LGBT in the Middle East

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The rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Middle East are strongly influenced by the prevailing cultural traditions and religious mores of people living in the region.

Several Middle Eastern countries have received strong international criticism for persecuting homosexuality and transsexuals by fines, imprisonment and death. However, some of Middle Eastern countries have developed more tolerant social attitudes and taken some steps to protect LGBT people from discrimination and harassment.

Israel has, since the 1960s, gradually developed more social tolerance for LGBT people, and taken steps to recognize LGBT rights. However, despite the drive in some areas to improve the lives of LGBT citizens has not nearly achieved its goal. In some areas of the Middle East, homosexuality is not illegal, yet LGBT people still face brutal persecution, and many will have to answer to lynch mobs. There is also a large amount of cultural intolerance despite the legalization of homosexuality in these areas. The Middle-East and Africa are the two worst places in the world to be an LGBT citizen. This surpasses areas such as Asia, where homosexuals are also strongly persecuted. The Middle East is very strongly influenced by Islam, and as such, executions and persecution of LGBT folk is rampant, and not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Jordan, Bahrain and Iraq are some of the few Arab countries where homosexuality is not illegal.[1]

In some other Middle Eastern nations, including Turkey and Lebanon, changes in social attitudes and laws have slowly come about as part of a larger campaign for greater tolerance, pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

Some Middle Eastern nations do not allow a LGBT community or human rights movement to exist. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates criminalize same-sex sexuality, cross-dressing and any expressed support for LGBT rights.

Some Middle Eastern nations have some tolerance and legal protections for transsexual and transgender people, but not for homosexual or bisexual persons.

For example, the Iranian government has approved sex change operations under medical approval.

A LGBT rights movement has existed in other Middle Eastern nations, including Turkey and Lebanon.


Evidence of homosexuality in the Middle East can be traced back at least until the time of Ancient Egypt[2] and Mesopotamia.

More recently in the medieval period and the early modern age, Middle Eastern societies saw a flourishing of homo-erotic literature. Shusha Guppy of the Times Higher Education Supplement has argued that "It has long been assumed that the Arab-Islamic societies have always been less tolerant of homosexuality than the West."[3] In the 19th and early 20th century, homosexual sexual contact was considered as relatively common in the Middle East. Not least strengthened by the fact that there was significant sex segregation between men and women, which made heterosexual encounters outside marriage more difficult.[4] According to Guppy, "In the pre-modern era, Western travellers were amazed to find Islam "a sex-positive religion" and men openly expressing their love for young boys in words and gestures."[3] Georg Klauda wrote that "Countless writers and artists such as André Gide, Oscar Wilde, Edward M. Forster, and Jean Genet made pilgrimages in the 19th and 20th centuries from homophobic Europe to Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, and various other Arab countries, where homosexual sex was not only met without any discrimination or subcultural ghettoization whatsoever, but rather, additionally as a result of rigid segregation of the sexes, seemed to be available on every corner."[4]


Arab and Muslim views of homosexuality as a purely "Western" creation have been explored in the film Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World. The starting line of the dialogue spoken by an as yet unseen gay Egyptian man stating "I was accused of being Westernized."[5]

In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, the laws state that if a person is found of engaging in same gender sexual behavior, the death penalty would be applied.[6]

According to Country Reports of the US Department of State, in Saudi Arabia there are no established LGBT organizations. Furthermore, reports of official and social discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation remains unclear because of strong social pressure of not to discuss LGBT matters.[7]

A report of Human Rights Watch in relation to LGBT rights in the Middle East notes:

In a few places, like Egypt and Morocco, sexual orientation and gender identity issues have begun to enter the agendas of some mainstream human rights movements. Now, unlike in earlier years, there are lawyers to defend people when they are arrested, and voices to speak up in the press. These vital developments were not won through identity politics. Those have misfired disastrously as a way of claiming rights in much of the Middle East; the urge of some western LGBT activists to unearth and foster ‘gay’ politics in the region is potentially deeply counterproductive. Rather, the mainstreaming was won largely by framing the situations of LGBT (or otherwise-identified) people in terms of the rights violations, and protections, that existing human rights movements understand. (Human Rights Watch 2009, p. 18)[8]

Klauda wrote that the Europeans had "have brought about and sorted out" homosexuals "as a distinct "minority" through a centuries-long process of normalization in the first place".[9] By the late 20th century attitudes towards homosexuals were negative in the Middle East in Arab and Persian countries.[4]

Israel is a notable exception, being more progressive concerning LGBT rights, recognizing unregistered cohabitation, and having a wide support for same-sex marriage.[10]

See also[edit]

LGBT rights by country


  1. ^
  2. ^ Williams, Sean (2010-02-22). "Alternative sexuality in ancient Egypt? Follow the LGBT Trail at the Petrie Museum - History - Life & Style". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  3. ^ a b Guppy, Shusha. "Veiled might of the harem.(American University Press)(Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800)(Book review)" (Archive only available to researchers and legal). Times Higher Education Supplement, June 9, 2006, Vol.0(1746), p.33(1). ISSN 0049-3929. Source: Cengage Learning, Inc.
  4. ^ a b c Klauda, Georg (English translation by Angelus Novus). "Globalizing Homophobia Archived 2014-06-20 at WebCite" (Archive). MRZine, Monthly Review. 08.12.10. Previous version appeared in Phase 2 No. 10 (December 2003). Also published as the first chapter of Die Vertreibung aus dem Serail: Europa und die Heteronormalisierung der islamischen Welt (Berlin: Männerschwarm-Verlag, 2008). Start page 15.Retrieved on June 26, 2014.
  5. ^ Pullen, Christopher (2012). LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 44. 
  6. ^ Linda A. Mooney; David Knox; Caroline Schacht. Understanding Social Problems, 8th ed. Cengage. p. 373. 
  7. ^ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, p. 2414
  8. ^ "The use of equality and anti-discrimination law in advancing LGBT rights", by Dimitrina Petrova. PDF Archived 2014-07-07 at WebCite (Archive) - Chapter 18, Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity, p. 477-505
  9. ^ Klauda, Georg. "With Islamophobia against Homophobia? Archived 2014-06-20 at WebCite" (Archive). MRZine, Monthly Review. 12/11/07. Originally published in German in: Arranca! (Für eine linke Strömung (de)) 37 (October 2007) as "Mit Islamophobie contra Homophobie? Archived 2014-06-25 at WebCite" (Archive). Retrieved on August 26, 2014.
  10. ^ "Three-in-Five Israelis Back Same-Sex Marriage". Angus Reid Public Opinion. Retrieved 1 June 2011

Further reading[edit]