Safe at Last
An Egyptian Gay Man is Granted U.S. Asylum, After Help from New Lawyers
and a Congressman
April 19, 2002
By Kim Krisberg
A gay Egyptian man denied asylum in the United States and profiled in the
Washington Blade in January, has now won asylum based on the recent history of
anti-gay harassment in his home country.
In the Blade profile, "Waleed," who has spoken to the newspaper
on condition of anonymity, told a story of persecution and fear in Egypt on
the basis of his sexual orientation. He was, however, denied asylum after an
INS hearing officer discounted evidence he presented of a recent, high-profile
crackdown against gays by the Egyptian government. A second INS interview
yielded a different result.
Waleed told the Blade that the second INS officer was so sensitive to his
case, he felt she "was going to break down in the middle of the
Upon learning the result, Waleed said he breathed a long, grateful, and
bittersweet sigh of relief. Despite winning asylum, he still requested that
the Blade keep hidden any specific details of his life in Egypt. The paranoia
that engulfed his life in Egypt has not yet completely vanished from his
psyche, he said. He added that he worries about information traveling across
the continents to his family, to whom he says he will never reveal his sexual
"Why would I want to be a source of misery for them?" he asked,
adding that it is still hard to adjust to the American sense that to be out
publicly is a better way to lead life. "It’s just so hard. I’m from a
Now Waleed can begin planning for a future in the United States, and said
he would like to use his own experiences to do work on gay issues in North
Africa and the Middle East.
Last September, Waleed traveled to the United States with the express
purpose of seeking asylum based on his sexual orientation. He had been in
Egypt during the highly publicized "Cairo 52" trial, in which more
than 50 men were arrested on suspicion of homosexuality. Of those men, 23 were
sentenced to terms of hard labor. Walleed had been at the Cairo nightclub,
popular among gays, where many of the Cairo 52 were arrested.
Adding to his fears, Egyptian police arrested Waleed in 1997 after finding
him sitting in a car with another man; authorities pressured Waleed to reveal
his sexual orientation. Unlike his passenger at the time, who was beaten into
telling police he is gay, Waleed refused to reveal the truth. His refusal to
confess would become a major sticking point in his path to gain asylum.
Try, try again
After the United States denied Waleed asylum, he sought out the services of
the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights to help him re-file. The committee
takes on certain cases and then sends those cases to private lawyers willing
to offer free legal services. Waleed’s case sparked the interest of Ed
Palmieri and Amy Mielke, two lawyers with the D.C. law firm of Dow, Lohnes
& Albertson. It was the first asylum case for both attorneys.
"When someone’s livelihood is in your hands, … that makes you work
that much harder, but it makes it that much scarier, too," Palmieri said.
Besides gaining the representation of two new lawyers, Waleed also gained
support from a staunch proponents of gay civil rights at home and abroad:
openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Frank has harshly criticized the
Egyptian government for what he views as a state-sponsored crackdown on gays.
On Feb. 5, Frank wrote a letter to Marla J. Belvedere, the director at the
Arlington Asylum Office, the location at which Waleed had been interviewed for
asylum. Frank cited the deteriorating environment for gays in Egypt and what
he termed as inconsistencies between Waleed’s actual testimony and the
testimony that was recorded in the asylum denial notice. The INS, according to
Palmieri, under pressure from Frank and Waleed’s lawyers, re-examined the
case and decided that Waleed deserved a second asylum interview. Officials at
the INS did not return a Blade call by deadline.
A major inconsistency pointed out by Frank and the lawyers was an
inaccurate description of Waleed’s 1997 arrest in the asylum denial notice—proof,
says Waleed, that his first INS interviewing officer hadn’t really attempted
to understand his story. The inconsistency in question is a line from the
asylum denial notice that states: "You admitted to the police that you
were gay, and you were released on bond the next day when your father paid
Waleed said he did not admit to Egyptian police officers that he is gay,
something he would never do, and said he made that clear to his first
Palmieri said Waleed’s second interviewer was a "best-case
scenario." He said she was polite, prepared, and seemed to have read all
the evidence supporting Waleed’s asylum request.
"She seemed to really put the best foot forward," Palmieri said.
"She was very respectful of [Waleed’s] circumstances."
When the INS finally approved Waleed’s request for asylum, Palmieri said,
officials called the two lawyers to break the good news, who in turn called
"It’s a day I’ll never forget," Waleed said. "I wake
every morning now feeling reborn."
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