Amazon Blocks Search for LGBTQ+ Items in the United Arab Emirates

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – e-commerce giant Amazon blocks search results for LGBTQ-related products on its website in the United Arab Emirates following a number of protests against same-sex topics in the Gulf region.

Amazon made the decision after it came under pressure from UAE authorities who reportedly threatened it with fines and gave it until Friday to comply with a requirement to restrict search results for LGBTQ-themed content. This is evidenced by documents reviewed New York Timeswho first reported this story.

“Upon learning from Emirates, Amazon ordered its Restricted Products team to take steps to remove individual product listings, and the team that manages the company’s search capabilities hid results for more than 150 keywords,” the Times wrote in its report. Those keywords included “lgbtq”, “pride”, “closet gay” and “transgender flag”, among others, the report said.

A search for the words “LGBT” and “LGBTQ” on Amazon in the UAE on Friday, July 1 returned no results. But a search for “pride” turned up several rainbow-themed items, such as notebooks, shirts, and phone cases with the word “pride.” Rainbow flags without inscriptions were still available.

The Ministry of Culture and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment at the time of writing.

The news follows Pride Month, which is celebrated in countries around the world, but not in the religiously conservative Muslim-majority Persian Gulf. Homosexuality is criminalized in the UAE and can be punished by fines and imprisonment.

Amazon described its decision as a decision made in accordance with local laws.

“As a company, we remain committed to diversity, fairness and inclusiveness, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people should be protected,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email to CNBC.

“With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”

Pride, “Lightyear” and local backlash

Earlier this month, the UAE announced a ban Disney Pixar film “Lightyear” from cinemas for homosexual characters and a short same-sex kiss scene. Many countries in the Middle East and South Asia have done the same.

An Instagram post celebrating Pride month on the US Embassy in the UAE page in early June also drew strong reactions from locals.

This is the second year that the US Legation in any Gulf country has openly celebrated Gay Pride and Rights Month; In 2021, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi raised the Pride rainbow flag, drawing condemnation from prominent Emirati residents, outraged by what many of them called disrespect for their laws, religion and values.

The US Embassy in the UAE did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The UAE has worked for years to present itself as a modern, tolerant haven in a highly conservative region. The oil-rich desert sheikhdom is home to 90% of the foreign population and allows alcohol, bikinis on public beaches and other cultural elements often banned in Muslim countries.

The country passed a series of modernizing reforms last year, including the decriminalization of premarital sex, the abolition of film censorship in cinemas, and the transition from Islamic holidays (Friday-Saturday) to Saturday-Sunday. globally competitive and attract additional foreign investment and talent.

Its nightclubs are reminiscent of European ones, regularly host concerts by famous rappers and pop stars, and last year even had some drug laws reduced. In 2016, the Ministry of Tolerance was created.

However, homosexuality is still taboo.