Enough with Amina, already. The sock-puppet blogger "Gay Girl in Damascus," who turned out to be a straight guy in Scotland has captured the world's attention -- but the real gay communities in the Middle East face legal and societal discrimination every day. In most Middle Eastern countries, homosexuality is a criminal offense, though laws are enforced to varying degrees. And the Arab Spring, which many gay-rights organizations hoped would bring greater acceptance, has proved to be an ambivalent blessing. The real gay men and women in Damascus -- and Dubai, Cairo, and Amman -- are facing more serious problems than confused Internet identities.
The law: The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates, which Dubai is a part of, criminalizes homosexuality, in part because it's a violation of sharia law.
The reality: Dubai, which enjoys a reputation as the most liberal emirate in the UAE, has long sustained an underground gay community. "Dubai is the best place in the Muslim world for gays!" said one young Emirati at a gay club in the city. The authorities' tolerance for its gay community, however, has always been fragile. A club was shuttered in 2001 for hosting a gay night that featured a transvestite DJ, while in 2008 police arrested 17 foreign men for allegedly being homosexual and cross-dressing.
A new police crackdown has raised gay activists' fears that the situation will get worse before it gets better. On May 31, Dubai's police launched a campaign against boyat, the rough equivalent of tomboys. In this Gulf subculture, rebellious girls sport "short pixie-style hair, wear more masculine clothing, sunglasses and watches."
Dan Littauer, the executive director of GayMiddleEast.com, a website that publishes news on LGBT issues across the region, saw the campaign as implicitly targeting Dubai's lesbians -- and as a reaction to the Arab Spring. "The Gulf is also reacting to the Arab Spring, and not only politically," he said. Gulf states "want to have a moral attempt to define Arabness and democracy."