Speaking For Those Without a Voice

A Pakistani transgender activist in Karachi
A Pakistani transgender activist in Karachi (Illustrative Photo: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Reda El-Danbouki is a human rights lawyer in Egypt that often partners with Clarion Project on women’s rights issues in the Muslim world.

As the founder and director of the Center for Women for Guidance and Legal Awareness, El-Danbouki never hesitates to take on a cause for the downtrodden of society. He recently organized a public conference to raise awareness about a discriminated segment of society in Egypt.

The conference, titled “Fight Discrimination against Transsexuals,” was the first of its kind to speak openly about this phenomenon in Egypt.

El-Danbouki explained how Egyptian society has been opposed to transsexuals for years, operating under the assumption that changing one’s sexual orientation is forbidden in Islam. Yet, a fatwa by Mohammed Tantawy, the former grand mufti of Egypt and former grand imam head of Al Azhar, the top institution of  Islamic law in the Sunni world, actually permits sex change operations, leaving the final decision in the hands of the doctors.

Discrimination of any kind is illegal according to the Egyptian constitution, which states that all citizens are equal under the law. The law further states that discrimination based on religion, gender, color, language, disability, social standing as well as all other factors is forbidden. In addition, encouragement of hate based on these factors is also a crime.

Yet facts on the ground point to a different story. Egypt is considered the number one country in the world in terms of imprisoning transsexuals, accusing them of spreading immorality in the country. Particularly since 2014, transsexuals have been targeted by security forces, especially men who have transitioned to being women.

A recent case in point involved a group of transsexuals who were thrown in jail, beaten and sentenced to three years on a false weapons charge. When police raided their apartment and saw there were no weapons, they asked for their identity cards. When they saw their cards listed them as male, they arrested them for prostitution.

The group ended up being released after six months due to “procedural errors.”

Since it is difficult to get identity cards with their new gender, it is nearly impossible for transsexuals to get jobs. Thus, many are forced into prostitution (which is illegal in Egypt).

While it is legal to change one’s sex in Egypt, a person seeking to do so must be approved by a committee of doctors and other health care professionals as well as a representative from Al Azhar. The representative has the final say in the decision.

El-Danbouki’s center, which sponsored the conference, is a non-profit institution established in 2011 in Al Mansoura to provide legal and psychological assistance to depressed classes of society, particularly women, who are unable to get justice for themselves.

The conference was attended by members of non-governmental organizations from all over Egypt. Topics included a description of the many problems transsexuals face in Egyptian society, including a talk by a doctor who spoke about the psychological issues that come from this discrimination as well as the  legal aspects of changing one’s sex in Egypt.

 

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Ran Meir
Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst.