It is incredible the lengths we will go to on the African continent to uphold a dubious status quo and pretend that life isn’t really happening outside of religious and social beliefs and expectations. All across the continent we hear ridiculous stories of people being punished for choosing to speak plainly and honestly about sexual situations already happening in their countries and offering much needed advice that contradicts the official position of our hypocritical governments. First it was the Nigerian LGBT Bill, then Ugandan government’s ridiculous decision to brand private text messages as pornography and now, Egypt, after arresting concert goers at the Mashrou’ Leila concert for waving a Rainbow flag in support of the band’s queer members. And now the Egyptian is taking things a step further by extremely punishing a television presenter for what they are calling ‘outraging public decency’.
The woman in question Doaa Salah worked with television station Al-Nahar TV was speaking on her show when the conversation turned to pregnancy. Salah spoke about questions around pregnancy and sex before marriage, inquiring if her audience had ever considered the prospect of engaging in pre-marital sex themselves. She then suggested that women who have considered children but are afraid of Egypt’s restrictive policies on single parent households could just instead engage in a short term arranged marriage, with an agreement to divorce once the marriage produces children. For many political pundits, this was interpreted as Salah suggesting alternatives for traditional child rearing for gay and lesbian couples who are considering children. To the Egyptian authorities, Salah’s statement challenged ‘the very fabric of Egyptian life’.
Salah has since been arrested and convicted for public indecency. She will pay a $500 fee for her ‘indiscretion’ and suffer a 3 month long suspension from her television station. Salah is also at risk of being sentenced to three years in prison, which is unlikely considering she seems pregnant herself. However, no one knows for sure if she will actually be sentenced.
Egyptians have always had premarital sex, and they continue to, especially in this day and age when social media and the internet have removed many of the constraints that forbade young people from initiating sexual encounters or egnaging in promiscuous behaviour. Salah’s remarks only addresses the true reality in Egypt, the one the authorities suppress to perpetuate the false image of a quiet, conservative society given to propriety. Those bubbles never last, and arresting television hosts to suppress their voice doesn’t solve the problem.