Last edited: February 14, 2005

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 be easing.

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 prosecutions.

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 undercover agents.

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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