By Pierre Daum, journalist.
Originally published in Le Monde Diplomatique, republished here with permission of the author.
Homosexuality, or “social death”
At first glance, as Latifa said, a lesbian I met in Oran, “the lives of homosexuals are much more simple and joyful in Algeria.”
Indeed, in this society where everyone lives partitioned between same sexes from an early age, dating opportunities and homosexuals pleasures are far more numerous.
At 15 or 25, a boy can bring his boyfriend home, shut himself up in his room with him, and even propose to spend the night, without the parents seeing any wickedness. Same thing for girls. At 30, 40 years of age, two men or two women can go away for a weekend, rent a double room at any hotel, and no one will say anything.
Zoheir Djazeiri is a leading activist among Algerian homosexuals. An activist with the group Abu Nawas(1) , his actions are strictly illegal; Zoheir Djazeiri (Zoheir the Algerian) is a pseudonym.
“All this is true, he admits, but beware, the negative consequences are very heavy! We live in a sexist society. Being gay, for a man, it’s considered degrading yourself to the inferior rank of women.” The law punishes very harshly the practices both as being “against nature” and prohibited by the state religion, Islam (Article 2 of the Constitution)(2) . “To be arrested for homosexuality means social death,” continues Zoheir. “You are obliged to leave all: your city, your family, your work, everything! ”
An important detail: In Algeria, there is no lawyer willing to publicly defend homosexuals. “His career would be ruined,” says Zoheir.
Nonetheless, not only is it possible to live a homosexual life, with its meeting places, bars and cabarets in Algiers, Oran and Bejaia, but many Algerian heterosexuals practice homosexuality; at school, during military service and in the dorm, etc. “Women are rarely seen, we fall back on men” laughs Mourad, 25, met in Algiers, who does not know “if [he] prefers men or women.”
A French scholar working on male homosexuality in Algiers told me “Gay friends I met there eight years ago are all getting married! With marriage, they stop, more or less, their homosexual life. ”
Any social or political activism presents a huge danger. The Abu Nawas Association, which claims 1500 members via the Internet, is considered by the state as an organization advocating crime. “We have a core of about twenty activists, all potentially subject to 10 years imprisonment,” said Zoheir the Algerian.
During the campaign against a fourth term of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (finally re-elected, wheelchair-bound, on April 17, 2014 – after suffering a stroke), Zoheir had to flee for two months, abroad.
A television channel had aired a report entitled “The Plot”, showing his picture in a circle. Was he afraid of being mugged or even killed? “No, that’s not it. But my mother and people in the neighborhood watch that channel; I was terrified that she would learn the truth about me.”
(2) Section 333 of the penal code punishes Algeria the “outrage public decency.” And, Article 338 specifically mentions homosexuality. “Anyone guilty of a homosexual act is punishable by imprisonment of two months to two years and a fine of 500 to 2000 AD”. These are regularly applied, no figures are available.