Egyptian Gays Go Deeper Underground
The Data Lounge,
April 29, 2002
CAIRO—Now under constant threat of harassment and
arrest, their once well-appointed clubs now virtually abandoned or forced into
serving a straight clientele, their baths which for centuries served as a
meeting place for gay men now routinely monitored, gay life in Egypt in 2002
is a pale shadow of how things were just a few short years ago.
But despite the dangers, members of this proud community refuse to be
knuckled under completely. The now three-year old government crackdown has
done what government suppression of gay life has always done, pushed it deeper
The brutal repression has also sparked debate over the morality of
homosexuality, that in the face of rising Islamic extremism in Egypt,
threatens to bring even greater government reprisals. Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak is said to have begun the anti-gay crackdown as a way to appease
simmering fundamentalists that threaten the government.
One of the most prominent gay rights advocates in the country, a man who
goes by the name of Horus and wears his hair in a ponytail, told the Reuters
news agency that there are worst things than being the object of official
harassment. "Hiding is worse than being arrested," he said. "I
want to feel dignity. When I was harassed, my friends told me, ‘Cut your
hair.’ But I said no. That’s not me. I don’t want to hide."
"I don’t want to stay in the closet forever," Horus continued.
"I want to help people come out. I feel that I wasted my life in the
In November, the government signaled it was moving into a more active phase
of its persecution efforts when a security court sentenced 23 predominantly
men to jail after a raid on the Queen Boat, a then-popular weekend venue for
the city’s gays.
Egyptian officials gave no official thrift to protests from human rights
groups and Western governments about the arrests, declaring the matter one of
safeguarding the country’s morality. But some scholars have expressed the
view that the attitude of mainstream Egyptians is not as rigid as the
"When push comes to shove, most people will say that homosexuality is
a horrible thing, but not in the sense of ‘Put them in jail’," said
Hania Sholkamy, a professor of anthropology at the American University in
Cairo. "Homosexuality is there. It’s more accepted as a certain phase
in life,...as long as they click out of it and then get a wife and ‘become
But talking about it, or claiming it as an identity, she said, is still not
acceptable in Egypt.
Some gay Egyptians told Reuters that many have left for the West, and that
more are thinking about it. "Almost everyone I talked to wants to leave.
They just can’t," said a gay rights advocate. "I personally know
four people who got political asylum in the United States."
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