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Morocco's queer uprising

MithlyA cacophony of outrage and condemnation greeted Mithly, the Arab world's partly European Union-funded only gay magazine, when it hit the internet and underground 'newsstands' in Morocco for the first time.

Targeting the gay community in Morocco and Europe as well as Arab gays, Mithly, a play on the Arabic words for homosexual and 'like me', can only be sold under the counter in Morocco and the Arab world. The overwhelming majority of its readers access it online. For safety and political reasons, the groundbreaking magazine's editorial staff is based in Spain as are its servers.

While Mithly hopes to steer debate in Morocco and the Arab world about homosexuality into calmer, more rational waters, it does not want to rock the boat in a country where authorities are among the more relaxed in the Arab world because of tourism that has attracted a high-end gay community. Gay activists fear that a more open Mithly presence in Morocco could further fuel Islamist and populist protests and force the government to crack down in a bid to prevent the Islamists from gaining the high ground.

Like everywhere in the Arab world, homosexuality in Morocco is illegal. Homosexuals can be jailed for up to three years for what Moroccan law describes as 'lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex'. Islamist agitation has already increased homophobia in Morocco in recent months. 'The constant attacks on homosexuals by the Islamist parties and newspapers worry us,' says Mourad, a Mithly journalist.

Yemeni cultural magazine, Al-Thaqafiya, was forced to cease after publishing a film review that described homosexuality as 'part and parcel of our society'. The magazine sparked protests in parliament; the Paris based reviewer, Hamid Aqabi, says he has received death threats.

Homosexuality in Yemen is punishable by death. But with the Yemeni government preoccupied with fighting Al Qa'ida and defeating southern secessionists, gays have more to fear from religious vigilantes. Three men suspected of being gay were shot dead in 2008 in the Yemeni province of Shabwa. Death squads have abducted, tortured, and executed hundreds of Iraqi gays with only a cursory response from authorities. Their abused bodies are dumped in public places as a warning.

Kif-Kif, the Madrid-based Moroccan organisation for lesbians, transsexuals and homo- and bisexuals and publisher of Mithly, estimates that some 5000 people have been jailed in Morocco or forced to emigrate because they are gay. Conservatives have demanded that Mithly be banned and that homosexual 'sleeper cells' be hunted down like terrorists. 'Homosexuality is against the future of humanity,' said Mustapha Khalifi, editor of the conservative newspaper Attajdid. Khalifi called on the government to 'ban this publication that hurts the Islamic values of the Moroccan society'.

Attajdid, widely seen as an Islamist mouthpiece, campaigned unsuccessfully against a planned concert by gay British pop star Elton John in Rabat. The newspaper claimed the singer's performance was part of a plot to 'homosexualise' Morocco.

Following in Attajdid's footsteps, the Egyptian musicians' union sought to prevent John from performing in Cairo, but failed. John played to a packed house and great applause. 'How could we allow a gay, who wants to ban religions, claimed that the prophet Jesus was gay and calls for Middle Eastern countries to allow gays to have sexual freedom?' complained union leader Mounir al-Wasimi.

Mithly said on its website that discrimination against gays in the Arab world stemmed from 'ignorance and misunderstanding'. Kif-Kif President Samir Baragachi sees Mithly as a platform on which sexual minorities can express themselves. He hopes the magazine's name will eventually replace more derogatory references to homosexuals such as shazz, the Arabic word for pervert or deviant, or zemel, a Berber expletive for gays.

'Mithly will do wonders for publicising and creating a society that begins to learn about our community,' says an Egyptian lesbian activist. 'We are not asking for special rights. We are demanding being treated equally with tolerance,' Gaymaroc.com described Mithly as 'a breath of fresh air for a gay community that's criminalised and discriminated against'.

In a rare expression of religious dissent, one Moroccan religious figure, Sheikh Mohamed el-Said, conceded that Mithly's assertion that discrimination stems from a lack of knowledge could be true. He called on the religious community to keep an open mind. Although he believes gay people are 'not right in the mind of God', the Rabat-based cleric admitted that 'I don't know much about their issues and believe that we should be open to reading and learning about others within our society.'

El-Said said that 'too often do Muslim leaders become scared of what is different. We need to re-examine our own beliefs before we place judgments on an entire group of people.'

Mithly, whose website steers clear of provocative graphics opting instead for features, local and international news, short stories and poetry, is not the first homosexual magazine in the Arab world. An attempt in Lebanon in 2005 failed after publishing three editions, but a Lebanese gay website, Bekhsoos, has been up and running for the past three years, as has GayMiddleEast.com. Mithly promises in one of its next editions to tackle one of the Arab world's more taboo subjects: the high suicide rate among homosexuals.

James DorseyJames M. Dorsey is a freelance journalist who has covered ethnic and religious conflict for the past 35 years for publications like The Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal

Topic tags: James Dorsey, Mithly, gay magazine, arab world, morocco, kif-kif, Attajdid, Mustapha Khalifi



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Existing comments

Why is a catholic magazine championing issues of muslim homosexuals? Is this not at odds with the doctrine of the church that supports its publication?

mike D | 13 July 2010  

It is good to see Eureka Street exploring and analysing injustice, human rights abuses and violence and discrimination faced by minority groups - including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people. For too long there has been a sotto voce approach within Church-related publications to the appalling treatment faced by sexual minorities in many parts of the world. Whatever the Vatican may say about homosexuality, there can be no question that the brutality, oppression and institutionalised hatred explored in this article must be opposed and condemned in the name of justice - not to mention the name of Christ!

It is also good to see that the Vatican, just last year, finally stated at the United Nations that criminal penalties, and certainly violent penalties, against same-sex attracted people and their sexual activities should be repealed in countries all around the world. Perhaps this will give other Church publications the moral and intestinal fortitude to stand up strongly for the rights of ALL people, in particular those who are so often demonised in the name of some mistaken notion of God.

For now, congratulations to Eureka Street - and to other readers: please read this article closely - this is what gay and lesbian people face on a daily basis in many countries - and it is also the kind of oppression we faced in Australia until just a few decades ago (in 1994 the Archbishop of Hobart opposed repealing laws that condemned gay men who had consenting sex in private to 21 years imprisonment - he said the law was 'educative').

Officially Catholic publications and Catholic institutions cannot be seen to be opposing the formal condemnations of gay sex formulated by the Vatican - I understand this - but equally they cannot be silent in the face of ignorance, violence, oppression and homophobia. Good on you, Eureka Street !

Michael B Kelly | 13 July 2010  

Mike D,

The church does not support the oppression of any minority group, whether one of race, religion or sexuality.

It regards homosexual activity together with all forms of non-reproductive sexual conduct as sinful but while society continues to tolerate heterosexual sodomy it cannot retain a double standard of discriminating against homosexuals for doing the same thing.

Senex | 13 July 2010  

Congratulations to Eureka Street for looking at the issue of homosexuality and the Muslim world.

Whilst I do not condone homosexuality per se, there can be no question that the barbaric punishments Islam mandates for homosexuality must be opposed. Whether it be a sin or not, no one deserves any punishment under the law for homosexuality, let alone death.

However, I can not see much chance for the situation to improve in the Muslim countries. There is a hadith which specifically mandates the death penalty for homosexuality.

"Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:

The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done."

(Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 38: Number 4447)

The link below to youtube features one Awadh A. Binhazim, Ph.D. speaking at a university in America. He affirms that death is the penalty for homosexuality in Islam. He also says, "I don't have a choice as a Muslim to accept or reject teachings. I go with what Islam teaches."

Such an attitude makes reform highly unlikely, if not actually impossible.

Link to youtube video- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAW743OXC8o&feature=player_embedded

Patrick James | 14 July 2010  

Patrick James points out deep-seated, faith-based opposition to homosexuality. That conviction is certain to remain a permanent fixture of Middle Eastern society as it is in other societies. The difference is that the Middle East is a region dominated by authoritarian regimes that allow for few public spaces and need to cloak themselves in some degree of Islamic legitimacy.

While some countries, including Morocco, do not always strictly impose the law for economic reasons or because their focus is on more urgent matters, real change will only come with inevitable political reform.

James M. Dorsey | 26 July 2010  

This is what exactly I was searching, the information was overall very useful for me, thanks a lot.

Alva | 26 July 2013  

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