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For Sarah Hegazy: In Rage, in Grief, in Exhaustion

Published in: The New Arab
Young people wave a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. Activist Ahmed Alaa confirmed that he raised a rainbow flag at the concert in a Buzzfeed video including this image prior to his arrest.  © 2017 Private

On Sunday, June 14, Sarah Hegazy, a 30-year-old Egyptian queer feminist whose resistance centered around a deconstruction of class power and struggle, took her own life in exile in Canada.

Three years ago, Sarah attended a concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila in Cairo. Elated, she waved a rainbow flag, a symbol of pride used by queer and transgender people and movements around the world.

About a week later, Egyptian authorities detained Sarah on charges of "joining a banned group aimed at interfering with the constitution." They also arrested dozens of other concertgoers, many on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sarah spoke about being tortured by members of the Egyptian police in detention, including the use of electric shocks, and solitary confinement. Police incited other detainees to sexually assault and verbally abuse her.

Sarah was released on bail after three months, but those who arbitrarily deprived her of liberty and tortured her were never held to account.

Marking a year after her arrest, from exile in Canada, Sarah wrote, "Even after my release, fear of everyone, family, friends, and the street continued to haunt me." She wrote about how abuse and threats in Egypt forced her to leave her country, for fear that she would be arrested again, or killed. She wrote about her alienation and isolation, her suicide attempts, and how she could not return home to mourn after her mother died.

She said, "A year after the Mashrou' Leila concert, a year after [Egypt's] biggest security attack against gay people, a year after I announced my difference (Yes, I am a gay), I have not forgotten my enemies. I have not forgotten the injustice that left black spots carved in my soul and bleeding, spots that doctors had never been able to treat."

What does it mean to arrive to "safety" in a foreign country, to sit alone with trauma and grief, robbed of any lifeline, and connected only through a computer screen?

When will the work of uprooting patriarchal and economic systems of control over queer and women's bodies stop costing them their lives? How do we remain resilient as we watch fighters perish and perpetrators live on without consequence?

On March 6, 2020, Sarah wrote, "[In Egypt], every person who is not male, Muslim, Sunni, straight, and a supporter of the system, is rejected, repressed, stigmatized, arrested, exiled, or killed. This matter is related to the patriarchal system as a whole, since the state cannot practice its repression against citizens without a pre-existing oppression since childhood."

To be precise, from 2013, when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power, to 2017, when Sarah was arrested, Egyptian authorities arrested or charged tens of thousands of people, forcibly disappeared hundreds for months at a time, handed down preliminary death sentences to hundreds more, and tried thousands of civilians in military courts. The nationwide repression has inexorably continued, and hundreds have been detained on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity alone.

To the Egyptian government: We, queer feminists, are the collective force etching at your oppression, raising our flags and voices and fists until you are held accountable for robbing Sarah and countless others of their bodily autonomy, their home, and their lives.

To all the queer and trans people in Egypt checking on their fellow queers to make sure they have survived another day, to all of Sarah's companions and loved ones in Egypt and beyond: I cannot fathom your pain.

To Sarah: Rest, just rest, spared from this relentless violence, this state-powered lethal patriarchy. In rage, in grief, in exhaustion, we resist.  

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