In this CairoScene exclusive, senior writer Moustafa Daly delves in the story of the Egyptian lesbian who broke the internet this summer.
Towards the end of July, the internet was bombarded with screenshots and snaps from Dalia AlFaghal's Facebook account after she decided to go public with her relationship with a woman and the fact that her father, an ordinary Egyptian man, congratulated her on the relationship and wished her happiness.
Internet trollers and haters took a special 'interest' in her father, who was exposed to a storm of insulting comments and a fierce backlash for his position on the matter. AlFaghal's father was the target of a hateful online campaign, ranging from accusing him of not being a 'real man' to blunt death threats to both him and his daughter. It wasn't, however, all gloomy and wounding, AlFaghal also received messages of support and love from Egypt and many other countries around the world, which encouraged her to stand her ground and fight the fierce battle for her basic right of living in the light. Another viral follow-up post by AlFaghal (below), in which she defended her father's position and clarified that his support is out of love not condoning her actions, was published on Solidarity with Egypt LGBT on Facebook. In the post, AlFaghal talks about acceptance, sexuality and freedom of choice, concepts that typically don't sit well with the traditional values of the Egyptian society.
I reached out to AlFaghal to understand more about her unorthodox story, and the courage that kept her strong in the face of a counterblast that didn't shy away from a few death threats. "I don't think it's my sexual orientation that bothered people, it's the fact that I'm a female that speaks up for herself and is willing to defend her point, along with the fact that my family and friends congratulated me for falling in love with a woman," explains AlFaghal. "The fact that I'm Egyptian who speaks Arabic and actually belong to the country is another thing that infuriated some people. There's nothing foreign in me, yet I don't meet society's expectations, which could be scary to many people."
Going further back in her life journey, AlFaghal explained that she was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to ordinary Egyptian parents, from whom she hid her attraction to women for as long as she could before they started getting suspicious when she was around 12. AlFaghal's father then bluntly asked her if she is gay, to which the answer was yes. "As I was growing up, I was the total opposite of how I was feeling [attraction to women]. I would tell the headmaster whenever something inappropriate happens at school and I would out other lesbians in order to divert the attention away from myself," adds AlFaghal.
The road to self-acceptance was not paved with roses for AlFaghal, for it took her many years of self-doubt, self-loathing and attempts to change her skin, before finally getting to a place where she's finally comfortable and accepting of herself. "It took me so long to love myself, it was baby steps. At 17, I went through 'conversion therapy' in order to find out what was wrong with me and become straight. It pretty much didn't work. I can't explain in details how I came to love myself, but it happened very slowly," AlFaghal elucidates.
Dalia in Egypt
During her university years in Egypt, AlFaghal slowly came to terms with herself and decided to pursue a safer, freer life elsewhere. She travelled to study across Europe before finally landing in the USA where she met her girlfriend Jennifer* and they fell in love instantly. She finally experienced a feeling that was practically off limits for the most part of her life. "Freedom of choice for Egyptian women in general is denied by society, in all forms and shapes. We are subject to constant objectification and sexaulisation by men in society. Then we also get blamed for being perceived as sexual objects," explains AlFaghal, adding that the current status of Egyptian women exposes the true morals of society.
On the other hand, Jennifer expressed her disbelief of the level of hate her lover endured during the heated online attack. "I was shaken by the terror and worry that I saw wash over Dalia in the days to follow. I was concerned for her health and well-being as the situation escalated over time, while I was also inspired by her strength, courage, and composure as she managed the ever running commentary and wrote a poignant response. I am grateful and impressed that there are many supporters, at the same time I am disheartened by the magnitude of hate," says Jennifer.
Lesbianism is not a typically heated discussion in Egyptian society as much as the outright digust at gay men. Mainly because the mere existence of lesbian women is not acknowledged because they tend to be more secretive and would most likely end up marrying a man and suppressing their sexual identities for the sake of a stable life, a path less travelled by a man. With her Facebook post, AlFaghal publicly announced that she doesn't need a man to be happy or complete, which's not something Egyptians take lightly, provoking them to take it out on the first man they could blame for her non-conformity and defiance; her father.
Meanwhile, AlFaghal continues to live happily with the woman she loves, in a land far away from our double-standards and intolerance of those who dare deviate from the 'norm'. "I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to Egypt, I'll definitely be concerned about my safety," was AlFaghal's final note.
*The name of Dalia's girlfriend been changed to protect her privacy.