Egypt: Witch Hunt Underway
Dozens of Men Arrested, Held Incommunicado
The International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), May 16, 2001
1360 Mission Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
Telephone: +1-415-255-8680; Fax: +1-415-255-8662
On the night of May 10, 2001, police arrested 55 or more Egyptian men in a
raid on a discotheque in Cairo which is frequented by gays. Since then, the
men have been held incommunicado, without access to legal representation or to
their families. State Security officers have described the detained men as
members of a "Satanist" organization, and threatened to try them
before a special security court whose judgments admit no appeal.
Sources in Egypt, communicating with IGLHRC under condition of anonymity,
fear the men are being tortured while in detention. They have been the subject
of intense vilification in the Egyptian press, promoting fears of both
religious dissent and foreign influences.
IGLHRC is gravely concerned that these men are victims of trumped-up
charges, and of a government determined to improve its own political position
by taking sexual nonconformity as the sign of a subversive cult. IGLHRC is
also gravely concerned by the possibility that these men may have been
subjected to torture. IGLHRC also fears that 55 "Satanists" will
only whet, not sate, the State's witch-hunting appetite: this incident may
mark the beginning of a broader campaign of harassment against gay men in
Because these men have been accused of acting under foreign influence,
IGLHRC does not at this time recommend that individuals outside Egypt send
letters to the Egyptian government. Such letters might reinforce the
impression, already cultivated by comments in the Egyptian press, of
conspiratorial international activity aimed against both morality and the
State. Instead, IGLHRC urges for the present that sympathetic governments and
organizations directly approach the Egyptian government to condemn this
IGLHRC therefore asks that all persons contact:
Their Foreign Ministry;
Their Member of Parliament or Congress;
(for citizens of the European Union) Their Member of the European
Ask that these institutions or representatives condemn the persecution and
prosecution of these men, both publicly and in private communications to the
Urgent action is needed. Each day may bring more arrests in Egypt. Each
day, the climate worsens, as new articles in State and non-State media dwell
on the religious and political threat of homosexuality. Urge your government
now to speak out publicly---and to speak directly to Egypt's leaders calling
for an end to repression.
On the night of Thursday, May 10, police in Cairo raided the
"Queen Boat," a discotheque regularly held in a boat moored in the
Nile in Zamalek district. Thursday night parties at the discotheque are
reportedly popular with gays in Cairo, but the place is neither openly nor
exclusively a gay venue.
Ten undercover officers from both State Security and the Cairo vice squad
entered the bar at about 2 AM; after watching (and, according to one news
report, filming) the dancing for some time, they began forcibly rounding up
Egyptian customers. An Egyptian man who was present that night, but who
managed to escape, has stated that police targeted either men "who look
gay" or who were simply unaccompanied by women. According to the
English-language Cairo Times, no foreigners were arrested; other sources have
later suggested that five foreigners were detained briefly, then freed.
The Cairo Times reported that 55 persons were arrested (other papers have
suggested 56, 60, or 62). One of them, a professor at Cairo University's
Faculty of Medicine, "was slapped on the face several times by a police
officer and called a derogatory slang word for homosexual when he refused to
go" ("Morality Police Crackdown," Cairo Times, May 17-23,
2001). The owner and staff of the discotheque were not arrested. Those
detained were driven to the vice squad headquarters in Abdin police station.
Reports in the Western press that a "gay wedding" was taking
place in the discotheque are apparently based on defamatory reporting in the
Egyptian media, and are untrue. Homosexual acts are not expressly criminalized
by Egyptian law. A variety of laws penalize "offences against public
morals and sensitivities," creating a clear legal framework for
harassment and arrest of homosexuals. However, in this case the charges are
still more severe. The authorities have chosen to treat sexual nonconformity
as the mark not of a community but of a subversive cult. Officials of the High
State Security Prosecution Office told the press that the men would be charged
with "exploiting religion to promote extreme ideas to create strife and
belittling revealed religions." The Cairo Times also reports that the
defendants will stand trial before a State Security court, whose rulings are
not subject to appeal.
The arrestees were interrogated for at least two days by the High State
Security Prosecution Office, led by Prosecutor Hisham Badawi. Their
whereabouts were not revealed to their families or friends. An Egyptian source
who wishes to remain anonymous tells IGLHRC:
We couldn't do anything more than sending a lawyer to help. He went to the
police station to look for our friend and the others. But they denied they
were there. After bribing a soldier, our lawyer found out that all the
arrested people were locked in there and that they'll be sent to the
prosecutor next morning. One only wonders what is going on in there. Still the
lawyer couldn't meet his client. Is it in the law that a lawyer can't meet his
On May 12, a source in the prosecutor's office told the press that the
defendants were "practicing deviant rituals and holding parties where
they practiced group sex and abnormal activities." This statement
inaugurated a vicious smear campaign in the Egyptian media, seemingly aimed at
pillorying the 55 arrestees before they could ever approach trial. For the
benefit of nationalists, they were identified as Europeanized cosmopolitans
and Israeli sympathizers; for the benefit of Islamists, they were charged with
On May 13, the daily paper Al Maasa alleged the defendants belonged to an
organized group, of religious heretics as well as foreign agents: "The
accused persons admitted to the police officers that they believe in . . .
perverse ideas which they brought from a perverse group in Europe whose
members practice deviant practices such as homosexual marriage, and believe
that perverse relationships between men are stronger than sexual relationships
between men and women. Their ideas stress the negation of revealed religions,
which they consider based on absurd and mythical beliefs." The group
spread its ideas "among youth groups in universities, high schools, and
clubs." The State Security Office had been tapping the telephones of
members of "the perverse group" for some time, Al Maasa reported.
On the same day, the crime page of the state-owned daily Al Ahram also
identified the defendants as devil worshippers and cultists, who "tried
to recruit new members to their cult and called on them to go to swim in the
Dead Sea in Jordan to be blessed by its water." One of the group, Al
Ahram stated, had confessed to being "immersed in Judaism." Al Maasa
on May 14 quoted Mohammed El Shahat, Professor of Islamic Law at Tanta
University, as urging that, with this "perversion" spreading, the
highest possible punishment should be imposed for the sake of deterrence. (
Egypt, nonetheless, does not apply Islamic shari`ah law.) On May 15, Al Maasa
returned with the "Latest on Satanists' Case." By this time a
"leader" of the "group" had been identified: a man
"who traveled to a number of European countries as well as Israel, and is
also a prominent member of many international perverted organizations that are
widespread in these countries, and adopted their perverted ideas in practicing
deviance, and recruited a number of his friends to spread the organization's
ideas in Egypt." The newspaper reported that three additional Satanist
"cells" had been closed down in the cities of Maadi, Heliopolis, and
Hadayek el Kobba. It also noted that lawyers were refusing to attend hearings
in the prosecutor's office "after seeing the photos of the suspects in
disgusting deviant poses," and that the suspects' families refused to
visit them "for fear of scandal."
The truth appears to be quite different. The accused have so far been
denied legal representation. According to the Cairo Times, a lawyer from the
Hisham Mubarak Center for Law--an independent Egyptian human rights
organization--tried to visit the defendants, but was turned away. Another
Egyptian source tells IGLHRC, "By a strange process, State Security says
that the prisoners themselves must appoint a lawyer by writing out a power of
attorney in person; since no lawyer is allowed in to see them unless s/he can
produce a power of attorney, it becomes a catch-22 situation."
Meanwhile, family members have been forbidden to see the prisoners and
denied information about their whereabouts. The same source reports,
Today I myself went, with the brother of one of the suspects, to State
Security Headquarters, where he asked to see him. Despite the fact that a
brother conforms to their requirements for an "immediate relative",
they absolutely refused to let him see the suspect in question, saying
"Come back on the 23rd [of May], and stand outside like all the [other
families], and you'll be able to see him being brought in."
The 23rd is the day for renewal of the detention period -- meaning that he
would just catch a glimpse of him being led in handcuffs from the armored
prison van into the State Security
building, but not be allowed to go inside and talk to him.
The prisoners have reportedly been transferred to Tora Prison. Egyptian
human rights organizations have documented patterns of physical abuse of
prisoners in Tora. IGLHRC's source fears that family visits are being denied
in order to conceal the evidence of physical torture during the
In addition, Al-Wafd newspaper revealed on May 14 that State Security had
subjected the prisoners to an anal forensic medical examination. Determinining
whether they had been anally penetrated would offer "proof" of their
homosexuality. Both Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC have condemned such
examinations as a form of cruel and inhuman treatment, "profoundly
degrading and humiliating to those forced to undergo them" (HRW and
IGLHRC, Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania, p.
87). As an intrusive assault by the State upon the bodily integrity of the
victim, they are comparable to forced examinations of women's virginity, a
practice which has also been condemned by the United Nations. (See Concluding
Observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women: Turkey, 23/01/97, A/52/38/Rev.1, paras.151-206; and Concluding
Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : South Africa,
The present case resembles a 1997 case in Egypt where 78 teenage men were
arrested, and, amid charges of homosexual practices, accused of Satanism.
While the case never came to trial, their names and even photographs were
widely circulated in the popular media. The case also follows on another
incident in February 2000, in which two gay Egyptians who had arranged dates
through the Internet were arrested and charged with prostitution, a crime
carrying a 3-6 year prison sentence. Media coverage of that case played
heavily on fears of globalization and porous borders, with one newspaper
warning of "new criminals" using "new technologies" in a
world "which will become one in a short while" (El Nabaa, March 4,
2001). IGLHRC fears that the Egyptian government is combining homophobia and
nationalism in a volatile and deadly cocktail, to invigorate its support among
conservative and Islamist political forces.
IGLHRC further fears that a police campaign against Egyptian gays may be
underway. The identities of those arrested in the boat raid are already public
knowledge: on May 13, Al Maasa listed 56 names of the accused. On May 15, the
newspaper Al-Gomhoureya proceeded to list the names, ages, and occupations of
30 members of the "Satanist organization." The presence of doctors,
lawyers, and engineers among the "perverts" was particularly noted.
humiliation such publicity entails, the details reveal an ominous fact.
Less than half of the names on the May 15 roster are from Al-Maasa's older
list of arrestees; the rest of the names are new.
One possible explanation is that police are rounding up additional
"Satanists," perhaps by forcing those already detained to name
An atmosphere of terror now invests much of Egypt's underground gay
community. Some gay men are reportedly destroying computer files, and even
their computers. One source in Egypt writes to IGLHRC: "Pray for
The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
is to protect and advance the human rights of all people and communities
subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender
identity, or HIV status.
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