Maha remembers going toTahrir Squareon Jan. 25, 2011. The 27-year-old office worker only wanted to look around theCairointersection filled with thousands of protesters. But seeingEgypt's revolution unfold before her, she left to get friends and quickly returned. Without planning to, Maha became one of the highly visible gay men and women who took to the streets shouting for change.(...)
Nearly two years after the ouster of former leader Hosni Mubarak, Maha sits smoking a shisha with her friend Noor at a back-street cafe in downtownCairo. Together, the women have made this location a "safe place" for gays, somewhere they can come and be themselves.
Unlike in other major cities around the world, there is no flag or signage to indicate this is a "gay" cafe. People know about it through word-of-mouth and the online forum, "Bedayaa." They talk about the time since the revolution with a weariness that contrasts with the excitement they initially felt.
Many ofEgypt's gays and lesbians thought sexual freedom was on the horizon. "There was a moment of hope but the last few years has killed it," Maha says, adding: "Nothing much has changed, it is very hard." She is interrupted by Noor: "I think it is getting worse," she says.
The women remember sitting with gay male friends at another cafe three months after the revolution, when locals complained about it and called nearby military police, who then found make-up in the bag of one of the boys. They were all taken away for questioning for "making a mess" in the area.
Egypthas no specific laws banning homosexuality although there are plenty of ways to charge someone suspected of engaging in homosexual acts. Police will often charge gay people with "debauchery" or breaking the country's law of public morals. The election of an Islamist president in Egypt, and the passing last month of a new constitution, has also increased fears among the country's gay men and women that anti-gay legislation could soon be introduced. "We think in two or three months they will put a law to discriminate," Maha says.
Many others fear a government crackdown is only a matter of time. The most notorious pre-revolution attack on gay men took place in 2001, whenCairopolice raided aNileboat, arresting dozens of gay men. Along with others taken from the streets, they became known as the "Cairo52." But now, the Muslim Brotherhood is not just a power to be appeased - it is the dominant power inEgypt's new government.