Gay Marriage Results in Prosecution
When The Press Is Aflame, The Authorities Abandon Their Practice of Looking The
April 20 - 26, 2000
Egypts on-line English language newsmagazine
Mariam Fam and Mandy McClure report
Society may frown on homosexuality, but the state rarely interferes in relations
between gay men. However, when the Egyptian press discovered that two men in Zaqaziq had
gotten "married" by drawing up what the press called a private "urfi"
contract, the state was forced to act. Both men were taken into custody. Thirty-eight year
old Mumin S.as he was called by the presswas charged with a "violation of
honor by threat," while Amir Mohammed Saber Abduh Ali, 18 or 19, was initially held
on charges of practicing immoral and indecent behavior before being released on 13 April.
While local press coverage carried somewhat conflicting information, all reported that
the relationship between the two men had been going on for approximately one and a half
years, during which Ali worked for Mumin at the latters computer game store.
Alis father reportedly took his son to the police station to file a complaint
against Mumin for threatening his son after neighbors allegedly told him something was
fishy in the relationship between the two men. Al Maydan of 11 April reported that the
youth at first denied that there was any sexual contact between the two men, but later
confessed that indeed they had been carrying on a relationship for some time. He
subsequently testified that he had been tricked into the relationship.
When police searched the premises of Mumins business, they discovered love
letters from both parties and a makeshift marriage contract, which stipulated that one
party could leave the other only by paying LE1 million in compensation. Despite
speculations in the press on whether the two men would be "divorced," the
contract itself has no validity in the eyes of the law.
If Alis father had not become involved, its doubtful that the case would
have progressed this far. In general, the police are content to let Cairos gay
community exist in relative peace, subjecting members to occasional harassment but making
no effort to close down gay hangouts or drive the subculture underground. This case,
however, had received too much publicity not to progress further. In the initial hearing
before the court, the defense requested that the case be dropped since both parties had
agreed not to press charges and since the event in question does not constitute a crime.
Judge Hisham Dayf refused to accept the plea, claiming the case had become a social issue
in which the two defendants had offended religious and moral standards.
Although sensational cases of gay relationships have reached the press before, this
seems to be the first time that a marriage contract has entered the picture. Mohammed Al
Sawi, an attorney who works with the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary,
points to a similar case that occurred in Luxor a couple of years ago, where two men were
discovered living together as a married couple. Neither party was subject to a criminal
prosecution, however. Ironically, it is the marriage contract in this case that provides
the basis for a criminal case. Although the law does not have a statute criminalizing
homosexual acts, the wide-ranging obscenity and indecent behavior statutes are certainly
applicable here, and Al Sawi argues that the contract provides incontestable proof of
If convicted of forcing the youth into a sexual relation against his will, Mumin may
spend up to six years in prison. Would a defense that argued that the relationship was
consensual be effective in this case? Sawi has his doubts. "I cant really think
of a defense thats going to benefit him," he says. "No matter what is
argued, hes sure to be convicted now that the story has reached the public."
While it is unclear from reports whether Ali was forced into the relationship or
consented, the story unleashed violent reactions in the press that were not directed
solely at the two charged parties. Religious figures and prominent sociologists and
psychologists were called on to explain and discuss the phenomenon of homosexuality, many
of whom spoke of it as an illness that needs to be rooted out of society. Several
specialists interviewed recommended executing both parties, while Mohammed Abdel Moneim Al
Barri, former head of the Azhar Scholars Front, called for burning homosexuals. The
most moderate views suggested merely isolating proven homosexuals until they could be
rehabilitated to live "normal" lives according to societys rules.
The most prevalent feature of all the uproar, however, was how the press treated the
case as a completely isolated incident, denying the indigenous existence of homosexuality
in Egyptian society and treating it instead as a recent phenomenon introduced through
increased contact with foreigners and the Western media.
Wahba Ghali, former head of the AIDS section at Caritas and now director of the New
York-based MENTORS, an HIV counseling and referral service for Arabs in the US, says that
in his work with Caritas HIV Counseling Center and the HIV educational campaign,
denial and ignorance were the biggest problems the center initially faced in dealing with
HIV awareness among the gay community. "Nobody wants to admit that gay relationships
exist in this society... when we first began the educational campaign, people told us
wed be stoned on the street or beaten up," he says. "But it didnt
Ghali believes that the Caritas campaign, which still continues, has been quite
effective. In 1998, the center published a booklet aimed at raising HIV awareness that
dealt with same-sex relationships in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner. They were
also able to begin a Narcotics Anonymous group for drug users, what Ghali calls "one
of the most successful programs run by the center."
But when he wanted to repeat the success of Narcotics Anonymous with a gay awareness
and support group, with the goal of promoting safe sex practices, he couldnt make it
happen. "Actually, it was not all my idea," says Ghali. "An official at the
Ministry of Health wanted to establish the group, but was unable to do it through official
channels. He got in touch with me and we decided to try and set it up through
Caritas." The plan was not implemented, according to Ghali, because it was met with
firm resistance both inside and outside of the organization. While his superiors in
Caritas did not want to touch such a risky subject, some would-be participants were
equally reluctant to get involved, for fear of being outed or otherwise attracting
Could a gay advocacy or support group be on the horizon in the near future? "I
dont think so," says Ghali firmly. "The pressure against it is too
great...Just look at the recent case. The society as a whole is still in denial about the
very existence of gay relationships."
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