For two Egyptian women, being in a relationship without risking their lives meant traveling all the way to Canada.

Soon after they arrived there, Miral Mokhtar and Nouran El Gendy decided to share their story on Facebook and announced their plans to get married. 

While their post did not grab negative attention when it was first shared back in July, it has recently resurfaced online and stirred controversy among the Egyptian community and Arabs in general.

Speaking to StepFeed, 22-year-old Mokhtar said the post announcing her engagement to 23-year-old El Gendy was first shared on July 17. Since most of their friends are supporters of LGBTQI+ rights, they received plenty of positive comments. 

However, earlier this week, they noticed the post being shared multiple times, and they subsequently received hateful messages as well as murder and rape threats.

"When we realized what was happening, we changed our Facebook privacy settings because there were attacks on us and on the people who support us," Mokhtar told StepFeed, explaining they still do not know who was behind the post resurfacing online. 

She went on to criticize how media outlets covered the story without the couple's consent, saying, "as usual, the media used this post to distract people from concentrating on politics."

Apart from the negative reactions, Mokhtar noted they received some support from people in the Arab world.

The couple responded to the backlash in a video shared on Mokhtar's Facebook page.

In the video, they called out social media users' hateful comments and criticized those who tried to reach out to the couple's families. 

They added that the media exploits the LGBTQI+ cause to distract the public from pressing issues in Egypt, such as price hikes.

"Our love will remain stronger than your hate. The LGBTQI+ community will continue to exist all around the world and in Egypt," El Gendy said in the video.

Mokhtar and El Gendy met in Egypt in March 2017, and have been together for around one year and a half.

In light of the LGBTQI+ crackdown in Egypt in September 2017, the couple lived in danger for almost one year and struggled to find food and shelter.

"It was a very hard and broken time in our lives, but we finally came to Canada in June 2018," Mokhtar told StepFeed.

As for their wedding plans, Mokhtar explained they will host a "very special wedding" when their application for refugee status gets approved. "Everyone who accepts us is invited," she said.

Addressing the LGBTQI+ community in the Arab world, Mokhar said, "We would like to tell all members [of] the community that we are here. You are not alone. If you are afraid to speak up because your country doesn't accept you, we will stand up for you, and we will always be here to speak about our community."

The LGBTQI+ community in Egypt

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

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

In 2017, a number of individuals were arrested for raising a rainbow flag during a Mashrou' Leila concert in Cairo. They were detained under charges of "promoting sexual deviancy" and "inciting immorality." 

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

The situation escalated into what human rights organizations described as a full-fledged LGBTQI+ crackdown.

According to Amnesty, some arrestees have been subjected to forced anal examinations to determine whether they have had gay sex.

Despite the crackdown, activists in Egypt continue to stand up for the LGBTQI+ community through initiatives such as No H8 Egypt and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.