Trial Begins in Cairo; Protests Gather Around World
August 17, 2001
By Will OBryan
Protesters in several cities around the world on Wednesday, Aug. 15, marked
the opening of the trial of 52 Egyptian men in a Cairo State Security Court
accused of "immoral behavior" and "contempt of religion."
Human rights activists contend that the May 11 arrests at a disco frequented
by gay men were made solely on the basis of perceived sexual orientation,
although there is no Egyptian law that specifically prohibits sex between
members of the same gender. That is a charge a senior diplomat at the Embassy
of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington strongly denied Wednesday,
insisting, "This trial is not an interference in sexual
The diplomat emphasized that the charges revolve around public sex and
Faisal Alam, director of Al-Fatiha, the Washington-based organization for
gay Muslims that initiated Wednesdays protests, was critical of the embassys
version of events.
"How would [the diplomat] define public sex?" Alam asked
rhetorically. "Reports show that they were only dancing and socializing.
The fact of the matter is that there has been a crackdown for the past
year against the gay community in Egypt. To deny that fact is
Alam addressed about 60 protesters during Wednesday evening rush hour in
front of the Egyptian Cultural and Educational Bureau on the 1300 block of New
Hampshire Avenue, NW. "People of faith, people of conscience will not sit
quietly while we see our brothers and sisters around the world being
persecuted," Alam told the crowd through a megaphone. "While we are
here, there are 52 men sitting in prison wondering what their fate will
Sharon Burke, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at
Amnesty International USA, also addressed the Washington crowd, as faces were
intermittently visible behind the windows of the bureau.
"When you are here today, youre standing up for human rights,"
Burke said. "Youre standing up for these 52 men who have no voice. You
give them a voice."
Burke spoke with the Blade as the rally ended, detailing a meeting
she and a fellow AIUSA member had with embassy officials earlier in the day.
"They told me today that these arrests were the result of an
investigation," Burke said, adding a new twist to the story, now three
months old. Burke added that between various international and Egyptian news
reports, eyewitness accounts from Cairo, and information from the Egyptian
government, the situation is unclear.
"[The government] is spinning it in a way that makes it hard [for
embassy staff] to be sympathetic," said Burke, explaining that during her
meeting, embassy officials appeared to be gleaning information from a
Burke added that in her dealings with representatives of Islamic countries,
Egypt is more open to discourse than are its peers.
"Egypt is a much more international country, much more cosmopolitan.
These [embassy staff] guys are pretty forthcoming," said Burke.
"They stressed that homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt. They agreed to
carry our concerns back to the Egyptian government."
Burke said that the situation for the 52 detainees might be grim. "In
Egypt, trials like this in the Security Courts tend to happen very
quickly," said Burke. There is no possibility to appeal a Security Court
"I think youll see a backlash in Egypt," Burke added, positing
that despite the possibility of anti-gay repercussions, the protests are the
detainees only hope. "These guys are in trouble either way."
Sydney Levy of the San Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human
Rights Commission spoke to the Blade Wednesday from a protest at the
Egyptian consulate in that city. He estimated there were about 60 people at
that gathering. Like Burke, he stressed the need for international attention
for the 52 Egyptians.
"What needs to be emphasized about this case is that only
international support will help," Levy said. "Thats the only
thing that stands between these men being [given] a sentence no one can appeal
and going free. The trial is unfair, it is unjust. They shouldnt be tried.
The only thing that will settle this at this moment is international support
only by making sure that the Egyptian government understands that we are
watching, that we care."
As the Wednesday protests occurred around the world, reports from Cairo
began to filter out with news of the trials opening.
"I want to know, what have I done?" one of the defendants, an
English teacher at the British Council in Cairo, asked reporters through the
bars of a cage housing the prisoners in the courtroom, according to the BBC.
"I am not a criminal to be in the prison. Ive been in the prison for
95 days, for what crime?
People are suffering, we are really suffering.
Whats the aim behind all this?"
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