October was a difficult month to be gay in the Arab world.
On Oct 13, Egyptian police detained 14 people in Cairo pending investigations into allegations that they committed “homosexual acts” inside a medical centre in a middle-class neighbourhood in Cairo. The Egyptian prosecutor also ordered that they be sent to a pathologist for forensic reports and that the centre be shut down, the Arabic Ahram news site reported.
Rather than addressing its country’s problems — the current political struggle and the terrorism growing in the country — the Egyptian government is spending time and effort harassing gay people.
Egypt is infamous for its acts against gay people. In 2001, 52 Egyptian men stood trial on charges of “sexual immorality.”
Meanwhile the Kuwaiti government is spending time and money on finding the best ways to detect gay people in airports to prevent them from entering the country.
The proposal, put forth earlier in October by Kuwait’s director of public health, would ban anyone found to be homosexual, transgender or a crossdresser from entering the country. If adopted, it would add a new test to the medical assessments already required for migrants attempting to enter the Arab country.
And how exactly do they propose to test for homosexuality? Both the Kuwaitis and the Cairo police casually refer to "anal tests" as a means to detect homosexuality.
In April 2013, I stood outside the Ministry of Justice in Beirut, Lebanon with about 60 other people to protest the use of “anal tests” on Syrian gay people who were arrested in an underground nightclub famous for being gay-friendly.
“I was asked to take off my pants,” one of the men arrested said in an interview on a local TV station. “I was held in a public office, people were coming in and out, while some doctor was standing there casually having a conversation with someone that I couldn’t see, while I was standing naked in a corner, trying to hide my private parts.”
In the interview, the man’s face was hidden, his voice was altered. He was too shy to explain the exact test that he went through before his release.
Some rumours circulated around the time claimed that the test is a simple one: the authorities bring a doctor who uses a chicken’s egg and tries to insert it up the anus of the person suspected of being gay. According to how easily this operation goes, the doctor decides if the person is gay or not. This rumour was never documented or authenticated, naturally.
We call these tests in the gay society in the Arab world the “Shame Tests” — we all shiver under the possibility that one day we might go through it ourselves.
“Anal tests are not a medical practice, they are not scientific, and they do not indicate any form of finding the true sexuality, or gender identity of any person,” Ahmed Saleh, a spokesperson of Helem — the only LGBT non-governmental organization in the Arab World — tells dailyxtra.com.
“These tests are done in a barbaric way, and they are an invasion of privacy and personal dignity of any person that is subjected to it.”
Helem used the incident to push for legal recognition that anal tests should not be performed by any licensed doctor in Lebanon. In response, The Lebanese Medical Association (LMA), in what is considered a healthcare milestone, listened.
On Aug 7, the LMA issued a memo demanding that doctors cease to conduct the anal probes. They have warned that any doctor who attempts to conduct them will face disciplinary action.
Speaking with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Dr Sharaf Abu Sharaf, the head of the LMA, said the procedure is ineffective, constitutes a gross violation of human rights, is humiliating, forced upon people without their consent, and in breach of the international convention against torture.
The country's public prosecutor, Judge Saeed Mirza, has argued for the tests to continue. He has stated that if police need ‘proof’ of homosexuality only the suspect can ‘consent to undergo the exam.’ However, if the detainee refuses to give his consent it can be used as ‘evidence’ against him.
This can still be considered a triumph in Lebanon, but it is also shadowed by the mentality of the rest of the Arab world, which is far yet from following Lebanon’s lead in this matter.
We are still wondering what kind of anal tests the 14 Egyptian detainees are going to face, and what kind of medical requirement migrants to Kuwait might have to endure.
Maybe they plan to test how firm your handshake is? Or how stylish your outfit is... although most Kuwaitis are known for overspending on designer clothing. Jokes aside, anal tests are still practiced across the Arab World, and the young men who have gone through them are still suffering in silence.