Egyptian Anti-Gay Crackdown Easing
The Data Lounge,
June 18, 2002
CAIRO—Although human rights activists in Egypt
insist that dozens, if not hundreds, of gay and bisexual men remain in
Egyptian prisons for the crime of having sex with other men, The Star, a
Beirut newspaper, reports the severity of the anti-gay crackdown in Egypt may
Ever since President Hosni Mubarak overturned the 21 convictions of
allegedly gay men sentenced to prison in the Queen Boat case for so-called
"habitual debauchery" last May, Cairo locals report the intensity of
police harassment against members of the community has lessened.
The Star claims that Mubarak’s decision was "undoubtedly" the
result of international pressure. International gay and human rights groups
had mounted a sustained campaign against Egypt following the Queen Boat
Mubarak himself is not known to be personally hostile to gays, and despite
allegations that the crackdown was an attempt to appease the Islamists, it
does not appear to have been politically motivated.
Activists say that while the closure of gay bathhouses—traditional
gathering places in Cairo for gay men—began in late 1999, the government
crackdown ramped up in intensity later in 2001. Reports began circulating that
gay men who responded to meetings arranged online were being arrested by
The politicized State Security branch took over the case after police
reportedly seized pseudo-religious literature owned by one of the defendants.
As news of the arrests spread and the treatment the men were receiving in
prison spread, the international outcry grew steadily louder.
Though the anti-gay crackdown proved quite popular with most Egyptians, the
intensity of negative international reaction to the arrests was putting the
government in a bind. In the long run, it seems Mubarak concluded that the
political capital that could be obtained from a crackdown on gays was not
worth the criticism it faced from the West.
Though the crackdown has eased, gay men still face arrest by the Vice Squad
and prosecution in criminal courts. The Star notes a man responding to a
sexual ad on the Internet was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence on
June 7. Vice Squad chief General Abdelwahhab al-Adli told the Associated Press
his department had prepared 19 such cases
Local prosecutors, however, are not winning all the time. The Star notes
they have also suffered several legal reverses in recent months, most notably
in the case of five men from Damanhour convicted in March for "sexual
practices contrary to Islam." They were released in April.
Gay activists note the skepticism expressed by judges about evidence used
in a half-dozen trials of allegedly gay men in the past year. The court’s
faith in the legitimacy of so-called confessions, for example, many of which
have been obtained under torture, has markedly declined.
The Star concludes that international pressure has not created a liberal
environment for Egyptian gays, but it appears to have lifted the climate of
fear that has prevailed over the past year, where men could be arrested and
convicted in mass trials on scant evidence. The worst of what rights groups
branded a "witch hunt" may be over.
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