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This briefing focuses on LGBT+ rights and issues in five north African States: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. For the UK Government, Egypt and Libya are known as human rights priority countries, where it hopes to make a “real difference.”

In all five of these countries, LGBT+ people lack legal protections and recognition. While some of these states inherited strict laws against homosexuality from the French or British colonial systems of justice, in others laws against same-sex sexual relations or transgender and non-conforming gender expression derive from a state-sanctioned interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). As a result, many regional governments reject the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” altogether.

This briefing describes the lack of legal protections in these five countries, the struggles for NGOs to operate and demand reform, and UK Government statements.


We have used the acronym LGBT+ in this briefing paper (except where we are quoting someone else’s words). This refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The ‘+’ symbol is used to include people whose identities do not fit typical binary notions of male and female, or who decide to identify themselves using other categories to describe their gender identity or their sexuality. In the countries we focus on, the legislation is largely around same sex sexual activity rather than gender identity.

This paper should be read as correct at the time of publication.

Political and legal context

In four of the five countries considered in this paper, consensual same-sex sexual relations are illegal. In Egypt, while there is no explicit reference to same-sex sexual acts in the penal code, those suspected are prosecuted under laws against debauchery, prostitution, or scandalous acts.

These are countries in which the Arab Spring of 2011 promised to deliver social and political change, as people protested against the region’s traditional political rules and institutions. However, in relation to rights and legal protections for LGBT+ people, progress has been slow or stalled.

In Egypt, the popular revolt that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak brought short-lived hope to LGBT+ activists. Subsequent counter-revolutionary governments have rolled back on any progress. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the current government, led by President Sisi, has adopted strategies previously used by Mubarak. It said:

the government has adopted Mubarak’s strategy of scapegoating LGBT people, apparently as a method of proving his religiously conservative credentials and staving off Islamist challenges.

And in Libya, HRW said the power vacuum created after the fall of Muammar Ghaddafi in 2011 has allowed so called Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to kill dozens of gay men.

In Tunisia, despite the recommendation of a 2015 commission to decriminalise homosexuality, President Kais Saied, has said he is against abolishing it as a criminal offence. There has been some progress, however. According to HRW, state institutions have agreed to end forced anal examinations, after pressure from local and international activists.

Lack of legal protections for LGBT+ people

While some countries in the Arabic-speaking region have laws or constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination, none expressly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This means those who are victims of discrimination because they are LGBT+ have no access to legal recourse.

NGOs and social activists

Whereas under the 1998 UK Human Rights Act “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others”, in all five countries there are restrictions placed on NGOs and social activists which support LGBT+ communities. Some do not register as LGBT+ groups and many operate underground, as a result.

In Tunisia in 2016, however, a court upheld the right of the LGBT+ organisation, Shams, to operate, after the Government attempted to shut it down.

While the legal and social contexts differ across the five countries, there are commonalities in the strategies activists have used to respond to challenges, including: staying safe campaigns, building alliances and social media campaigning.

UK Government and global LGBT+ rights

UK aid projects seek to support greater representation for LGBT+ people in politics and government, and assist in the drafting of new legislation to address discrimination and violence.

Successive governments have said that the promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT+ people internationally is a priority.

The UK Government had planned to host the international conference, Safe to Be Me, in June 2022 to bring together countries, businesses and international civil society organisations to address global LGBT+ inclusion.

However, following the Government’s decision to introduce a ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people but not for transgender people in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, many UK charities withdrew from attending. The Government subsequently announced it would cancel the June 2022 conference.

In 2020, the UK Government signed a trade agreement with Egypt which was criticised by some opposition MPs for not having stronger human rights conditions, despite the fact that Egypt is a human rights priority country for the UK. The Government said it regularly raised concerns with the Egyptian Government.

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