LISA MULLINS: Morocco is going through an upheaval of sorts. An online magazine was recently launched for gay men and its creators are promoting a new Arabic word for ï¿½gay.ï¿½ Homosexuality is condemned by religion, rejected by society, and prosecuted by the authorities. Men who openly identify as gay in the Arab world face the kind of discrimination not seen in the west for decades. Ursula Lindsey reports from Rabat, Morocco.
URSULA LINDSEY: I can't tell you Waleed El Amraoui's real name. Nor the city he lives in, nor his job. In fact, all I can tell you about El Amraoui, a pseudonym, is that he's Moroccan, in his mid-twenties and the editor of the Arab world's first magazine by and for gay men. When we meet, El Amraoui explains why he needs to remain anonymous.
WALEED EL AMRAOUI: Because I have a job and a social life I have to protect. If someone stumbled on my name in the news it would be a disaster. It's social suicide to come out here. So I can't, for now.
LINDSEY: Across North Africa and the Middle East, homosexuality is taboo. Islam considers it a sin. And public opinion overwhelmingly condemns it. To be outed as gay is to face, as homosexuals did in America until not that long ago, social ostracism, job loss, violence and possibly criminal prosecution. Some countries criminalize homosexuality under anti-sodomy or anti-debauchery laws, says Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef. And some carry out crack-downs on gay men to strengthen their Islamic credentials.
HEBA MORAYEF: The biggest threat that gay men face is arrest. And arrest not because there's any evidence of them having been in a gay relationship but usually because they look gay or they're in a place which is a hang-out for people who are gay. In addition to that, associated with that arrest is the risk of torture and ill-treatment. That depends on the country, but again they tend to be the most vulnerable.
LINDSEY: Six men were sentenced to jail in Morocco in 2007 for participating in a party that was described as a "gay marriage." El Amraoui's online monthly magazine caused a furor in Morocco when it was launched in April and has received six million visits so far. A few hundred printed copies of the magazine were distributed personally and very carefully. The last issue features an open letter from a gay man to his mother and an article entitled "A normal day in the normal life of a normal transsexual." An editorial takes to task a popular Moroccan rap band for a song in which homosexuality is listed as one of the country's problems. In the video for the song, one of the rappers in the group Fez City Clan observes a homosexual, shakes his head, and describes him as "not a normal man." El Amraoui says homosexuals in Morocco are considered "perverts" and "extraterrestrials."
LINDSEY: The purpose of the magazine is to give them a chance to speak for themselves, and to support each other, he says. The title of the magazine is "Mithly." This is a new Arabic word for gay. It comes from the root "mithl," meaning "alike, similar." Existing Arabic words for homosexual are all pejorative, "lothi" from the story of Lot in the Bible, and the word "shaath."
EL AMRAOUI: Shaath, yes. Shaath means pervert. Am I a pervert? No. This kind of word has nothing to do with homosexuality. This humiliates the homosexual. We wanted to change. We wanted another term of reference. Mithly just means who love the same sex.
LINDSEY: El Amraoui says it was important to come up with an Arabic word, rather than just using the Western term gay, to emphasize that gay men in the Arab world are "part of society." Growing up, El Amraoui says he felt lonely and ashamed. That may be true for gay teenagers the world over, but in the Middle East there is no time or place in which it is eventually safe to come out. Except perhaps the internet. It was thanks to an online discussion forum that El Amraoui first discovered that he wasn't "the only gay in Morocco," he says. Today, Mithly magazine is spreading that message. For the World, I'm Ursula Lindsey, Rabat, Morocco.