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  • Michael Allan

Faced with the possible censoring of the film adaptation of ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan, the book's author, ʿAlaʾ al-Aswani, responded, “Why aren't Italy, France, or the United States defamed by movies dealing with homosexuality?” Implicit in his defensive question is a perceived distinction between First World gay rights and social conservatism in the Third World. My paper considers this conventional coupling of gay rights and civilizational discourse in the global reception of ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan. Against the author's remarks, I argue that the story is remarkable for staging an interplay between the putatively opposed characters of Hatim Rashid, an openly gay newspaper editor, and Taha al-Shazli, a young man lured into a terrorist group. By uniting these two characters along parallel tracks, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan queerly couples the seemingly antagonistic forces endemic to the civilizational discourse of gay rights and offers us a means for imagining new constellations of queer politics.

Corresponding author
Michael Allan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore.; e-mail:
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Author's note: I thank Hicham Bouzid, Saba Mahmood, and Damon Young for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. I have also benefited from discussions with members of the CRESS Seminar at the University of Oregon, especially Sangita Gopal and Amanda Powell, as well as from the IJMES anonymous readers.

1 Hamed, Marwan, dir., ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan (Cairo: Good News, 2006).

2 Quoted in Gihan Shahine, “A Taboo Too Far?” Al-Ahram Weekly, no. 803, 13–19 July 2006.

3 Brian Whitaker, “Call to Censor ‘Immoral’ Egyptian Film,” The Guardian, 6 July 2006.

4 Claude Guibal, “Sa sortie au Caire a choqué ou ravi,” Libération, 23 August 2006.

5 “Egypt Debates Controversial Film,” BBC News, 5 July 2006, (accessed 17 August 2010).

6 Jérôme Provençal, “Entretien avec Marwan Hamed,” Le Monde, 23 August 2006.

7 Negar Azimi, “Prisoners of Sex,” New York Times Magazine, 3 December 2006.

8 “Lajna bi-Majlis al-Shaʿb al-Misri li-Mushahadat ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan,” al-Jazeera, 6 July 2006.

9 For astute criticisms of how this civilizational ruse operates, see Brown, Wendy, Regulating Aversion (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006); and Mahmood, Saba, “Feminism, Democracy, and Empire: Islam and the War of Terror,” in Women's Studies on the Edge, ed. Scott, Joan (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).

10 For a discussion of homonationalism in particular, see Puar, Jasbir and Rai, Amit, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag,” Social Text 20 (2002): 117–48; and Puar, Jasbir, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007). Lisa Duggan's work has also been foundational for discussions of homonormativity (from which Puar derives her title); see Duggan, Lisa, “Equality, Inc.,” in The Twilight of Equality? (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003). It is worth noting that in this context, the invocation of gay rights is less a call for nationalism than a critique of Egyptian politics, albeit one that still turns upon distinctions between countries.

11 Judith Butler, “I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism,” ‘Civil Courage Prize’ Refusal Speech. Christopher Street Day, 19 June 2010, (accessed 24 September 2010).

12 Jasbir Puar, “To Be Gay and Racist Is No Anomaly,” The Guardian, 2 June 2010; and “Israel's Gay Propaganda War,” The Guardian, 1 July 2010.

13 Even the critic Joseph Massad concedes the national dimensions of the novel: “The Yaʿqubyan Building . . . make[s] not sexual deviance but a community of sexual deviants the manifest sign of postcolonial degeneration.” See Desiring Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 389.

14 “Egypt Parliament to Scrutinise Film,” Al-Jazeera English, 5 July 2006.

15 For a discussion of this policy, see Butler, Judith, “Sexual Politics, Torture and Secular Time,” British Journal of Sociology 59 (2008): 34.

16 Applicants from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States are all exempt from the exam.

17 See Rouayeb, Khaled, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); and Jacob, Wilson Chacko, Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870–1940 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011). Outside of the context of the Middle East, see Grewal, Inderpral and Kaplan, Caren, “Global Identities: Theorizing Transnational Studies of Sexuality,” GLQ 7 (2001): 663–79; and Lucey, Michael, The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003).

18 Massad, Joseph, “Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World,” Public Culture 14 (2002): 361.

19 Ibid., 362.

20 See, for example, Massad's interview with Reset Doc: “The West and the Orientalism of Sexuality: Joseph Massad Talks to Ernesto Pagano,”; and “I Criticize Gay Internationalists Not Gays: Joseph Massad Counter-replies to Ghassan Makarem,” (accessed 17 August 2010).

21 I draw inspiration here from Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky's reading of Billy Budd in Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1990).

22 al-Aswani, ʿAlaʾ, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan (Cairo: Maktabat Madbuli, 2005/2002), 51; and Al Aswany, Alaa, The Yacoubian Building, trans. Davies, Humphrey (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), 35.

23 Ibid., 52/35.

25 Ibid., my emphasis.

28 Ibid., 53/36.

30 Massad, Desiring Arabs, 393–95.

31 Al-Aswani, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan, 54–55/37.

32 Ibid., 55/37.

33 Ibid., 181/130.

34 Ibid., 182/131.

36 Ibid., 185/133.

37 Ibid., 186/134.

38 Ibid., 328/232.

39 Ibid., 330/234.

40 Ibid., 331/234–35.

41 Ibid., 334/237.

43 Mahfuz, Najib, al-Sukkariyya (Cairo: Maktabat Misr, 1957); and Hetata, Atef, dir., al-Abwab al-Mughlaka (Cairo: Misr International, 1999).

44 Massad, Desiring Arabs, 413–14.

45 Al-Aswani, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan, 28/16.

46 Ibid., 30/18.

47 Ibid., 32/20.

48 Ibid., 83/58.

49 Ibid., 97/68.

50 Ibid., 112/79.

51 Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet; Miller, D. A., The Novel and the Police (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988), esp. the chapter “Secret Subjects, Open Secrets.”

52 Al-Aswani, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan, 216/153.

53 For an astute reading of the Dera’ incident, see Silverman, Kaja, “White Skin, Brown Masks,” in Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York: Routledge, 1992).

54 Al-Aswani, ʿImarat Yaʿqubyan, 342/242.

55 Ibid., 343/243.

56 Massad, Desiring Arabs, 399.

57 Ibid. See also al-Samman, Hanadi's reading of this novel in the context of emasculation, “Out of the Closet: Representations of Homosexuals and Lesbians in Modern Arabic Literature,” Journal of Arabic Literature 39 (2008): 286–87.

58 ʿAlaʾ al-Aswani as quoted in “Cairo Calling,” The Guardian 23 August 2008, (accessed 22 September 2010).

59 Bersani, Leo, “Is the Rectum a Grave?October 43 (1987): 197222.

60 Ezra Levant, “Gay-Bashers Thrive in Modern-Day Netherlands,” Toronto Sun, 10 October 2010.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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  • EISSN: 1471-6380
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