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social sciences

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Contemporary Alexandria

Forster described Alexandria as "The city of the soul." This trope has been echoed by many other writers, including Mark Doty. In his book of poems My Alexandria (1994), Doty trades freely on the city's reputation for having annexed an imaginary zone of eroticism, nostalgia, and personal trauma.

However, when Durrell visited Alexandria in 1977 to make a film for the BBC, he was much disappointed at how the Islamic influence had turned Alexandria's outlook away from Europe and towards Mecca. This tendency has accelerated in recent years.

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In recent years, in fact, Alexandria has been off the gay tourist map because of Egypt's vaguely defined laws on "debauchery," which penalize both sexual behavior and attempts to organize political campaigns in support of glbtq rights. Thus, Alexandria now eschews its rich past as a haven for homosexuals and its tradition of tolerance. Indeed, even doctors in Cairo declare that the cure for homosexuality is castration.

Moreover, in contemporary Egypt police operate a system of entrapment by agents provocateurs and arbitrary arrests of citizens on vague charges of immorality. A gay boat-party in Cairo in 2001 saw hundreds arrested and imprisoned. This scandal drew international attention to Egypt's hostile courtrooms where hooded defendants are forced to stand in cages. As a result of such persecution, homosexuals have been driven underground.

Alexandria has little in the way of new building, its now-faded cosmopolitan chic looking ever more dusty and bedraggled. It remains a good destination only for those intent on enjoying its between-the-World-Wars atmosphere or for those who wish to savor its history or to see the city through the lenses of Cavafy, Forster, and Durrell. Unfortunately, the city may never again recapture the particular sensibility that so fascinated those writers.

Desmond Ariel

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social sciences >> Overview:  Islam

Despite religious prohibitions against same-sex sexual relationships, Islamic societies generally extend tolerance through a pattern of collective denial.

social sciences >> Alexander the Great

One of the most fascinating men of all times, Alexander the Great was not only a great soldier and conqueror, he was also renowned for his love of Hephaestion.

literature >> Cavafy, C. P.

Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy has written some of the greatest homoerotic poems of all time.

arts >> Coward, Sir Noël

Accomplished playwright, actor, composer, and lyricist, Sir Noël Coward was also a singer and cabaret performer; he dominated the British stage between the world wars, then reoriented his career in the direction of America.

literature >> Doty, Mark

Author of several volumes of poetry and memoirs, Mark Doty has helped bring the AIDS narrative and the experiences of gay men to a wider audience through resonant prose and a richly stylized poetic voice.

literature >> Durrell, Lawrence

Although a heterosexual, Durrell created in his novels a sophisticated literary world in which both male and female homosexuality are significant and recognized presences.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Maugham, William Somerset

Frightened by the Oscar Wilde trial, Somerset Maugham avoided treating homosexual themes and characters in his novels and plays.


Forster, E. M. Alexandria: A History and Guide. London: Edward Arnold, 1922.

Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Pinchin, Jane Lagoudis. Alexandria Still: Forster, Durrell and Cavafy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977


    Citation Information
    Author: Ariel, Desmond  
    Entry Title: Alexandria  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated October 27, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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