Last edited: January 25, 2005

Egyptian Government Denies Gay Crackdown

The Data Lounge, April 4, 2003

CAIRO—Despite mass arrests and a widespread crackdown aimed at smothering what is left of a once thriving gay scene in Cairo, the Egyptian government has denied a concerted campaign of anti-gay suppression, The New York Times reports.

The Egyptian government dramatically escalated a months-old nationwide crackdown against its gay citizens in May 2001 when Cairo police stormed a gay party held on a Nile river boat, arresting everyone on board.

Some 52 predominantly gay men were taken into custody by Cairo police in the raid. Early reports carried in the state-run press said the party-goers aboard the riverboat disco called the “Queen Boat” were celebrating a gay commitment ceremony. Later dispatches described an orgy. These claims were later proven to be fabrications by the authorities.

Two weeks ago, a Cairo court convicted 21 of the Queen Boat defendants of “debauchery” and sentenced each to three years in jail, after two highly publicized trials that were widely criticized by human rights groups and Western governments. Gay Egyptians, lawyers and human rights groups told The Times that the Queen Boat case was only the beginning of an intense nationwide crackdown that has quietly intensified over the past year.

Since the beginning of 2003, the police have made an average of one arrest a week. Scott Long, the Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch, said he suspected the number of arrests was higher than the almost 70 tracked since the Queen Boat raid.

One diplomat told The Times that several Western governments continued to express concerns about the treatment of gays and were pressing the Egyptians on the matter. One unnamed Western official, “It’s definitely one of the top issues on our agenda.”

Given the current turmoil in the region, such vague assurances have given few advocates much hope. Especially when coupled with continued and unwavering opposition to social liberalization from the leadership in Cairo.

Nabil Osman, a government spokesman, flatly denied any such crackdown is underway, though he did say that homosexuality was in “sharp contradiction with our religious values.”

“You are allowing homosexuality abroad,” Osman said. “It is not accepted here, and everybody should accept that what is good for America or for Europe may not be good for another place.”

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