Woolf, el-Sisi, Abbott and boy bands

Trying to imagine what she calls ‟that anonymous monster the Man in the Street,” Virginia Woolf visualised ‟a vast, featureless, almost shapeless jelly of human stuff … occasionally wobbling this way or that as some instinct of hate, revenge, or admiration bubbles up beneath it.” The argument about whether such views make Woolf a bad person has been raging for a long while, and assume that we know what she meant by the remarks at all. I thought about them again when I saw Australian prime minister Tony Abbott shaking hands with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt.

Abbott excuses el-Sisi. “President el-Sisi is a reluctant jailer here. He wasn’t the president when Peter Greste and his colleagues were arrested,” Mr Abbott told ABC Radio. Abbott and el-Sisi know, I think, how Woolf’s shapeless jelly can be made to wobble with just a little push; and how little the jelly knows about who or what is doing the pushing.

PM Tony Abbott and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
PM Tony Abbott and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Many in Australia think that the current government is trading in distractions when burqas push war, privacy, performance and promises off the front pages of papers. [As it turns out, the plan to put burqas behind glass partitions in parliament was not an intentional distraction, but rather the panicked response to a rumor that the parliament was about to be disrupted by a posse of burqa-clad protesters.] El-Sisi has been accused of the same thing. An economic mess, power failures, rising taxes, and a government’s desire not to be seen as the morally soft option, all add up to a social climate in which minorities are easily scapegoated.

Whether by design or chance, Egypt is in the grip of an anti-gay hysteria. This hysteria now has a catchy anthem and a video.

A boy band, imaginatively called ‘Boy Band’, sings its confusion caused by ‟soft men” who wear tight jeans. The lyrics of its anti-gay song use words that pun on the Arabic equivalent of ‘faggots’ (see note, below). Three men burst into a room. They have their serious faces on. They begin to rifle through the belongings of a person, presumably the man in the photo on the wall. The video looks like a police raid set to music. (فمن مداهمة قامت بها الشرطة مع الموسيقى.)


In Australia we are worried about burqas. In Egypt they are worried about tight red jeans. I notice now that both Abbott and el-Sisi are wearing dark suits and blue ties.

Egypt: Eight men sentenced to three years in prison for ‘gay wedding’ video

Written by Chris Johnston and published in The Guardian on 2 November 2014:

A court in Egypt has sentenced eight men to three years in prison for appearing in a video that purported to show a gay wedding.

The video, which became an online hit after it was posted on YouTube in September, shows two men kissing, exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends.

It was filmed at a birthday party held on a boat on the Nile.

The sentences, which can be appealed, were met with uproar from the families of the defendants, who demonstrated outside the court in central Cairo and were dispersed by police.

The defendants, who had denied the charges, stood silent in the courtroom cage as the verdict was read, one of them holding up a copy of the Qur’an.

The eight were arrested in September when Egypt’s chief prosecutor decided that the video was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morals”.

At the last hearing, on 11 October, a spokesman for the justice ministry’s forensics department insisted the men were innocent.

“The entire case is made up and lacks basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything,” Hesham Abdel Hamed said.

“The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practised homosexuality recently or in the past.”

He was referring to anal examinations, a long-standing practice in Egypt that Human Rights Watch has condemned.

The New-York-based lobby group had called for the men be released.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but it is a social taboo, and allegedly gay men have often been arrested on charges of immorality.

In the most notorious example, 52 men were arrested in 2001 for their perceived sexuality, in what became known as the Queen Boat case.

In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding gay sex parties where women’s clothing and makeup were found.

Human Rights Watch said in September that Egyptian authorities had repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of having gay sex.

Saturday’s sentences are the latest in a crackdown by authorities against gay people and atheists.

The campaign also targets liberal and pro-democracy activists and anyone who breaks a draconian law on street protests.

Note: The lyrics use the word “khawagat” in a pun linked to the term ‘khawalat’ (a plural noun), the equivalent of ‘faggots’ in English. In traditional Arabic ‘Khawal‘ is a man who has been taught and performs belly-dancing routines. In modern Egyptian slang it is an attack on a man’s sexual identity.
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