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How one gay Egyptian woman stood up to homophobia and paid the ultimate price

June 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

When Sarah Hegazi was arrested in 2017 for waving a rainbow gay pride flag at a concert, she became an icon for Egypt's gay community and a target for state violence. Last weekend, the 30-year-old died by suicide in Canada.

(CNN)In 2017, Sarah Hegazi was arrested and said she was tortured for waving a rainbow gay pride flag at a concert in Cairo.

Hegazi's friends reported her death, circulated a suicide note and shared an outpouring of messages of solidarity, grief and anger.

On social media, posts about Hegazi that ended with the traditional condolences, "May God Have Mercy on her," were followed by comments saying "she is not worthy of His Mercy," and a torrent of expletives targeting her sexuality.

"The regime uses its tools -- such as the media, and mosques -- to tell Egyptian society, which is understood to be 'religious by nature': We too protect religion and social morality, so there is no need for Islamists to compete with us!" Hegazi wrote in an article published by local independent platform Mada Masr in 2018.

When Hegazi and her friends raised the rainbow flag at the September 2017 concert by Mashrou' Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay frontman, she was hailed by allies for "breaking many barriers of silence," said her friend Tarek Salama.

Days later, Hegazi and her friends were arrested.

She said she was tortured by electrocution and subjected to sexual harassment by female prisoners acting on the orders of officers "who believed she had to be punished," she wrote on Daaarb. com, an electronic publication of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

During interrogation at the state security prosecution, which usually handles terrorism and high profile political cases, Hegazi would clutch her lawyers' arms and beg them not to let her go back to detention, her lawyer and friend Mostafa Fouad told CNN.

"Sarah left Egypt two years ago, but Egypt and its trauma didn't leave her alone," her friend Salama wrote on Facebook.

"The most humiliating and infuriating part in her death are those gloating in it," her friend Amr Mohamed said in a video posted on Facebook.

After her death, an older, familiar photo went viral -- the one of Hegazi wrapped in the rainbow flag, as she was perched on a friend's shoulders, her smile beaming over the crowd at the band's concert in 2017.

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