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Just as in most countries throughout the world, LGBT individuals in the Arab world face a number of struggles - one of which is oppression. 

But, it goes further than just suppressing their sexual freedom. In many Arab countries, engaging in same-sex relationship can subject one to imprisonment. In more severe cases, they are faced with the death penalty. 

On Sept. 29, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council resolution titled, "The question of the death penalty" was passed. 

The resolution saw 27 vote in favor, 13 against while 7 abstained.

The United States was among the countries that voted against the resolution. Five Arab nations also voted no, and they include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE.

"It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in States where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love," said Renato Sabbadini, executive director of The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), according to Forbes.

The resolution doesn’t call for an end to the death penalty. Rather, it calls on countries who use execution as punishment to "make sure they do not use it in a discriminatory manner," according to Gay Star News.

 "This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end," Sabbadini added. 

In comments made to PinkNews, André du Plessis, Head of UN Programme and Advocacy at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) said, "no votes on this resolution as a whole are generally best-interpreted as a position by a country on the death penalty as a whole," he said. "It is important to point out that a 'no' vote on the resolution is not addressing same-sex relations, but the wider application of death penalty generally." 

"The United States, for example, has the death penalty and has a consistent record of voting no on resolutions that are against it."

The resolution specifically condemns...

"[T]he imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations” and expresses “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.” It also notes “poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty.”

Arab countries that voted against: where do they stand on same-sex relations?


While homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, according to The Guardian, police routinely arrest individuals using decades-old prostitution and debauchery laws. 

According to media reports from earlier this year, Egyptian police have even been targeting gay men through hookup apps like Grindr. 

More recently, a number of individuals were arrested for raising a rainbow flag during a Mashrou' Leila concert in Cairo.

The country's Musicians syndicate also said it will ban the band - whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay - from performing in the country again.

United Arab Emirates: 

Article 354 of the UAE Penal Code is pretty vague in its definition, however, it condemns "coercive sodomy or intercourse with a female." The law can be easily be amended to persecute those who engage in same-sex relationships. 

The death penalty has never been carried out as a punishment for homosexuality or sodomy, according to The Independent

In 2016, gender reassignment surgery was legalized, although the legality of changing one's gender on official documents is still unclear.

Saudi Arabia: 

As per the country's interpretation of sharia law, a married man engaging in sodomy can be stoned to death, according to The Washington Post

It doesn't stop there. Any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim is also at risk. 

All sex outside of marriage is illegal.


In 1995, Saddam Hussein created a paramilitary group with an aim to identify, torture and execute LGBT+ individuals. 

The post-Saddam era saw the gay community organize a number of meet-ups in gay-friendly spaces, but attacks on the community drove LGBT individuals back to their shells.

While Iraq’s Penal Code does not directly criminalize same-sex intimacy, article 394 criminalizes extra-marital sexual relations. That provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex relations, since the law does not provide for same-sex marriage, according to Human Rights Watch. 

IraQueer - the country's only LGBT+ awareness organization - has been fighting oppression for years. It seeks to provide advice and safe houses for LGBT+ people who were disowned by their families. 


Muslims in the country are subject to laws based on the country's interpretation of sharia, which calls for the death penalty for those engaging in extra-marital sex, regardless of sexual orientation.

The death penalty: where is it implemented?

Currently, there are 6 countries where the death penalty is implemented for engaging in same-sex relationships including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and in certain provinces in Nigeria and Somalia. 

In 5 other countries, the implementation of the death penalty is not very common. These countries include Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and the UAE.

Syria and Iraq occupied by the so-called Islamic state are excluded from this list.