This two-day digital conference aims to bring together researchers, activists, and community organizers to discuss how discourses on gender and sexuality have evolved in the Middle East and Europe amid the rise of far-right and authoritarian movements.

There are three main objectives of our conference:

  • To situate far-right and authoritarian actors in their respective socio-historical contexts;
  • To discuss how political homophobia and anti-feminism have developed as core ideological elements of the far right in a local and transregional framework;
  • To shed light on local, transregional, and global responses to homophobia and anti-feminism in the respective regions.

The last decade has seen major milestones in LGBTQ and women’s rights movements, with significant policy developments and global activist initiatives. Aside from the civil rights and liberties that different LGBTQ communities have acquired over the years, these movements have generated a global awareness of issues such as abortion access, academic freedoms, indigenous rights, sex workers’ rights, racial justice and other social issues. In recent years, however, an overwhelming discourse of political homophobia (Weiss and Bosia 2013) and anti-feminism (Salice 2019; Meiering, Dziri, and Foroutan 2020) has gained salience globally, which has created the conditions for different far right groups to assert their right to determine what is legitimate in society, based on their hetero-patriarchal and conservative views. These homophobic and anti-feminist discourses have given rise to prejudice and potential violence and injustice against the perceived enemies of the far right. Yet there has also been robust reaction from grassroots movements, cross-border digital activists, academics, and civil organizations.

The histories of the far right differ substantially in Europe and the Middle East. The political parties and groups to the far right of the ideological spectrum in the Middle East often preach conservatism, militarism, anti-globalism, nationalism and political Islamism (Heper and İnce 2006; Meiering, Dziri, and Foroutan 2020; Hintz 2016; Al-Ali 2020). Along these lines, the past decade has seen a gradual shift in the region toward a neoliberal Islamist-rooted nationalism which has core ideological parallels with the anti-globalist discourses of radical groups, while promoting an isolationist politics and the top-down control and restriction of fundamental rights and freedoms. In Europe, the study of the far right has undergone a resurgence in recent years in the face of the increasing presence of white supremacist and separatist nationalist politics (Russell 2019; Fielitz and Thurston 2019). Far-right parties in Europe often champion border closures against all types of immigrants, the deportation of “illegal immigrants”, assimilation, and jus sanguinis approaches to citizenship – policies which had led to discrimination and violence against ethnic, racial, and religious minorities in Europe (Salice 2019). The increasing political polarization in the regions, between left and right, globalists and patriots, has turned the topics of sex, sexuality, gender, and intimacy into core ideological elements.

Although the far right in the Middle East and Europe are grounded in vastly different political contexts, factors such as immigration, globalism, digital media, and the legacies of colonialism continue to shape the far right in and across these regions. During the first post-Mubarak vote in Egypt in 2011, we saw how political homophobia was instrumentalized by the Muslim Brotherhood to create a moral panic over a secularized and therefore immoral Egypt, in order to intimidate supporters of anti-authoritarian and secular parties (Bosia 2014). Only recently, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party has campaigned against the Istanbul Convention – a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe that protects the rights of women and LGBTQ people, targeting the LGBTQ community as “evil” and part of a Western conspiracy against Turkey’s moral values (Tar 2020). In Europe, Poland’s conservative government recently introduced a near-total abortion ban, while Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban proposed an adoption ban which would bar LGBTQ people from adopting children. While Hungary and Poland notoriously and openly promote political homophobia and anti-feminism, Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) has adopted the language of rights for women and sexual minorities in order to cast Muslim homophobia as the common enemy (El-Tayeb 2011) and advocate a nationalist, and anti-Muslim agenda in Germany (see Wielowiejski 2020). These cases and more suggest a web of relations between the ideological elements and the sociohistorical factors binding the Middle East and Europe.

Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed new and unprecedented challenges to social justice and human rights movements around the world. Many right-wing governments and political parties have used the pandemic as a pretext to demonize immigrants, women, racial and ethnic minority groups, and the LGBTQ community. The fact that marginalized communities are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic suggests that COVID-19 is a racialized, gendered, and sexualized crisis with multifaceted effects.