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Egypt: Despite new apps, LGBTQ+ users struggle to find safe virtual spaces

By Abir Sorour
Posted on Thursday, 22 April 2021 18:40

The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen on 9 February 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)/

While the Egyptian government continues to infiltrate and track so-called dissidents across the country, through monitoring their social media usage and apps, another segment of Egypt's society is seeking a virtual safe space to just simply socialise with other like-minded people. Could the new Clubhouse app be the answer?

When *Amir read about Clubhouse — an invite-only, audio-based app — he was excited to be part of the new experience. He had heard about it becoming popular among activists and minorities in autocratic countries with restrictions on free speech.

Audio apps are proving increasingly popular with Facebook  and Reddit announcing their own versions this week.

In February, Amir — a gay 35-year-old man living in Egypt — was invited by a friend to a virtual room with around 80 other members on Clubhouse. When the discussion touched on same-sex relationships, “one of the users lashed out and started a homophobic monologue,” he says.

Amir had signed in using the initials of his first name and his full last name. Later, a screenshot of his profile photo was sent to his boss who, he says, is quite conservative. “If the supervisor hadn’t seen the whole thing as a joke, I might’ve been involved in a major scandal, or even something worse,” he says.

After that scare, Amir deleted his profile and headed, incognito, back to other apps frequented by LGBTQ+ Egyptians, like Reddit, Tumblr, and Grindr.

Societal discrimination and persistent harassment

Homosexuality is not explicitly illegal in Egypt’s legal code. However, laws against ‘debauchery’ are routinely used to arrest and charge LGBTQ+ people. The government, judges and prosecutors, as well as state-affiliated media, justify legal persecution of community members as a moral and religious obligation to ‘defend’ the Egyptian society.