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Sarah Hegazi

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Sarah Hegazi
سارة حجازي
Born1 October 1989
Died14 June 2020 (aged 30)
Cause of deathSuicide
NationalityEgyptian

Sarah Hegazi (1 October 1989—14 June 2020) was an Egyptian communist, feminist, and queer activist. She was arrested and tortured by the Egyptian government after waving a pride flag at a Mashrou' Leila concert.  

Persecution[change | change source]

While attending a concert in Cairo on the 22nd of October 2017 of the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay; Hegazi, amongst others in the crowd, waved a rainbow LGBTQ+ flag. She was arrested days after the concert, and was the only woman arrested after the concert among at least 56 others.[1]

Hegazi was charged with "promoting sexual deviancy" and "joining a group in violation of the law and incitement to immorality and debauchery".[2][3] She spent three months in a women's prison, including nine days in solitary confinement. Hegazi was spitefully targeted by prison officers who encouraged other prisoners to abuse her,[2] and was violently tortured with electricity, which the officers threatened harm on her mother if she told anyone about it.[4]

Hegazi left prison with serious mental health problems. In a blog post, she wrote that she was afraid of people, even her family and friends. She wanted to leave Egypt because she was afraid of being arrested again.[4]

Context: LGBTQ+ rights in Egypt[change | change source]

Homosexuality is not explicitly against the law in Egypt. The 1961 Law on Combating Prostitution was made in a newly independent Egypt as a reaction to the British colonial rule which had brought about brothels and prostitution. This law was used to justify the arrest of those at the Mashrou Leila concert, even though it does not explicitly mention homosexuality.[5]

As a reaction to the arrests at the Mashrou' Leila concert, Egyptian MPs suggested a law that punished expressions of homosexuality with up to three years in prison, and a second offence would receive five years.[3] The LGBTQ+ community are seen as a national security threat by the government and religious figures.

Over 300 people were arrested in the days after the Mashrou' Leila concert.[5]

Asylum in Canada[change | change source]

A group of people standing in a wide street holding signs and Syrian flags
Hegazi at a protest in Canada

Hegazi was given asylum in Canada in 2018. Whilst living there, she was still seriously suffering with her mental health, struggling with her post-traumatic stress disorder after the treatment in prison in Egypt. She became socially isolated because of her fear of speaking to people that she developed.[4] After the death of her mother just before she left Egypt, she became the carer for her younger siblings.[6]

In Canada, Hegazi joined the socialist group Spring. She spoke at many public meetings and contributed a lot to the group through her experiences and opinions.[6] She found it very important to speak up about politics, so keeping up with a political group was very important to her. She said that "[she] never felt so alive as during the revolution".[6]

While in Canada, she enjoyed going to art galleries, symphony concerts, walks in the park, and watching the zoo animals.[6]

Death[change | change source]

On the 14th of June 2020, at the age of 30, Sarah Hegazi took her own life whilst living in exile in Canada. Her death was reported internationally, with a big emphasis on her activism.[7]

A note that she wrote in Arabic before she died circulated on social media. It read:

To my siblings – I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. To my friends – the experience [journey] was harsh and I am too weak to resist it, forgive me. To the world – you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.

— Sarah Hegazi

[1]

The socialist group she joined in Canada posted an obituary for her, who praised her highly for her political activism.[6]

The lead singer of Mashrou' Leila, Hamed Sinno, posted a tribute on Instagram, singing the words from the letter she left.[8] He also posted a statement on Facebook about mental illness as a response, saying that it is the "result of structural violence".[9]

Legacy[change | change source]

Hegazi made many important comments on the state of LGBTQ+ rights in Egypt and her death serves as a reminder of the injustices facing LGBTQ+ Egyptians. Her death provoked discussion of LGBTQ+ rights across the Islamic world.[10][11][7]

Mural of Hegazi in Amman, before and after it was covered up

Many murals of Hegazi were painted in various LGBTQ+ spaces. These included a mural in the Toronto gay village, where she lived in Canada; and in Brighton, England.[12][13] Murals painted in various places around Amman, Jordan were covered up or removed by the municipality, following comments on social media.[14]

The Arabic Wikipedia page for Sarah Hegazi was deleted, and combined into the page on 'homosexuality'. A community member justified this by saying that there was a lack of notability for her page. Activists spoke up against this and it provoked questions about the bias of Wikipedia.[15] As of May 2024, there are pages on Wikipedia about Hegazi in 31 languages.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Maurice, Emma Powys (15 June 2020). "Sara Hegazy, the pioneering Egyptian LGBT+ activist who was tortured for flying a Pride flag, has died by suicide". Pink News. Retrieved 2 May 2024.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Arraf, Jane (18 June 2018). "After Crackdown, Egypt's LGBT Community Contemplates 'Dark Future'". NPR. Retrieved 2 May 2024.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "القضاء المصري يفرج بكفالة عن شاب وشابة لوحا بعلم يرمز الى المثليين". Swissinfo. 2 January 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2024.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 https://www.madamasr.com/ar/2018/09/24/opinion/u/%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D9%85%D9%88%D9%82%D8%B9%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%88-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%84%D8%8C-%D9%88%D8%A5/
  5. 5.0 5.1 Imran, Yousra Samir (19 June 2020). "Remembering Sara Hegazy: Arab LGBT community mourns the loss of a 'beacon of hope'". New Arab. Retrieved 2 May 2024.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Lannon, Valerie (14 June 2020). "Our tribute to comrade/rafeqa Sarah Hegazi". Spring: a magazine of socialist ideas in action. Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Baconi, Tareq (23 June 2020). "Our lives are not conditional: On Sarah Hegazy and estrangement". madamasr. Retrieved 27 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ""من هو هذا الربّ الذي تؤمنون به؟"... حزن مضاعف على سارة حجازي ["Who is this God that you believe in?"… Double sadness for Sarah Hegazy]". Raseef22. 16 June 2020. Retrieved 23 May 2024. {{cite news}}: |first= missing |last= (help)CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. Resch, Christopher (19 June 2020). "Obituary: Egyptian LGBTQ activist Sarah Hegazy". Qantara.de. Retrieved 27 May 2024.
  10. Mohr, Sarah (20 June 2020). "SARAH HEGAZI'S LIFE AND DEATH IS A REMINDER THAT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY MUST DO BETTER IN SUPPORTING THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY". MuslimGirl. Retrieved 24 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. Flynn, Oisin (27 July 2020). "Raising the flag for liberation in Egypt and beyond". MENA Solidarity Network. Retrieved 27 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. Romanska, Anastasiya (19 April 2021). "Toronto community pays tribute to activist tortured in Egyptian prison". blogTO. Retrieved 27 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. Alsherif, Sara (15 September 2020). "Sarah Hegazi mural revealed in Brighton". GScene. Retrieved 27 May 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. "أمانة عمان تزيل جرافيتي للمصرية سارة حجازي (صور)". AmmanNet. 21 June 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2024. {{cite news}}: |first= missing |last= (help)
  15. ببيلي, ديما (3 July 2020). "ويكيبيديا وقصة سارة حجازي تثير الجدل حول المعايير التحريرية وحرية التعبير". بي بي سي. Retrieved 27 May 2024.