Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt/United States: Stop the Cairo Two-Step!

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), May 30, 2002
1360 Mission Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103 USA
Telephone: +1-415-255-8680
Fax: +1-415-255-8662

—— Action Alert ——

Demand an End to Trials for the "Cairo 52"!

Mubarak Visits Washington June 5-8:

Call on President Bush to Condemn the Abusers

—— Summary ——

Egypt has taken one painfully small step toward justice. Now you—and US leaders—must act URGENTLY to keep this from turning into two steps back.

On May 22, 2002, Egyptian officials hinted at a show of Presidential leniency in the notorious "Cairo 52" case—the 2001 trial in which 23 of 52 defendants received long prison terms for suspected homosexual conduct.

The gesture came in advance of President Mubarak’s June 5 visit to the US. But the limits of leniency soon became lamentably clear. The President annulled 50 out of the 52 verdicts, including the guilty findings in 21 cases—and, shockingly, all 29 innocent verdicts.

The Presidential decision sent the 50 cases back to prosecutors, who must now decide whether to retry the defendants. Those previously found innocent may face retrial along with those already found guilty. Moreover, two additional defendants who were convicted of "contempt of religion" in the same case (and sentenced to years at hard labor) were exempted from the decision—a clear confirmation that freedom of belief in Egypt does not exist.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) urges pressure on Egypt to drop all charges and free all the defendants—and on US President George W. Bush not to let this half-measure masquerade as justice. IGLHRC is encouraged whenever the unjustly imprisoned are freed. Yet Egypt has tendered only cosmetic change. It offers nothing to dozens of others who have been arrested or convicted for consensual homosexual conduct. It threatens the "Cairo 52" defendants with new indignities and new abuses. In the end, even more men could be forced to serve prison time.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt visits the United States from June 5-8. IGLHRC calls for immediate pressure on US officials. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell must condemn this travesty of due process, and call on Egypt’s President to end these trials and offer a full pardon. IGLHRC also urges letters to Egyptian officials stressing that a retrial only redoubles the injustice these men have undergone. Demand that the judicial song-and-dance stop, and that Egypt march swiftly and straightforwardly toward justice.

—— Action ——

Call the President of the United States:

Please CALL the White House switchboard BEFORE JUNE 5, at +1 202-456-1414. Ask President Bush to raise the issue of the "Cairo 52" and other human rights abuses in his meetings with President Mubarak. Make the points found in the letter to Secretary Powell below. Stress that a retrial is not enough: all trials of suspected homosexuals in Egypt must end.

A call is the most effective way to get your point across to the White House: operators use them to gauge public opinion. However, you can also send a fax (modelled on the sample letter below) to President Bush at +1 202-456-2461; or (least effectively) send an e-mail to

Write the Secretary of State:

Please also send an e-mail to Secretary of State Colin Powell at A sample letter is below.

Write to Egyptian officials:

Please write to:

Counsellor Maher ‘Abd al-Wahid
Public Prosecutor
Dar al-Qadha al-’Ali Ramses Street
Cairo, Egypt
Fax: + 20 2 577 47 16
Salutation: Dear Public Prosecutor

His Excellency, Counsellor Farouk Seif Al Nasr
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Midan Lazoughly
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +20 2 355 8103
Salutation: Your Excellency

His Excellency, President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
‘Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: + 20 2 910288 / 243 1915 /245 9816
Fax: + 20 2 390 1998, 20 2 260-5417 , 20 2 355-5700, 20 2 795 3192 or
20 2 795 8016
TELEX 091 93794 wazra un
Salutation: Your excellency

Or write or call Egypt’s embassies abroad. Egypt’s embassy to the US (write to His Excellency Ambassador Nabil Fahmy) can be reached at:

The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington DC 20008
Phone (202) 895 5400 Fax (202) 244 5131

For a list of Egypt’s embassies in other countries, see IGLHRC’s August 2001 Alert "Perversion of Justice," at

—— Sample Letters ——

To US Officials:

Dear Secretary Powell/President Bush:

I urge you, during President Hosni Mubarak’s upcoming visit, to discuss Egypt’s human rights record, including the persecution of alleged homosexuals, and demand an end to abuse.

In an attempt to improve its image before President Mubarak’s visit, Egypt has now cancelled the verdicts against 50 of the 52 men who were tried for consensual homosexual behavior in 2001, in the famous "Cairo 52" case. This is merely a cosmetic gesture: it does not reflect real change. As in the case of the dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim (who was freed from jail under US and European pressure, only to face a new trial and a possible return to prison) this new move does not mean freedom. Prosecutors may decide to inflict new trials not only on those found guilty—but on those acquitted. This is a travesty of justice and due process.

I urge you to call on President Mubarak to ensure that all arrests and trials for consensual homosexual behavior in Egypt cease. All the "Cairo 52" defendants should be set free. Those defendants who were also charged with "contempt of religion" should be released as well: Egypt must affirm its commitment to respect freedom of conscience and belief. And all others who are imprisoned or facing trial for suspected homosexual conduct should be freed, or see their charges dropped.

The persecution of homosexuals is of a piece with the persecution of other groups in Egypt, including non-violent Muslim activists who are jailed and tortured under repressive legislation which conflates dissent with "terrorism." Democracies discredit themselves by turning a blind eye to violence and abuse—anywhere in the region, as anywhere in the world. Please see that your support for so-called allies worldwide, whoever they may be, is firmly tied to an examination of their human rights records. Human rights must not be detached from a humane foreign policy.


To Egyptian Officials:

Your Excellency/ Dear Public Prosecutor:

I am shocked by your government’s decision to cancel the verdicts against 50 of the 52 defendants who were arrested on or around the "Queen Boat" discotheque in May, 2001. I am shocked because the decision of the State Security Office for the Ratification of Verdicts falls far short of a full pardon. It leaves open the possibility that prosecutors may subject all 50—those found innocent as well as those found guilty—to new trials. Such trials would only redouble the injustices already inflicted on these men.

I am further shocked that this decision confirms the verdicts against two of the defendants who were found guilty of "contempt of religion." The use of this law in Egypt against people exercising basic freedoms of assembly and expression, as well as the fundamental liberty of conscience and belief, has rightly drawn the condemnation of the world community.

There must be no new trials for any of the 50 men whose verdicts have been annulled. I urge you to ensure that all charges are dropped. I also urge you to see that the two men still imprisoned in this case, for "contempt of religion," are also freed.

I also call on you to ensure that arrests and trials of other men suspected of homosexual conduct cease. Ensure that all persons now imprisoned or facing trial under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 are immediately released, and that this repressive law is repealed. Act to abolish the Emergency State Security Courts, which enable the repression of peaceful dissent through procedures which permit no appeal. End the persecution of people for the exercise of their freedom of conscience and belief. Only by these means can you remove a serious blot on the human rights record, and the public image, of Egypt.


—— Background ——

On May 22, 2002, Egyptian officials began hinting to the media and to concerned attorneys that new moves would be undertaken in the "Cairo 52" case, which had become an international embarassment to the government.

These hints of leniency came after a year of unrelenting abuse. 52 men had been arrested on or around the night of May 10/11, 2001. That night, police raided the Queen Boat discotheque in Cairo, believed to be a gay men’s gathering place; other police pickups followed in the next days. The 52 were tortured in detention, and jailed continuously until their trial. Defense lawyers argued that proper arrest procedures were not followed, that the arrests were made at random, and that charges were fabricated by ambitious vice squad officers. The State-controlled media engaged in a campaign of vilification against the 52, publishing their names and branding them perverts, blasphemers, and traitors. (For more information on procedural irregularities and abuses surrounding the trial, see IGLHRC’s Fact Sheet, "Egyptian Justice on Trial: The Case of the Cairo 52," at

All 52 pleaded innocent. The verdicts were handed down on November 14, 2001, at a hearing attended by a representative of IGLHRC, among others. Twenty-one defendants were convicted of the "habitual practice of debauchery" under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 (on the Combat of Prostitution). One defendant was convicted of "contempt for religion" under Article 98f of the Penal Code. Another defendant, accused of being the "ringleader," was convicted of both charges and received the heaviest sentence, five years at hard labor.

Only the latter two defendants had been charged with "contempt of religion"—a charge which is commonly heard before Emergency State Security Courts, special procedures dating back to the 1981 assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat, and designed to combat "terrorism." Those courts’ verdicts do not permit ordinary appeal, violating international standards for due process. However—apparently because the initial press furor had implicated all the defendants in a "Satanic cult"—the trial of all 52 was in fact held before such a Court.

The May 2002 hints of leniency were followed by conflicting accounts of what form it would take. Initially, President Mubarak was reported to have ordered retrials for 50 of the defendants. This was not the case. Instead, the State Security Office for the Ratification of Verdicts—a Presidential office responsible for the decisions of Emergency State Security Courts—actually cancelled the verdicts in 50 of the 52 cases. Those cases will be sent back to the office of the Public Prosecutor, who must determine whether to retry all of them, including those previously acquitted.

This decision affected all those defendants who were charged only with "habitual practice of debauchery," the terminology used to criminalize homosexual conduct in Egyptian law. In effect, the President acknowledged that this "crime" did not justify a trial before an Emergency State Security Court. If prosecutors decide to retry those defendants, the cases will be heard before ordinary criminal courts.

However, the decision confirmed the guilty verdicts against the two defendants who were also charged with "contempt for religion"—affirming both that freedom of religious belief is severely restricted in Egypt, and that alleged religious dissent will continue to be repressed through special "security" procedures.

The Ministry of the Interior ordered that the 21 defendants whose guilty verdicts were thus annulled be released from prison on bail of 500 Egyptian pounds (ca. 120 USD, a substantial sum in Egypt). One defendant, who had only been sentenced to one year at the November 14 trial, actually received his final release on May 26, after serving his full sentence (including time in pre-trial detention). It is not clear whether he will be exempt from any retrial. The other convicted men were released as of May 29. However, all could be imprisoned again if convicted in a second trial.

It is not known when the Public Prosecutor will make a decision to retry some, all, or none of the 50 defendants.

—— In International Law ——

The right to a fair trial is affirmed by Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In particular, the ICCPR mandates (Art. 14.5) that "Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law"—a right denied by Emergency State Security Court procedures in Egypt, the sentences of which still stand in the case of the two "lead" defendants who remain imprisoned. And the ICCPR also affirms (Art. 14.7) that "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country"—a protection which would be flouted by the possible retrial of the men acquitted in the "Cairo 52" case.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a non-derogable right affirmed by Article 18 of the UDHR and by Article 18 of the ICCPR.

The right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy is affirmed by Article 12 of the UDHR and by Article 17 of the ICCPR.

The right to equality before the law is affirmed by Article 7 of the UDHR and by Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR. In its 1994 decision in the case of Toonen v Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee held that the ICCPR’s provisions on equality before the law should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected against discrimination.

Egypt ratified the ICCPR on January 14, 1982, and is bound by its provisions as well as their interpretation by the Human Rights Committee. The UDHR is considered part of customary international law and is binding on all member States of the United Nations.

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