Egypt Party Raid Puts Focus on Gays
Associated Press, July 16, 2001
By Mariam Fam
CAIRO, Egypt Police swooped down on the floating
restaurant before dawn, rounding up 55 men they said were homosexuals having a
The arrests and impending trial have been big news in Egypt, where
homosexuality, while not explicitly a crime, is met with zero tolerance and
seen as a shameful sin.
On Wednesday, 52 of the men face their first court hearing on charges of
immoral behavior and contempt of religion. Three of those arrested, who were
found to have only taken pictures on the boat, were released.
Prosecutors have not released details of the case against the men, but
since their arrest May 11, Egyptian newspapers have published their names and
pictures and accused them of homosexuality and scorning religion. Some stories
were illustrated with photos of nude men cuddling in a bedroom that apparently
had nothing to do with the boat arrests.
The boat, anchored in the Nile off Cairos upscale island of Zamalek, was
known to be popular among homosexuals, which aroused concerns that those
detained were targeted solely for being gay and not for any actions.
An American living in Cairo who was on the boat during the raid said his
friends are homosexuals but were doing nothing offensive. Speaking on
condition he not be identified, the man said that he was not arrested and that
police seemed to take only those who appeared Egyptian.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said it feared
"these men are detained purely on the grounds of their alleged sexual
In a joint protest statement, the International Gay and Lesbian Human
Rights Commission and the New York-based Human Rights Watch said, "This
case exhibits of some of the worst features of Egypts justice system."
Amnesty International said "contempt of religion," a crime
punishable by up to five years in prison, has been used by Egyptian officials
in the past "as the legal pretext for the imprisonment of prisoners of
Gays in Egypt keep a very low profile because of the widespread
conservative social outlook.
To many Egyptians, calling for gay rights is out of the question because
they believe religion be it Islam or Christianity forbids
"Any behavior that is rejected by both society and religion has to be
punished. Otherwise wed be living in a jungle," said Egyptian
sociologist Azza Korayem, an adviser at the National Center for Sociological
and Criminal Studies.
In June, Egypt led a group of Muslim nations of the United Nations that
tried to strip U.N. credentials from a rights group because its name
specifically refers to homosexuality. A majority vote let the San
Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission keep its
Jawad Fatayer, who teaches sociology at the American University in Cairo,
said the way Egyptian society and its media reacted to the case sends one
clear message: "Absolute rejection."
He said a society has the right to defend its values and traditions and
define what it will and wont accept. Still, he added, Egypt should go
beyond rejection and try to understand what pushes people toward
"You can put people in jail, but you cant end the phenomenon. Its
going to show up again. Saying no is not enough," Fatayer said.
Gasser Abdel-Razek, director of the independent Hisham Mubarak Law Center,
an Egyptian human rights group that is helping the boat case defendants, has a
He doesnt think the government is really interested in cracking down on
homosexuality but rather wants to distract people from other issues in Egypt,
where poverty is widespread.
"These people are targeted and they have not committed any
crime," he said.
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