Egypt Trial Shows Culture Clash on Homosexuality
Reuters, July 17, 2001
By Andrew Hammond
CAIROA trial in Egypt this week of suspected
homosexuals highlights a clash of Western liberal values with Egypts
International rights groups have criticised Egypt after more than 50 men
were detained in May in a police raid on a floating nightclub on the Nileknown locally as a popular gay venue.
On Wednesday, the men are due to start their trial on charges including
"forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propagate
extremist ideas" and "practising sexual immorality"seen as
a euphemism for homosexuality, which Egyptian law does not expressly prohibit.
If convicted, the men could face five-year jail terms.
The case follows a string of publicised incidents involving homosexuality
in the past year, including reports of gay soliciting on the Internet that
prompted one paper to call for the death penalty for homosexuals.
"If you judge this incident by the measure of other societies, such as
Western ones, it comes out wrong, unacceptable, and even strange," said
sociologist Jawad Fatayer.
"But here it (homosexuality) is considered wrong, and this society
does not want to accept it or even negotiate with it."
The decision to try the men in a state security court under Egypts
emergency laws, which have been in place since 1981, technically to counter
Muslim militant violence, has raised eyebrows in Egypt and abroad.
"This case exhibits some of the worse features of Egypts justice
system," a joint statement by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and the
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said last month.
COMMENTATORS ASK WHY NOW?
Some commentators, wondering what prompted police action now against Cairos
thriving underground gay community, have surmised that the authorities sought
a high-profile case to deflect public attention from Egypts current
economic recession or to maintain a delicate social balance.
"I cant see any reasonable reason to send them to a state security
court. Perhaps they (the authorities) want to make some balance they try
Islamists, so they want to do the same to the other side (liberals),"
said rights lawyer Negad al-Borai.
State security police regularly detain suspected members of the leading
Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which denies government accusations
that it is a front for militant groups.
"State security has been cracking down on gays for months now. Its
the same strategy as they used with the Brotherhood: arrest some to frighten
the rest," said a 22-year-old gay man who asked not to be named.
He said police have arrested a number of men after luring them on false
dates advertised on the Internet. The Interior Ministry set up a unit two
years ago to monitor Internet usage, a move that was seen as partly aimed at
monitoring gay activities.
Gays say this time the community will probably lie low for months, although
it is used to periodic police raids on discos.
GayEgypt.com, a London-based website, is advising all gay tourists against
"One day we hope to take legal action against those who authorised
this operation. Gay rights are human rights. Homophobic violence is a
crime," the website says.
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