Last edited: December 08, 2004

Egypt Trial Shows Culture Clash on Homosexuality

Reuters, July 17, 2001

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO—A trial in Egypt this week of suspected homosexuals highlights a clash of Western liberal values with Egypt’s conservative culture.

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 Nile—known 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 Egypt’s 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 Egypt’s 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.


Some commentators, wondering what prompted police action now against Cairo’s thriving underground gay community, have surmised that the authorities sought a high-profile case to deflect public attention from Egypt’s current economic recession or to maintain a delicate social balance.

"I can’t 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. It’s 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., a London-based website, is advising all gay tourists against visiting Egypt.

"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.

[Home] [World] [Egypt]