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"We’ll leave you a nice memento on your pretty face": how hate messages and threats forced a gay man to flee Egypt

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Wednesday 27 February 201909:40 am

Because of his soft voice and somewhat effeminate features, an Egyptian cancer survivor has received five thousand hate messages - with some reaching the level of death threats. Fareed Ramadan, 27, told Raseef22 that he was 13 when he began thinking that he might be gay. He declared his homosexuality publicly on November 20, 2015 – a choice that left him open to death threats from his younger brother, forcing him to leave his home and to find a new one.

The turning point in his life would take place three years later. On November 16, 2018, Ramadan would upload a picture on his Facebook account celebrating his recovery from lymphoma for the third time - with the recovery announcement coinciding with his birthday.

In the picture, Fareed held a cake with the inscription: “Today I had my last chemotherapy session… I have been saved from cancer.” The subsequent replies to his Facebook picture were a result of the wide circulation of his post as the “champion” who overcame cancer three times. However, once his publicly-declared homosexuality was discovered on his account, the congratulations he received transformed into messages of hate, threats of rape and murder.

Since then, Ramadan tells Raseef22 that he has received, “without exaggeration,” approximately 5,000 hate messages – the cruellest perhaps arriving via an anonymous user on the website Ask FM. It read: “When I saw your picture I was happy that you were cured, but when I surfed your profile and found out that you were gay, I wished that the cancer returns to you and eats up your body and that you die alone.” Another message he received on Ask FM said: “You’re trying to gain people’s sympathies? We’ll get you and we know you’re living in the 6th October [area in Cairo] and we’ll leave you a nice memento on your pretty face.”

My smile is stronger than your hate

Ramadan described an attack that took place on Dec 5, when he left his house in the Degla Palms complex in the 6th October area of Cairo looking for a taxi. A car pulled up beside him and three individuals started beating him with a metal bar. “They beat me on every part of my body, whilst repeating phrases such as: ‘you homo [sic]… you deserve death,’” recalls Ramadan. It could have been worse. Shortly before the attackers fled, one member of the gang told the other to “put him in the car,” before worker in the building started to approach them.

They subsequently ran off, but not before they told Ramadan: “Next time, we’ll stick a knife in your stomach.” Ramadan’s subsequent reaction would, however, be noteworthy. Taking a smiling selfie while blood flowed down from his head, he uploaded the photo with the tagline: “I dedicate this selfie to the three thugs who hit me in front of the compound [building complex] because I’m homosexual, and I tell them that my smile is stronger than your hate.”

Asked why he chose to take this course of action, he said: “After the incident, despite my feeling of injustice, I wanted to prove that what they did to me did not affect me. So I tried to fight their hate with a picture in which I smiled, but I cried a lot afterwards on my way to the hospital.” Ramadan’s troubles that day were not yet over. On the same day that he was subjected to physical assault, an Egyptian lawyer would submit a legal complaint against him, citing “inciting fornication and debauchery” because of what he had written on his Facebook account, alongside the picture he uploaded straight after the incident.

A friend would later inform Fareed that police went to his mother’s house – the address listed on his national ID card – and asked about him. Egyptian law prohibits homosexual activity, with criminal charges being applicable on the basis of “inciting fornication [fisq, alternatively known as lewdness] and debauchery.” Ramadan lived for “eleven days in terror,” before fleeing to Sri Lanka and subsequently Lebanon on December 21.

Ramadan is currently finalising his asylum procedure with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whilst looking for work suitable to his health condition. Yet threats haven’t stopped since moving to Lebanon. Since then, Ramadan said that he received a message that threatened his 13-year-old sister following an interview he had with the BBC. The sender claimed to be the same individual who attacked Ramadan in Egypt. “We know you’re in Lebanon and we have many friends there,” they said. “We’ll spray acid on your face and your sister’s face, so keep taking photos and being proud that you’re gay. And put your sister’s deformed photo up too. People like you should all die, but it’s better that they live with a deformed face.”

“Coming out was more like revenge”

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, up to 95% of Egyptians reject homosexuality. Yet Ramadan’s public declaration of it was, in his words, a form of  “revenge”. Elaborating, he says: “I felt a type of [yearning for] revenge and felt that I had to take it from the people who abandoned me because of my homosexuality.

There’s also a vendetta with my doctor Awsam Wasfy [an Egyptian doctor who alleged that he knew how to ‘treat’ homosexuality] who deceived me for two years that he would treat me, but was only taking money from me. My life during the treatment period was an unimaginable tragedy, in which I attempted suicide because of the drugs the doctor was prescribing me.”

As a result, Ramadan feels it is his duty to “raise the awareness” of the people around him: “We didn’t choose this but we were born different, regardless of the reasons.” Ramadan has also been accused of using his homosexuality as a pretext to claim asylum, to which he responds: “I declared my homosexuality in 2015 and never intended to leave,” adding: “I won’t say that I love my nation and such clichés… but I do love my country and hate its prejudiced society.”

Through the platforms of Raseef22, Ramadan chose to send a message to those who attacked him - and those who are still threatening him today. “Tolerance is inevitably coming, and the violence you’re engaging in towards us won’t stop us.” “It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t any human consideration even on the basis that I am recently recovering from cancer, but we are still searching for dignity,” he said.

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