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BAHRAIN: New Year's crackdown on cross-dressing revelers reveals moral struggle

January 6, 2010 |  6:53 am

Bahrain disco Nine men dressed in women's clothing were arrested on New Year's Eve in the discotheque of a Manama, Bahrain, hotel and charged with public debauchery, the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News reported this week.

Police reports cited by the paper said the men were "heavily made up and wearing provocative outfits" while soliciting fellow patrons. 

The reports said the men were from different Arab countries but did not specify their nationalities.

The paper noted that Bahrain has been seeking to crackdown on perceived homosexual behavior, which is illegal in the Persian Gulf nations, by introducing tougher immigration measures and prompt deportations.

Linking immigration and homosexuality is not unusual in countries where homosexuality is banned. Conservative governments often justify such discriminatory measures as a necessary protection against corrupting foreign influences.

But Lebanese gay rights activist Ghassan Makarem says such measures are usually aimed at poor workers from Asian countries suspected of working in the sex trade rather than the wealthy patrons, often Westerners, who fuel it.

"This is an excuse that is used by many," he said. "Usually the people who are affected by this are not white Europeans."

Nor are such restrictions limited to men in the conservative gulf. The nearby United Arab Emirates in March launched a campaign against women who dress too "manly."

Bahraini lawmakers recently proposed legislation to ban women from Russian, Thailand, Ethiopia and China in a bid to curb prostitution after Bahrain's capital, Manama, was voted by a popular men's website as one of the "top 10 cities to pursue vice and debauchery."

Although the proposal was defeated in parliament, it highlighted the government's struggle to crack down on behaviors considered immoral by the region's religious vanguard while remaining attractive to skilled Western expatriates and rich Saudi tourists who flood into Bahrain to enjoy the pleasures denied them at home, including drinking and womanizing.

Bahrain recently banned the sale of alcohol in one- and two-star hotels, and is reportedly looking at other ways to curb boozing and other activities deemed immoral, such as recreational drug use and prostitution..

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Revelers at one of Bahrain's nightclubs. Credit: Adam Jan / AFP