Responses to the tragic death of the Egyptian leftist and queer activist Sarah Hegazy reflect a significant transformation in the desire of individuals in the Middle East to claim queer identities. Zeina Zaatari places this moment in the historical context of decades of activism and struggle for freedom and social justice that continue despite tremendous backlash from governments and society.
Traffic crawls as usual through Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, making its noisy way around the 65-foot pole flying the Egyptian flag newly erected in the middle of the plaza. It is hard to imagine that in January 2011 this very spot was the epicenter of the grassroots revolution that toppled President Husni Mubarak. Since the summer 2013 coup, the military-backed regime has remade this space of insurrection into one of imposed national unity. The revolutionary graffiti is long since whitewashed; the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, incinerated during the uprising, is demolished.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey is known for his strong pro-natalist sentiments. In 2012 his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP, by the Turkish acronym) passed a law to constrain women’s choice to give birth by Caesarean section — “nothing more than a procedure to restrict and square a nation’s population,” says the AKP leader, since a woman who undergoes it usually cannot have another baby. Erdoğan exhorts every Turkish family to have three children, just like he does.