term “anal sex” are :

          - Papua New Guinea
          - Tanzania
          - Ethiopia
          - Kenya
          - Pakistan

          you can check it yourself .. and next time, do check your information before posting rubbish.

          Plus, public and societal values are not determined by google or by what people search for in the intimacy of their privacy. And let’s not forget that the biggest content creators for the stuff that comes up in those google searches .. is the west .. not muslims. The west is the main source for child pornography .. and all sorts of depraved pornography .. not muslims.

          And finally, if you are not Tunisian .. please have some dignity and mind your own country’s business .. it is the minimum required for politeness.


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