Last edited: February 14, 2005

Egypt Tries 52 Men Suspected of Being Gay

New York Times, July 19, 2001
229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
Fax: 212-556-3622

By Neil MacFarquhar

CAIRO — In a high-profile crackdown on suspected homosexual activity that has been condemned by some legal activists and human rights groups, 52 men were charged today in a state security court with engaging in immoral acts or religious offenses.

The accused were by far the largest group of men put on trial at once in Egypt for suspected homosexual acts, and the courtroom — far too small to contain the defendants, their guards, some three dozen lawyers, scores of family members and journalists — was near pandemonium.

When the prosecutor read out the charge that most of the defendants were accused of "practicing debauchery with men," the defendants cried out almost in unison: "It did not happen! This is injustice!" All pleaded not guilty.

The sensational trial is part of a pattern of what gay Egyptians call stepped-up harassment of any homosexual activity in the last 8 to 10 months, much of it related to the Internet. Many believe that the government has acted to try to stamp out what was becoming an increasingly open and vocal gay community.

Homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, and lawyers and international human rights groups accused the government of President Hosni Mubarak of circumventing the regular judicial system and its appeal process to bring a dubious case to trial.

They noted that the largely misdemeanor charges of obscene behavior had been brought before the Emergency State Security Court, part of the special emergency laws established decades ago to protect against threats to national security and extended repeatedly every since.

"What is very troubling is the use of these emergency or military or extraordinary procedures for a case that in a democratic state really ought to be dealt with in a normal judicial process," said Hany Megally, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.

The same laws have been used to try Islamic activists seeking to overthrow the government and a prominent advocate for democratic reform. There is no appeal unless the president intervenes.

Two of the men were charged today with religious offenses — they include contempt for religion, falsely interpreting the Koran and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas — which could get them five years in jail. The morals charge leveled against the rest carries a maximum of three years.

Lawyers and human rights groups said the accused had undergone humiliating medical examinations in prison to determine whether they had recently engaged in anal intercourse. In addition, they said, the men were apparently beaten until they confessed to having a preference for homosexual acts.

Lawyers said they believed that the government’s case was weak because such morals charges usually require witnesses.

"It is a typical government attitude, to create from nothing cases to keep people busy talking and distract them from more pressing problems like poverty, corruption and unemployment," said Maha Youssef of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Human Rights, which is defending several of the men.

The defendants, handcuffed and dressed in white T-shirts and pants, occupied one entire side of the stifling room. They first bellowed separately, then chanted in unison, that they did not want their pictures taken, sobbing or hiding their faces with scraps of newspaper or plastic bags whenever a flash popped.

Several of their relatives screamed, slapped their own cheeks and then beat photographers, while one prisoner had what guards called an epileptic seizure and had to be carted from the room.

The prosecution, yelling above the din, did not present any evidence against the accused before the judge delayed the next hearing until Aug. 15. The accused have been held without bail for more than two months.

Many of the men were arrested on May 11 when the state security police raided the Queen Boat, a Nile riverboat discothèque moored in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood in front of the Marriott Hotel.

The police built a sensational case against the men in the press, releasing their names and details about some of their jobs, like the director of a department at a well-known medical school. The reports hinted that the men had taken part in Satanic rituals and in a pornographic film to be released over the Internet. Those accusations later disappeared.

"It is a way of sending a signal to the rest of the community that if you try to be more public about your behavior, you run the risk of being arrested and convicted," Mr. Megally said.

Sometimes the vice squad logged on to matchmaking services that advertised men seeking men, answered the announcements in Egypt and then arrested the men who turned up for rendezvous. In one case a student in the United States planning to attend the American University in Cairo in the fall posted a notice on a gay bulletin board asking if he would have to spend the year in celibacy. The Egyptian student who responded saying there was a gay community here was arrested.

Since then the 20 or so gay chat rooms where Egyptians used to talk about their problems or cruise have virtually shut down, and even those outside the country carry warnings. "Egyptian state security police may be monitoring you!" reads one.

Being openly gay is not seen as a human rights issue here, and there is virtually no public sympathy for the defendants.

Dr. Abd al-Moaty Bayoumy, dean of theology at Al Azhar University, noted that Islamic law considers homosexuality a worse offense than adultery and is punishable by death.

"We consider it strange how the laws of Western civilization are not alert to the danger of this crime, but encourage it in the name of freedom," he said.

Even the directors of some local human rights organizations defended the government. "No one has the right to be queer, because this goes against nature," said Muhammad Zari of the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners.

"Even if Egypt permitted such practices, which is not the case and never will be," he said, "the society will never accept it, because it violates our religion, our beliefs."

[Home] [News] [Egypt]