Like many Saudi men, Ibrahim avidly follows English football, often joining friends in cafes broadcasting Premier League games in his hometown of Jeddah.
The 39-year-old television executive is gay in a realm where homosexuality is punished with death.
As such, it’s a quiet source of hope, he says, that the football world is trying to eliminate homophobia, at least in the West.
In addition to the local Al-Ittihad team, he supports Chelsea and occasionally watches the English club on TV at the Fiori Lounge in the Al Khalidiyyah district of the Red Sea town.
But while he was dismayed when Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the club, he said Newcastle United’s controversial new era was quite another thing.
Newcastle United new Saudi president Yasir Al-Rumayyan (CL) and Newcastle United English minority owner Amanda Staveley (CR) react during the English Premier League game between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur
A detailed view of a match official’s boot with Stonewall Rainbow laces
Ibrahim, who is not his real name, says that the takeover of the club by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a group chaired by the kingdom’s unelected authoritarian ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – “Reeked of the worst kind of hypocrisy.”
After all, her regime tortures political opponents, jails women’s rights activists, and persecutes gays and trans people.
That’s why Newcastle’s enthusiastic support for the Rainbow Laces campaign for LGBT rights leaves Ibrahim and his friends – whose lives are shaped by fear of exposure – to shake their heads in wonder.
“Try to explain it to the guy here who was arrested by the religious police for waving a rainbow flag,” he says.
He refers to a doctor detained in Jeddah in 2016 by officers of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice with the frightening name.
His crime was hoisting a rainbow flag (he claimed he had no idea he represented LGBT pride) on a pole above his house.
Ibrahim says: “The rainbow flags – the rainbow laces too – are just too dangerous here. The threat of discovery is everywhere, so the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself.
“The gender segregation here actually makes it easier to have same-sex relationships, especially between men, but for transgender people, anyone who dresses up or puts on make-up – which can get you in jail – the risk of exposure is greater. . Yes, there is a lot going on behind closed doors, out of sight of the religious police, but there is nowhere where we are completely safe.
He cites the case of Mohammad Amin, who was arrested by Saudi police during a transgender party in Riyadh in February 2017.
There are conflicting accounts of how Mohammad died later that night.
Activists say he was beaten by officers with batons and garden hoses, which worsened his chronic heart disease.
The Saudis deny the allegations and said he had a heart attack in detention.
“It traumatized the entire trans community,” Ibrahim says. “Several of my gay friends have decided to move to the United States.”
Rothna Begum, of Human Rights Watch, recalls the case of a Saudi man who put on an effeminate voice while wearing a woman’s headscarf.
“A friend filmed it on her phone as a joke and the clip went viral. He was then arrested and thrown in jail.
In Jeddah in 2014, blogger Raif Badawi was whipped and jailed for ten years for apostasy after writing about freedom of expression and the fight against extremism. The flogging as a punishment ended last year.
Newcastle United co-owners Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Amanda Staveley react during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James Park on October 30, 2021
Like Qatar, which hosts the World Cup next year, Saudi Arabia follows Wahhabism, a Puritan form of Islam, and is the only Arab country to claim Sharia, or Islamic law, as its only code. legal.
Newcastle will support the annual Rainbow Laces campaign between 4 and 13 December, but Ibrahim despises the club for “turning a blind eye” to what is happening in his homeland.
He also doubts the claim by the club’s LGBT fan group, United With Pride, that the new property could help improve LGBT rights in the kingdom.
“This idea that Newcastle will be able to bring about positive change, as some suggest, is a hope, but I fear it is incredibly naive. This is what it seems to us.
Five years ago, Newcastle United fans were asked to sign a pledge ‘to make every part of sport LGBT-friendly’, and the club remain committed to the cause.
Last week, his Twitter account posted a message of support for Josh Cavallo, the Australian who became the first openly gay male footballer to play in a top division. “Newcastle United are right with you Josh,” he said.
The comment was quickly greeted with homophobic responses from Twitter accounts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Some Newcastle fans see the human rights protests as jealousy of the club’s newfound wealth, but are urged to take a closer look at the issues.
Saudi activist Lina al-Hathloul, whose sister was jailed for campaigning for a woman’s right to drive, said: “It is their duty to protest. Absolutely, I would cheer on the Newcastle fans to research the diet.
Human rights organization Grant Liberty says the £ 300million takeover of Newcastle is an example of ‘sports washing’.
Explaining the theory, he said: “By joining forces with sport, leaders seek to position their country in accordance with [its] Magic. They want to bask in the reflected glory, and thus brighten their image. ‘
Grant Liberty manager Lucy Rae adds: “The fact that the Premier League leaves the [Newcastle] the sale going forward is an absolute joke. He associated himself with tyranny and made fun of its important campaigns such as anti-racism and rainbow laces.