Arab Gulf countries crack down on homosexuality

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar are tightening laws that aim to prevent, prohibit, and punish homosexual relations and deport foreign nationals caught working in massage parlors.

 People take part in a rally marking the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2021.  (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN/FLASH90)
People take part in a rally marking the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2021.
(photo credit: NOAM REVKIN/FLASH90)

Four countries in the Arab Gulf have intensified their campaigns against homosexuals, or what the states’ leaders refer to as “perverts,” in recent months in what they say is an effort to preserve customs, traditions, and religious and societal values.

For more stories from The Media Line go to themedialine.org

Kuwait has announced the deportation of at least 3,000 massage parlor employees, most of them of Filipino nationality, who allegedly offer sexual services to male clients.

Sheikh Talal Khalid Al-Sabah, first deputy prime minister and interior minister, issued strict instructions regarding “the need to clean the country of homosexuals who imitate women” by launching wide campaigns in all governorates, “because of the spread of these “diseases” in Kuwaiti society, which is rejected by Kuwaitis.”

In Saudi Arabia, activists circulated video clips taken during seasonal parties in Riyadh of people accused of being homosexual, including those who are wearing earrings or making what are considered feminine gestures. At the end of each clip, the Interior Ministry announces the arrest of those who appeared in the video, stressing the government’s complete rejection of any of what it called “perversion.”

Saudi Arabia, which has restricted the scope of activities allowed to be carried out by its Islamic religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, still rejects any kind of homosexual activity, considering it a criminal and unacceptable behavior in society.

The commerce ministries in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have warned against the importation of any children’s toys or products that include a rainbow-colored flag, the symbol of homosexual pride activities, or anything that resembles it and have confiscated several products that simply include rainbow colors.

LGBTQ flag (credit: Wikimedia Commons)LGBTQ flag (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Bahraini government has launched a campaign targeting foreign workers, most of them of Filipino nationality, in massage parlors and other locations where homosexual acts allegedly take place. While homosexual activity is not specifically a criminal activity in private in Bahrain, there are several articles in the penal code that can be used to target homosexuals, including one that requires people to follow local Islamic tradition.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa during the opening session of the new parliament on Monday stressed the kingdom’s rejection of homosexual practices, saying: “We assure everyone that we will not allow it in any way to prejudice our system of values and traditions.”

King Hamad also affirmed in his speech, which was broadcast live on Bahraini television, “I will only agree to what will reach the consensus of all, and we will stand in the face of any intellectual invasion that contradicts the values of our tolerant Islamic law and common human instinct.”

The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Bahrain issued a statement confirming its rejection of any “intellectual invasion” and attempts to “change the Islamic nature” of the kingdom, while several new members of parliament announced that they intend to intensify the criminalization of homosexuality.

The Bahraini Sunni Endowments Directorate also issued instructions to Friday preachers to talk about homosexuality and warn against it.

While homosexual activity is illegal in Qatar, it has allowed homosexuals from abroad to visit to attend the World Cup. Still, it does not permit the flying of a pride flag, or any other manifestation of the rainbow pride symbol, which includes the banning of the “One Love” armband in stadiums and outside Qatar. The rainbow-colored armband, a project initiated by the Dutch Football Association against all forms of discrimination, bears the words “One Love” on it and features the number one inside a heart.

Khalid Salman, the 60-year-old ambassador of the World Cup in Qatar, told reporters in a press conference ahead of the World Cup that homosexuals are welcome, but they should not act in a homosexual manner in public, and that he considered homosexuality a “mental defect.”

The laws of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain aim to prevent, prohibit, and punish homosexual relations, with penalties ranging from one year in prison to death, whether through special articles in the penal laws or in general articles of the law that talk about men imitating women, or women imitating men, and of what they describe as abnormal practices since the laws of these countries criminalize “cohabitation” between unmarried couples, and sexual relations outside marriage.

Kuwait and Bahrain both expressed dissatisfaction with the US embassy in each of the countries in June after the embassies published images of pride flags on their Instagram and Twitter accounts in honor of Pride Month. The social media accounts of these embassies were bombarded with thousands of comments rejecting the posts. Meanwhile, both Kuwait and Bahrain called on the embassies to adhere to diplomatic norms, not provoke society, and respect Islamic traditions, customs, and values.

Ahmed, a transgender Bahraini who was previously a female, told The Media Line: “I cannot live my normal life. I was previously a female, and I could not live with being a female, and I changed into a male, but in the official papers I am still a female.”

“We are about 15 cases in Bahrain, although we performed complete transformation surgeries, but the concerned authorities refused to register us as males, and therefore, the official papers are completely different in appearance and gender as well,” he said.

Ahmed, who declined to provide his previous name as a female, added that “I cannot carry any official papers. Sometimes I am arrested on charges of forgery, but with matching fingerprints, I am released.”

Ahmed connected The Media Line to Khaled, a Kuwaiti citizen who is also transgender, and was previously a female, who said that he suffers from the same issues as Ahmed does in Bahrain. “The situation is the same, as Ahmed said, but I do not know the number of those who underwent these operations in Kuwait, but they are certainly very few.”

Bing, a Filipino national who was recently deported from Bahrain after being arrested for “indecency,” told The Media Line: “I was working in a massage parlor and I was getting paid for some of the sexual practices that customers asked me for, and one time a customer came in. He asked me to do a certain thing in exchange for money, only to discover later that he was a policeman, and he went undercover to investigate and arrest me.”

Cleric Issa Abdullah told The Media Line: “I do not know why the insistence on spreading this matter in societies, as it is contrary to all religions, and there is no religion that accepts it.”

“If the West wants to spread homosexuality, then let it be in their countries, but we do not have it. We as societies categorically reject these practices, and there are only a very few negligible numbers who accept these practices,” he said

“Arabs and Muslims will never allow homosexuality or any perverted practices, especially the people of Bahrain,” he added.

Arkan al-Enezi, a Kuwaiti journalist, told The Media Line: “There will be more measures and stricter laws to combat the LGBTQ+ phenomenon, and it will not be allowed.”

“Kuwait is a conservative country and does not accept these practices. Most of the world also does not accept these practices, as they are the opposite of common sense,” he added.

Khaled Al-Awn, a Saudi social worker, told The Media Line: “These practices are completely unacceptable in Saudi society, and abnormal cases are very few. We consider them anomaly, not freedom.”

“It cannot be accepted, and it is not completely widespread. We recognize the family consisting of a father, mother, and children, and any other sexual relations are unacceptable,” he added.

Ali Al-Dosari, a member of the Bahraini Parliament, said he and his fellow lawmakers will fight the problem of homosexuality with more legislation. “Our goal will also be to enact more laws that preserve society and fight any kind of perversion. Society rejects them and we as parliamentarians reject them as well,” he said.