Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt Escalates Anti-Gay Crackdown

Datalounge, May 15, 2001

CAIRO — The Egyptian government dramatically escalated a months-old nationwide crackdown against its gay citizens last week when Cairo police stormed a gay party held on a Nile river boat, arresting everyone on board.

The Reuters news agency confirms that as many as 60 predominantly gay men were taken into custody by Cairo police in the Wednesday night raid. Several press reports said the party-goers aboard the riverboat disco called the "Queen Boat" were reportedly celebrating a gay commitment ceremony, but witnesses labeled the claim as false.

The news agency says five foreigners were detained and released, but that 55 others were being questioned by government prosecutors on charges of "violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity."

According to eyewitnesses, ten undercover officers from both state security and the vice squad entered the boat’s disco, known as a gay hang-out on Thursday nights, around 2am. Within minutes they began arresting the Egyptian men present and loading them onto three vans parked outside.

The boat’s manager, Mamdouh Eleiwa, told the Cairo Times that a surgeon and professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine was slapped across the face several times by a police officer and called derogatory gay names when he refused to go.

While there is nothing in Egyptian penal code that specifically condemns homosexuality, some statutes criminalizing obscenity and public indecency have been used against gay men in the past. Since last February, authorities have taken to manufacturing charges based on "offense to public morals and sensitivities." Some have erroneously been charged with prostitution.

The Cairo Times also reports that after spending Thursday night at the vice squad headquarters in Abdin station, the men were questioned for two days by High State Security Prosecution on charges of "exploiting religion to promote extreme ideas to create strife and belittling revealed religions." If found guilty, the defendants could face up to five years in prison.

Sources who requested anonymity told the DataLounge that many of the arrested men are being held in undisclosed locations throughout the Egyptian capital. There have also been as yet unconfirmed reports that some are being denied access to lawyers and concerned family members.

The Queen Boat has reportedly been raided before, but detainees have been released after 3 to 10 days of detention. Sources say this is the first time that the arrested men have been transferred to the prosecutor’s office to face charges. If charged, the defendants will stand before a state security court, whose rulings are final and incontestable.

The state-owned Al Ahram newspaper published that the defendants were members of a new devil worshipping cult that included students, doctors and other professionals. Al Ahram’s coverage of state security cases is widely considered to reflect the prosecution’s views. So-called confessions of "satanic worship" were printed in the newspaper.

Reports indicate local human rights groups are reluctant to side with the men who have been arrested. "We generally defend liberties but here are red lines that we should stop at," said Samir Al Bagouri of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid.

Hafez Abu Saada, the Secretary-General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said similarly that defending gay rights was not part of his group’s mandate. "Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them," Abu Saada said.

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