Last edited: February 12, 2005

House Democrats Urge Sanctions on Egypt for Gay Persecution

Gay Dems urge funding, trade cuts over anti-gay crackdown

Washington Blade, May 9, 2003

By Kevin Spence

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass) is ratcheting up the pressure on Egypt, the second-highest foreign recipient of U.S. aid, to cease its crackdown on gay activity. Frank, along with openly gay Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the highest-ranking member of the International Relations Commission, sent a letter to Congress on May 2 asking to “withhold any support for a U.S.-Egypt Free Trade Agreement.”

Frank and other Americans said they are disturbed by the roundup, conviction and re-conviction of reportedly gay Egyptian men.

“All three members wrote to every member of the House of Representatives urging them to uphold any support for a U.S.-Egypt Free Trade Agreement, until the government of Egypt stops its brutal systematic persecution of gay men,” said Daniel McGlinchey, a spokesperson for Frank’s office. “This is our effort to actively oppose these kinds of negotiations until they stop their mistreatment of gay men.”

Michael Heflin, the director of Amnesty International USA’s OUTFront Program, is supporting the legislators’ efforts. “Our government is providing a lot of support,” he said. “We have potential leverage to pressure Egypt.”

Phone calls to the Egyptian Consulate and the Mission to the U.N. requesting a response to the letter were not returned.

According to Heflin, the lack of specific laws gives Egyptian officials wide leeway to interpret the law as they see fit.

“All of the men who have been arrested over the last year were accused of ‘habitual debauchery,’” Heflin said. “Egypt is one of the few countries in the Middle East that does not explicitly criminalize homosexuality, but instead, they use the charge of ‘habitual debauchery’ as a way of convicting gay men.”

Faisal Alam, founder and director of Al-Fatiha, an American gay Muslim organization, also supports the effort by Frank and his allies.

“Our tax dollars, indirectly and directly, fund the oppression of gay men,” said Alam, adding that the United States hasn’t taken human rights abuses into account in dealing with the Egyptian government. “Our own government has virtually done nothing and not spoken out publicly to the highest levels of the Egyptian government.”

Alam complained that the persecution has been occurring for years. He said the reason no high-level U.S. official has spoken out about the abuses is because Egypt is viewed as an ally in the war on terrorism.

“There are many, many countries, including Egypt, where their campaigns have increased to root out, to arrest, and to torture the gay community,” Alam said. “Under the guise of ‘war on terrorism’ it’s easy to get away with heinous acts. No one will hold them accountable, especially the United States.”

Assaults on local gays

Alam said the continued assault on the Egyptian gays is especially tragic because it is being mandated by the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Gay Egyptians seeking asylum in the United States are often caught in discriminatory immigration laws.

“They’re finding they’re not wanted here as well, given the new INS crackdown” on gay immigrants, Alam said. “It’s ironic. They’ve fled the countries oppressing them, and they’re coming to a country not wanting them.”

In May 2001, 52 men ?nbsp;called the “Egyptian 52” ?nbsp;were arrested on a Nile barge. The men have alleged they were beaten with sticks, subjected to anal cavity searches and humiliation, and made forced confessions. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission have been monitoring the cases.

Even the U.S. State Department’s own Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor has documented Egyptian attorneys’ complaints about torture and forced confessions. Defendants in other cases involving homosexuality have claimed that they were tortured to extract confessions to the charge of “debauchery.”

Last month, the U.N. Commission for Human Rights tabled for one year any consideration of a first-ever resolution condemning anti-gay abuses. Opposition to the resolution was led by Islamic countries and the Vatican, but the United States also indicated it would abstain from voting on the measure.

A coalition of human-rights groups is planning a series of rallies worldwide this weekend to confront Egyptian diplomats, including by Amnesty International and Al-Fatiha at the Egyptian Consulate in New York.

In Washington, D.C., the protesters will meet Friday at the Dupont Italian Kitchen for a teach-in. Events will culminate in a petition gathering and delivery to the Egyptian Embassy.

“I would encourage the LGBT community in the U.S. to contact the Egyptian embassy,” said Heflin, of Amnesty International. “The U.S. government is not playing a leadership role in protecting LGBT rights.”

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