Anger Over Egypt Gay Trial
August 15, 2001
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo
The trial of 52 gay Egyptian men accused of offending religion and
practising debauchery has attracted international concern, with gay
demonstrations planned in other countries in protest.
The men were arrested in May when police raided a disco on the luxury Queen
Boat, moored on the Nile in the Zamalek district of Cairo.
Dozens of men without women partners were detained. Later, in custody, they
were subjected to internal medical examinations to see if they had had gay
The floating disco was a popular gay hang-out becauseunusually for an
Egyptian nightclubit allowed men in alone.
It had been raided before but never on quite this scale. Now, the Queen
Boat says it is under new management and hasemphaticallychanged its
"Couples, couples, couplesman and woman," says the manager.
The clientele are also seemingly anxious to make clear that there was no
confusion over their sexual identity:
"I am not gay, I am a man ... this is something thats not allowed
under my religion," says one man.
"We are in Egypt and we have rules and we have religion. If you would
like to do this then you can go to Europe, you cant do it in Egypt,"
In fact, Egyptian law does not criminalise homosexuality. The charge
against the men, of practising debauchery, is usually used against prostitutes
who are tried in criminal not state security courts.
Nigad Borai, a pro-democracy activist, says there is not one article on
the penal code against homosexuals.
He believes the case, at root, is an attempt by the authorities to deflect
peoples attention from other problems.
"Were facing a very, very bad economic situation. Were facing a
very bad political situation. Then from time to time its better for the
government to divert attention from the real problems that they face," he
They used to say that we dont have homosexuals ... homosexuals are only
in the West Horus, gay activist Some gay Egyptians believe their
increasing visibility on the internet may have prompted the authorities to
act, but they say they also make an easy target.
Homosexuality is a major social and cultural taboo, and there is little
sympathy on the street for the 52 men now on trial.
A cultural clash has now erupted between Egyptian and foreign human rights
activists, who are disappointed that local groups have not wanted to get
Hisham Kassem of the Egyptian Human Rights Organisation says that taking on
gay rights could jeopardise other work, saying the government would use the
issue to discredit pressure groups.
Human rights activists have also condemned the way the story has been
handled by the Egyptian press.
The accused were subjected to medical examination There were lurid accounts
of what was alleged to have happened on the Queen Boat, including false
reports of a gay wedding on board. The names and workplaces of the defendants
were also put into print.
One gay activist has been monitoring the way the case has been reported.
To prevent himself being identified he now calls himself Horus, after a
Pharaonic god who had an affair with his uncle.
"In all the Egyptian media theyve been attacking homosexuals and
describing them as agents of Israel and of course they dont mention the
word homosexualsthey say perverts," he says.
Change of attitude
Horus says that as Egypts gay community has come out on the web, there
has been a change of attitude on the part of the authorities.
"They used to say that we dont have homosexuals ... homosexuals are
only in the West. Just lately they started arresting homosexuals through the
net by going to matchmakers websites and making dates with gay men and then
arresting them," he says.
Now most of the mailing lists have closed down, and Horus says gay
Egyptians, who can, are trying to leave the country.
An already stigmatised community has been pushed even further underground.
With the current trial, more than 50 men could face up to three years behind
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