don’t know how to prove it, and I don’t know if it’s important
to prove, but what I know for sure is that the gay rights movement in
Lebanon would not be anywhere near where it is today if it weren’t
for the internet.”


January 2010, web-based Arab LGBT
magazine, Bekhsoos.com,
published a series of articles celebrating a decade of LGBT activism
in Lebanon. “It’s actually
been over a decade,”
the magazine’s Arabic editor, Aphrodite.
“We consider the
registration of GayLebanon.com in 1998 as a marker of the start of an
organized movement. But we wanted to celebrate the past decade in
which most of the crucial developments occurred.”

of the commemorative articles featured a Top 10 listing of different
categories: the most prominent hang-out places, the best LGBT
publications, music videos, films, etc. Among these was one that
listed the top seven online tools that played a major role in the
LGBT movement and community-building from “ONElist that later
became eGroups that later became Yahoo! Groups that branched off into
other mailing lists” (Bekhsoos.com)
to Twitter. Clearly, one cannot speak of sexual rights activism in
Lebanon without speaking at length about internet usage, as both are
tied together at levels from personal identity and relationships to
political activism and mobilization.

internet users enjoy freedom of speech and access online, an
advantage strongly contrasted with their neighbors in Syria and
Egypt. Those two were listed in the top 10 worst countries to be a
blogger (#3 and #10 respectively) in a report published last year by
the Committee to Protect Journalists1.
Random arrests, detentions at the airport, even fabricated court
cases commonly occur in Syria and Egypt against bloggers and website

long considered an exception with a booming IT start-up industry, has
now succumbed to similar restrictions. On January 13, 2010, the
Jordanian blogosphere woke up to the devastating news of a decision
by Jordan’s Supreme Court to regulate websites through the already
controversial Press and Publication Law. The court ruling came as the
result of a public defamation suit against two Jordanian men who run
news websites. Some journalists hailed the move as well-intentioned
allowing “[journalistic]
integrity to extend to the internet, as well as extending the rights
of citizens for protection from attacks on their image to apply on
the internet”
Most bloggers, however, are
outraged at the restrictions such a move places on online freedom of
expression .

the midst of strongly censored neighbours, Lebanon enjoys online
freedom that is hampered only by very slow and very expensive
internet connections. The lack of infrastructure for broadband
connections is the leading source of frustration with bloggers and
online entrepreneurs, a group of whom launched “The Broadband
Manifesto: Economic Growth and Social Development for Lebanon”

manifesto demands 100Mb connection speed (among other things) and
that “citizens should be
able to choose the services they wish and should have access to
unrestricted information. Online content – ranging from government,
media, culture, health, business, learning, entertainment, sciences,
and inclusion – all need to be made accessible to all.”


is noticeable in Lebanon is the lack of any state or ISP censorship
or cybercrime laws when it comes to internet usage. In October 2006,
the Ministry of Interior proposed a “Technology Committee” to
draft a policy to regulate online fraud, cybercrimes, and
pornography, but there was no follow up.

to internet pornography is widespread in internet cafes, and sites
such as Pornhub.com, Redtube.com, youporn.com, and livejasmin.com are
consistently among the Top 30 on Lebanon’s Alexa.com rankings. One
article on the popular online news site NowLebanon.com made a
reference to these websites on Valentine’s Day, advising women to
up the blinds and settle down in front of the computer for some
RedTube before bed.”

pornography usage is especially common in internet cafés (known as
“networks” in Lebanese Arabic) where fees are cheap (~$0.66 per
hour) and opening hours extend late into the night. A combination of
online pornography, network games that promote violence (such as
swearing, smoking, and alcohol consumption have caused parents think
of internet cafés as unsafe spaces for their daughters. These
factors add to the gender inequality in using and becoming familiar
with technology, as girls from working classes whose families cannot
afford computers or an internet connection are denied access to cheap
internet cafés.

Open Net Initiative
published research in 2009 that looked at internet filtering in the
Middle East and North Africa and determined that “Algeria,
Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and the West Bank do not currently filter any
material […] Some internet

operators in Lebanon have admitted to using surveillance software to
monitor browsing habits of clients under the pretext of protecting
security or preventing them from accessing pornography.”

all university campuses in Lebanon, wireless internet connections are
censored using different techniques from keyword filtering to site
blockage and bandwidth limitations. At the American University of
Beirut a number of websites are filtered by keywords such as
or “porn”.
On the same blockage page, the university links students to a request
form should they wish to report the website as safe and remove it
from filtering.

September 2009, an Islamic search engine, ImHalal.com
was launched with pre-filtered search that allowed Muslims to avoid
surfing across any website that wasn’t Halal
(i.e. permissible within Islam). Bekhsoos.com reported on the new
website noting that:

will get you a Haram
(i.e. sinful) level 1 out of 3, while “breast” gets you 2 out of
3. When I first checked the site in August, “lesbian” would get
you a 3 out of 3 Haram
level (in red!) but now it’s been reduced to level two. Fastest
(i.e. process of re-interpreting the Qor’an) I’ve ever seen.5

sexual rights movement

laws governing sexuality in Lebanon are conservative, as is the
general public discourse (of all religions) around sexuality.
Homosexuality can be punished with up to two years in prison under
Article 534 Lebanese Penal Code. Two years in prison is the same
sentence for rapists, whose charges are dropped if they marry their
victims. Abortion (without a death risk to the mother) is illegal
under Articles 539-546. Sex outside of marriage is strongly
discouraged. Proper sexual education is not available in either
public or private schools (with the exception of a few upper class
private schools).

domain name www.gaylebanon.com
was registered on September 29, 1999 and is considered one of the
first manifestations of an organized LGBT movement. Gay and lesbian
activists and individuals who were unable to come out publicly were
able to use the website to find information, resources, links to chat
rooms and mailing lists, and a connection to a larger community.

April 3, 2000, a vice squad conducted a raid on the offices of
Destination, the Beirut ISP wrongly associated with the website. Ziad
Mughraby, owner of Destination, was interrogated to reveal names of
people responsible for gaylebanon.com but did not have the
information the Hobeish Police Station wanted.

human rights organization MIRSAD (Multi-Initiative on Rights: Search,
Assist and Defend), led by Kamal Batal, took up the case issuing a
press release highlighting “the
unlawful attempts by the police to interfere in the freedom of the
internet and the freedom of expression of the gay community.”
Both Batal and Mughraby (who are civilians) were then transferred to
a military court and charged with “tarnishing
the reputation of the vice squad by distributing a printed flyer.”

They were eventually released with fines of USD219 each.

is the only Lebanese website known to have been prosecuted and to
face a court case, albeit against the only two people the police
could find who were remotely connected to the owners. The website,
registered in the US survived as a portal of knowledge and paved the
way for many other websites. The most popular tool used on the
internet was the mIRC chatroom, #gaylebanon. In an interview, one of
the operators, T.M., explains the complexities of individual privacy,
security, risk, and protection at the time:

joined #gaylebanon in 2000 and was made an operator because I had a
cable internet connection and spent a lot of time online, so I could
moderate (and) keep an eye on the room. Hundreds of gay men (and a
few women) would flood in every night. You could find many of them
online during the day time too. Most of the connections made were for
casual sex, but people forget that friendships and partnerships also
started in that chat room. It was a sense of community for all of us,
a virtual living room where we all hung out. At least once a night, a
homophobic person would enter and be verbally abusive to people, so I
would kick him out. Every once in a while, someone would warn people
that one of the nicknames is an undercover cop or thief. And we’d
always hear stories about this guy who got blackmailed, that guy who
got a gun pointed to his head, but they were a lot less than the
stories about guys who were lying about their sexual preferences (eg.
claiming to be tops when they are bottoms) and those were more
important to us. My theory is that the sheer number of users provided
protection for all of us. You can scam one person, but he will warn
the other 1000.”

meetings led, inevitably, to offline in-person meetings. With time,
and particularly during 2001 and 2002, the LGBT community delved into
heavy patterns of “meetings,” which was used in Lebanese Arabic
to denote going to meet someone whom you know online. While many
criticised this phenomenon a being merely gay men cruising and
looking for sex, underneath these meetings were forming a network.

the past decade, there have been many LGBT groups that have been
known as the “activist communities”, many facilitated by
encounters that took place at #gaylebanon on mIRC. Out of this group
came those that founded ClubFree, an underground grassroots community
that organized social activities for LGBTs, and the first formally
organized structure for the LGBT community.

contrast to other issues around sexuality, the gay rights movement
was able to capitalise on these developments because of a shared
identity and this underlying network.

as research methodology

is clear about the internet is that it is currently one of the
world's fastest-changing media. The rules of engagement change very
quickly, as demonstrated by Jordan’s latest decision to control
freedom of speech online. To answer the question of “why
does Lebanon not apply offline censorship rules to cyberspace?”

online crowdsourcing emerged as an appropriate tool.

basic idea of crowdsourcing is to throw out a question or problem to
a crowd using internet tools and expect the best solution to come out
of that process (either one person finds the answer or a group of
people do collectively). Therefore, we published a blurb about the
research online7
and spread the word (mainly through twitter) seeking tips, contacts,
links, and opinions related to the topic of the lack of internet
censorship in Lebanon.

methodology has proved interesting, though it requires a lot of
follow-up in terms of asking people to help spread the word online.
After a number of tweeps8
cried out “don’t wake a sleeping giant,” some people left
comments, but a larger number sent in thought-provoking emails (to
guard their anonymity and to keep the information private). One
example of an anonymous email cited:

Telecommunications Minister] is seeking a filtering system from Saudi
Arabia to implement in Lebanon. Then, he would be able to ban pages
but also keywords. He has purchased the system (hardware and
software) and installed it. They tested it once and the whole
internet was down. The links not passing through Ogero [Lebanese
phone company] continued working fine and Ogero claimed it was a
global failure. They have been testing again to have it running and
the political deadlock has prevented the censorship from going into
effect right now. The Minister wants all ISPs to go through Ogero not
only to get the government more money from the Internet, which he
could have one through a tax. The main goal is to have a hub where
they will be able to monitor and control the Lebanese internet.

don’t have a lot of proofs, but maybe you can use some of my leads
and talk with people in ISPs to get more information. ISPs are
required by law to keep a log of the http requests of their users.
That means they know if you visited google, facebook, alfa,
makebombs.com or porn.com.”

the next few months, the research team will be seeking out more
contributions from internet users over internet filtering to try and
get a sense of the contradictions between freedoms and online


“10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger - Reports - Committee to
Protect Journalists,”

People who use Twitter

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