Middle East Notes and Comment: LGBTQ+ Advocacy in the Middle East Backfires

LGBTQ+ Advocacy in the Middle East Backfires

Peter Tatchell's protest made headlines around the world. The British human rights defender travelled to Doha before the start of the World Cup to stage what he dubbed the "first-ever public LGBTQ+ protest" in the Gulf. While he won approval from Western audiences for its bravery, local activists expressed shock and dismay. "When Tatchell told us his plans on WhatsApp, we all urged him not to go ahead with it," a Jordanian member of a group for LGBTQ+ activists in the Middle East said in an interview with the author. Tatchell ignored them and did it anyway.

Western displays of solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities in the Middle East may be well-intentioned, but they are not constructive. They help build solidarity among activists in Western countries, but they are making the very people they claim to be helping in the Middle Eastern countries feel more vulnerable. These protests come at a time when leaders across the region are increasingly instrumentalizing homophobia for political gain, and they fuel Middle Eastern political and religious leaders' claims that LGBTQ+ rights advocacy is part of a foreign agenda to subjugate the region. Western actors who claim to be advancing the interests of LGBTQ+ communities in the Middle East need to do a better job listening to those communities. 

Read Will Todman's commentary on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program

Babel: Translating the Middle East
In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon spoke with C. Raja Mohan about India's strategy in the Middle East and how Indian policymakers think about the region and its regional partners.

Jon also spoke with Tamar Hermann about the rightwing shift of young Jewish Israelis, changing attitudes toward Arab citizens of Israel, and the rising politics of grievance in the country.

We also released two new mezze episodes: one on formal Arabic and children's TV shows in the Arab world, and another on the social aspects of water management in the Jordan Valley. 

Natasha joined Brookings for a panel on the evolution and adaptation of nonstate armed actors to changing geopolitical realities in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, alongside Stephanie Williams and Nadwa al-Dawsari. You can watch the panel discussion here. (12/5/2022)

Jon sat down with CSIS's The Truth of the Matter podcast to discuss the geopolitics of the World Cup in Qatar, and the broader ramifications for the United States and the Middle East. (12/1/2022)

In the News
Will spoke with Al-Monitor about the UAE-Ukraine trade deal and how it fits into the UAE's food security strategy. The UAE is "a regional and global trading hub" seeking to cement its status as a food security hub, he said, and strengthening ties with one of the world's largest grain exporters is another "important pillar in that strategy." (12/13/22)

Jon spoke with CNN to talk about Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia. Jon said that while the Saudis see a growing relationship with China as a hedge against possible U.S. abandonment, "the Chinese remain a novelty to most Saudis, and they are additive," while the United States is "foundational to how Saudis see the world," and has been for the last 75 years. (12/9/2022)

Jon also spoke with Reuters ahead of the visit. Though Saudi ties with China appear to be growing "much more quickly" than with the United States, Jon said that "relationships with China pale versus those with the United States in terms of both complexity and intimacy." (12/4/2022)

Natasha spoke with Middle East Eye about U.S.-Kurdish relations in Syria amid the threat of a Turkish incursion in the country. "The Syrian Defense Forces are using the only card they have to persuade the Americans to do everything in their power" to protect them from a Turkish attack, but she said, "it doesn't bode well when the Pentagon says that Turkey has the right to defend its southern border." (11/30/22)

Natasha also talked about Turkey's increased strikes in Syria with The National. She said that the instability in Syria highlights the consequences of the U.S. pivot from the Middle East as the "lack of consistent, high-level diplomacy can curb the U.S. ability to prevent crises," undermining allies' trust in the United States and the U.S. ability to shape events in the region. (11/29/22)

Natasha talked about the humanitarian situtation in Syria with Devex. She said that cutting off aid in territory held by rogue groups can impose high costs for vulnerable populations and aid workers alike. (11/28/2022)

Jon spoke to the Financial Times about the United States granting immunity to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. (11/18/2022)

Will Todman
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Middle East Program