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When Egyptian football legend Mohammed Aboutreika spoke out against homosexuality at the end of 2021, it struck a chord in the Muslim world.

The tit-for-tat between Mr Aboutreika and supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights has laid bare a gaping chasm.

For Mr. Aboutreika and many others in the Muslim world, the issue is to adhere to their values ​​and reject attempts to impose the values ​​of others.

For LGBT rights supporters and LGBT football fans, the most immediate issue is the right of LGBT people to attend the Qatar 2022 World Cup without fear of discrimination or legal entanglement because of their sexuality. .

In the longer term, it is about ensuring the recognition of LGBT rights, including social acceptability, inclusivity and non-discrimination.

Solving the immediate problem may be the lowest fruit. However, it can also pave the way for what is realistically achievable in the medium term.

The reality is that what is realistically possible is at best akin to US President Bill Clinton’s application to homosexuals in the US military of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule or the de facto “live and let live” from Indonesia. .

It may not be satisfying, but it may be the only thing that, for now, is possible without endangering LGBT communities by provoking public hostility and backlash.

To be sure, autocratic regimes in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt often target LGBT communities for domestic political purposes. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates, perhaps the most socially liberal society in the Middle East, has recently backtracked on LGBT issues.

The trick in campaigning for LGBT rights is to avoid playing into autocratic hands while keeping the pressure on.

The mere attempt to impose recognition is unlikely to produce results. Instead, a more realistic strategy is to devise ways to stimulate debate in Muslim-majority countries and encourage bottom-up social change to secure public buy-in.

This worked to some extent as human rights groups and trade unions used the World Cup to pressure Qatar to change its labor regime. LGBT rights are in a different category and relate more directly, rightly or wrongly, to perceived religious precepts.

As such, what has worked with labor rights, although human rights groups would like to see deeper reforms, is unlikely to produce similar results when it comes to LGBT rights. .

“Lobbying on behalf of a vast migrant workforce, which has historically been subjected to brutal exploitative practices, has yielded tangible results… But there is a long way to go before the rights of a predominantly South Asian workforce, hailing from some of the world’s poorest countries, are properly protected,” noted The Guardian.

The document backed proposals by UK human rights groups and trade unions for the establishment in Qatar of Migrant Worker Centres, which would offer advice, support and representation instead of a union, and compensation to the relatives of workers who died while employed around the world. Cutting-related public works projects.

Going to the extreme, Saudi Arabia, in an effort to encourage tourism, launched “rainbow raids” this month on stores selling children’s toys and accessories.

Authorities have targeted clothing and toys, including hair clips, pop-its, T-shirts, bows, skirts, hats and crayons ‘that contradict Islamic faith and public morals and promote gay colors that target the younger generation,” one trade said. ministry official.

Previously, the kingdom, like the United Arab Emirates, banned Lightyear, an animated production from Disney and Pixar, because of a homosexual kiss scene, and Disney’s Doctor Strange in the universe of Madness, in which a character refers to his “two moms”.

The UAE ban appeared to contradict the government’s announcement in late 2021 that it end film censorship. The country’s Media Regulatory Board said it would instead introduce a ratings policy for viewers aged 21 and over. However, it wasn’t obvious when the office tweeted an image of Lightyear crossed out with a red line.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly accused the Egyptian police and the National Security Agency police ‘arbitrarily arrest’ LGBT people and ‘detain them in inhumane conditions’systematically subject them to ill-treatment, including torture, and often incite their fellow prisoners to ill-treat them.

A few months before the World Cup, Qatar is caught in a catch-22. In a country where the few gay people willing to speak out describe an environment of social and legal discrimination, Qatari authorities would like to see the World Cup final as a ‘live and let live’ interlude.

Qatari officials have insisted in recent years that LGBT fans would be welcome during the World Cup, but they would be expected to abide by norms that frown upon public expressions of affection, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Paul Amann, the founder of Liverpool FC’s LGBT supporters club Kop Outs, met with Qatari World Cup organizers in 2019 before traveling to Doha with his husband to assess the situation.

I am very pleased that their approach is to provide an “everyone is welcome” philosophy this includes respect, albeit through privacy. I don’t know if rainbow flags will be generally accepted ‘in the country’, but maybe in stadiums,” Mr Amann said on his return.

Mr Aboutreika put Qatar in the hot seat when he claimed in November 2021 that “our role is to stand up to this phenomenon, homosexuality, because it is a dangerous ideology and it gets nasty, and people don’t are more ashamed of it. They (the Premier League) will tell you that homosexuality is a human right. No, it’s not human rights; in fact, it is against humanity.

The Qatari parliament and state-aligned media, imams in Saudi mosques, Saudi diplomatsand Al Azhar, the citadel of Islamic knowledge in Cairo, mobilized to reiterate the condemnation of Mr. Aboutreika despite his supposedly Islamist leanings.

Mr Aboutreika’s remarks were in response to gay Australian footballer Josh Cavallo who reignited the debate on sexuality by stating that he would be afraid to play the Qatar World Cup due to the Gulf state’s ban on homosexuality and harsh legal penalties ranging from flogging to long prison terms.

One of the few players to publicly discuss his sexuality, Mr Cavallo voiced his concerns a month after coming out as gay. Mr Cavallo said other footballers had privately expressed similar fears.

What is evident in the debate over sexuality is that few, if any, will be convinced by the arguments raised by the opposing side in what amounts to a dialogue of the deaf. Both sides of the divide feel their positions deeply.

For LGBT rights advocates, the challenge is to develop strategies that can contribute to change rather than insisting on a path that is more likely to deepen the trench lines than produce results for the people it affects. really acts: the LGBT community.


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