Middle Eastern States Shed Crocodile Tears Over Orlando

In the few hours after Omar Mateen shot dead 50 innocent people at Pulse in Orlando a week ago, dozens of politicians and heads of states around the world rushed to condemn the grotesque hate crime.

The “condemnations” trickling in from the Middle East were particularly interesting and unique when placed in the context of these countries’  track records on LGBT rights and their mistreatment of homosexuals (Russia could potentially be added to this list, too, but for the sake of this post, we’re focusing on the Middle East).

To illustrate the stark contrast between the condemnations and the countries’ respective policies on homosexuality, Florence of Arabia has put together the below listicle featuring Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. (Please do send in more if I’ve missed any.)

[To jump straight to the listicle, click here.]

The contrast is quite humorous and hypocritical, but on a more serious level, it reaffirms just how rampant state-sponsored homophobia is in the region. It’s worth noting that the condemnations were similarly worded and omitted any mention of the attacks occurring at a gay club or targeting homosexuals. 

The condemnations are inherently problematic in that the states are essentially players that enable or fuel the sort of hatred which motivated the very crime they appear to have condemned.

Scholar and writer Samar Habib in this piece for the Washington Post argues that the condemnations are a “start,” whilst acknowledging they are somewhat troublesome.

Meanwhile, Neela Ghoshal, an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye the condemnations are all-out “hypocritical” and that the states are “hardly countries that can position themselves as outspoken defenders of LGBT rights or crusaders in the fight to end violence on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

My personal favourite take on this so far, though, is a Facebook status by writer and professor Maya Mikdashi, in which she asks the Middle East to spare us its “crocodile tears.” Here’s an excerpt from that brilliant status:

Now Arab leaders and states are sending their condolences to the victims of the Orlando attack. The Egyptian state, no less, put out a statement. I guess this means Egyptian police will stop harassing, raiding, and imprisoning gay men wherever they congregate? Will Saudi Arabia also send its “condolences” while inflicting bodily punishment on the poor queers (the rich ones are safe in their palaces) they arrest there? Will the Lebanese state also step up in the “humanity” of the moment?”

(Side note, on the topic of recommended reading, check out Newsweek’sWhat Does the Quran Say About Being Gay?” Solid contextual information. Also a great read in the New Yorker: Orlando and Gay Muslims.)



A Foreign Ministry ‘source’ in Kuwait “strongly” condemned the attacks, saying such criminal acts “pose a great harm to Islam, and are distant from its noble teachings.” (See above-mentioned Newsweek piece.)

The unnamed source said the Arabian Gulf country “rejects all types of terrorism” and that the escalation of terrorism requires the international community to double up efforts to eliminate “this disgusting phenomenon and [rid] the world of evil.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Kuwait, and offenders are liable to up to ten years of jail time, depending on the nature of the act.

In 2013, a director at the country’s Health Ministry suggested the country run medical tests on individuals trying to enter the state to “detect” gay and transgender people. Amnesty International referred to the proposal as “homophobic” and  “outrageous.”


The Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad Momani, said Jordan condemns all forms of terror and violence, and expressed his sympathy to the families of the dead and the wounded.

** Policy:
While Jordan does not have laws that deal specifically with the criminalisation of homosexuality, it also doesn’t have any that protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

In February 2014, Jordan arrested 10 homosexuals for holding a “party” and “disturbing the peace,”  a security official said at the time.

In April this year, Jordan reportedly banned Lebanese band, Mashrou’ Leila, from performing in the country, stating that its songs “contradicted” religious beliefs. Hamed Sinno, the brilliant quintet’s lead singer, is openly queer. The country later lifted the ban after being criticised on social media and in various global media outlets.

(Side note: Check out this NPR Tiny Desk Concert by the band, performed the day after the Orlando attacks, and this Reuters piece in which Sinno eloquently speaks about the reactions to the hate crime.)


** Condemnation:
The UAE ambassador to Washington condemned the crime in a statement, saying countries must work together “to promote tolerance and peace.” The nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation also expressed its “solidarity” with the US after the attack.

** Policy:
Homosexuality in the UAE is illegal and same-sex marriages are not recognised. Homosexual acts are punishable by jail time (of up to ten years) as well as deportation, fines, and in extreme cases, death. There have been no recent reports (in mainstream media at least) of such punishments being carried out. 


** Condemnation:
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign affairs said the nation “reiterates its condemnation of all forms of violence and terrorism, whatever their motives and justifications,” and emphasises the need for concerted international efforts to face criminal “acts that target civilians everywhere in the world.”

** Policy:
Homosexuality is punishable by jail time and/or deportation in Qatar. The nation’s Sports Minister said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2014 that the country was still figuring out how to accommodate homosexuals who wish to attend the 2022 World Cup. Tricky, that…


** Condemnation:
“Based on its principled policy of condemning terrorism and its firm resolve for serious and all-out confrontation of this discouraging phenomenon, the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the recent terrorist attack in the US city of Orlando,” the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry was quoted as saying on State TV.

** Policy:
Sodomy is punishable by death in the Islamic republic, and lesbians caught engaging in homosexual activity can face up to 100 lashes. While gender reassignment is allowed, it’s often referred to as an “antidote” to homosexuality.

An Iranian gay cleric who reportedly conducted secret gay weddings in Iran was threatened with death before being forced to flee the Islamic Republic. This year, Iran’s female national football team was investigated for homosexual acts between players.


** Condemnation:
Abdullah al-Saud,  Saudi Ambassador to the US, said in a statement that Saudi Arabia “condemns in the strongest terms the attack on innocent people in Orlando, Florida, and sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of the United States.” He added that the country “will continue [its] work with the United States and our partners in the international community for an end to these senseless acts of violence and terror.”

** Policy:
Homosexuality is punishable by death from stoning in the Kingdom, although such executions are rarely carried out and gay life reportedly flourishes there. Other punishments for being caught in an act of homosexuality include fines, whippings and jail.

A Saudi doctor this year was arrested after hoisting a rainbow flag from his home in Jeddah. He was later released after saying he had no idea what it symbolised. Some recent reports suggest the government is cracking down on suspected LGBT individuals who display homosexual activity on social media.


** Condemnation:
State-run MENA news agency reported that Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned the attacks and offered condolences to the “people and the government of the United States.” The ministry was also quoted as saying that the international community must take a “firm, comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism, which knows no borders or religion, and is incompatible with all humanitarian principles and values.”

** Policy:
Like Jordan, homosexuality is not banned by penal code in Egypt. The LGBT community is frequently targeted with laws that criminalise “indecency” and/or the violation of “public morals.” In April this year, a criminal court reportedly sentenced 11 individuals to prison for “practicing, inciting and publicising immoral practices.”


** Condemnation:
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, calling it “cowardly” and expressing solidarity with the victims and the U.S. government. It also blamed the hate crime on the Islamic State, saying no one is immune from “global blind terrorism.” 

** Policy:
Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment in Lebanon. That said, the country has a vibrant LGBT community and is deemed by many to be the most liberal among its Arab peers when it comes to same-sex relationships.

Beirut has LGBT groups including Helem (Dream), the first of its kind in the Arab world, and activists have put pressure on the government to amend the country’s law. The Lebanese Psychiatric Society in 2013 released a statement in which it said homosexuality “is not a mental disorder” and does “not need to be treated.” ♦

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