A blog purportedly written by a gay woman in Syria, which described life in Damascus amid the current political unrest, has been revealed to be a hoax.
"Almost every time I speak or write to other LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people outside the Middle East they always seem to wonder what it's like to be a lesbian here in Damascus," Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari wrote on 19 February in the opening post of her blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus. "Well, I always find myself answering, it's not as easy as I'd like it to be but it's probably easier than you might think. And that, of course, opens up a whole endless stream of questions ..."
Since February and for more than 100 days, A gay girl in Damascus described the everyday life of an activist through the prism of the uprising. The blog soon gained a worldwide readership and was closely followed by news and activists organisations.
Amina even gave an interview by email to CNN and had agreed to talk in person to one of the Guardian's correspondent in Damascus, but did not make the appointment as she said she feared the secret police.
However as the blog attracted more and more followers, and with Amina said to have been arrested by Syrian security forces, an appeal was launched to free her. In the meantime, LGBT organisations and other activists grew suspicious as in Damascus nobody had ever heard of Amina or her cousin Araf.
However, when alleged pictures of Amina turned out to have been taken from the social site of a young woman in London, who insisted she had nothing to do with the blog, doubts increased and the blog was accused of being a hoax.
Following the allegations, the true author has now come forward, with a statement on the blog.
His name is Tom MacMaster, he is an American student at the University of Edinburgh. Scotland and explains:
"I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone -- I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
"I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.
"This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.
"However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers."
Many Syrian activists have however reacted angrily, accusing him of trivialising or even harming their cause.
"One day if I'm kidnapped by my government, many readers won't care because I could turn out to be another Amina," wrote one Lebanese blogger.
While Daniel Nassar, an editor of the Gay Middle East blog said: "Because of you, Mr MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender] community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. You took away my voice, Mr MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know."