Last edited: December 08, 2004

Trial Begins in Cairo; Protests Gather Around World

Washington Blade, August 17, 2001

By Will O’Bryan

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 preferences."

The diplomat emphasized that the charges revolve around public sex and blasphemy.

Faisal Alam, director of Al-Fatiha, the Washington-based organization for gay Muslims that initiated Wednesday’s protests, was critical of the embassy’s 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 ridiculous."

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 be."

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, you’re standing up for human rights," Burke said. "You’re 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 government statement.

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 conviction.

"I think you’ll 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. "That’s 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 shouldn’t 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 trial’s 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. I’ve been in the prison for 95 days, for what crime? … People are suffering, we are really suffering. What’s the aim behind all this?"

[Home] [World] [Egypt]