Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt Bows to International Rights Outcry

The Data Lounge, June 5, 2002 

CAIRO—International gay civil rights activists are claiming at least partial credit for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s decision last week to throw out the verdicts against all but two of 52 defendants in the Queen Boat case. In an order signed by Mubarak on May 26, the 21 men convicted on the "habitual practice of debauchery," will be freed while the date for a new trial is set. The government also officially abandoned its plans to retry 29 other men found not guilty.

International gay rights activists staged demonstrations in Europe and the United States to protest the incarceration of the men. Activists presuaded French President Jacques Chirac to raise the subject in face-to-face meetings held in Paris in February.

American activists pressed Congress for action, and in March, some 40 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter of protest about the case to Nabil Fahmi, Egypt’s ambassador in Washington.

"It’s a surprise," The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Ahmad Seif of the Hisham Mubarak Center, one of the few Egyptian organizations brave enought to assist the Queen Boat defendants. The center sent an appeal directly to Mubarak after the guilty verdicts were read, claiming had been illegally sent to a state security cour.

To everyone’s surprise, the misuse of the state security court was cited by Mubarak in throwing out the guilty verdicts and ordering a new trial. The case has been sent back to Egypt’s public prosecutor, who will decide whether to drop the charges r or schedule a retrial in a criminal court.

Two remaining defendants, Sherif Farahat and Mahmoud Allam, identified by prosecutors as "conspiracy leaders," were not so lucky; they had their five and three year sentences confirmed by Mubarak.

What Mubarak’s recent moves signal about the future extent of gay repression in Egypt is uncertain. Scott Long of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission told the Chronicle rights advocates should not be lulled into thinking the worst is over.

"[R]enewed prosecution would be renewed persecution," Long said. "Many other suspected gay men across Egypt remain in prison. We must continue to press the Egyptian government to meet its international obligations, not just in a few symbolic cases, but across the board."

Concerned members of Congress were recently presented with denials from a delegation of Egyptian businessmen and government officials who claimed the Queen Boat arrests were related only to "prostitution, public lewdness and sexual promiscuity" and were in no way gay-related.

This provoked a typically robust response from one noteworthy member of Congress, Rep. Barney Frank.

"What’s the Arabic word for ‘bullshit’?" Frank is said to have replied.

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