Last edited: January 03, 2005

Egyptian Trial Draws International Concern

The Data Lounge, August 17, 2001

CAIRO, Egypt—The trial of 52 gay Egyptian men accused of "offending Islam" and "practicing debauchery" continues to arouse concern and promises of gay-organized protests in major world capitals, the BBC reports.

The men were arrested in May when police raided a luxury river boat called "Queen Boat" moored on the Nile in Cairo. The floating disco was a popular gay hang-out because it allowed men to enter without the accompaniment of women, which us highly unusual.

The Queen Boat’s new management is emphatic about the changes in its door policy since the raid. "Couples, couples, couples—man and woman," the BBC quotes a manager as saying.

Nigad Bor’ai, a pro-democracy activist, told the news agency he believes the case is primarily an attempt by Egyptian authorities to deflect people’s attention from other problems.

"We’re facing a very, very bad economic situation. We’re facing a very bad political situation. Then from time to time it’s better for the government to divert attention from the real problems that they face," he says.

Many gay Egyptians believe their increasing visibility on the internet may have prompted the authorities to increase its surveillance of the community, but they say they also make an easy target.

One of the defendants, an English teacher at the British Council in Cairo, struggled to talk to reporters through the bars of the defendants’ enclosure. "I want to know, what have I done? 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?"

The signs of an impending crackdown were visible early in the year, when the government began the systematic closing of Turkish baths in Cairo, long one of the few safe havens in Egypt for gay men to socialize and find partners.

The February 2001 bath closures coincided with the shutting down of several websites catering to gay Egyptians. The offices were raided by security officials, the operators arrested and the computers seized.

The BBC reports a cultural clash has erupted between Egyptian and foreign human rights activists, who are angry that local groups have shown absolutely no interest in involving themselves in the case. Hisham Kassem of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization told the BBC that taking on gay rights could jeopardize other work.

The Egyptian press has also been avidly whipping up the sensational aspects of the story. "In all the Egyptian media they’ve been attacking homosexuals and describing them as agents of Israel, and of course they don’t mention the word ‘homosexuals’ — they say ‘perverts,’" a source calling himself Horus told the BBC.

He said that as Egypt’s gay community came out on the web, the authorities adopted a more aggressive posture. "They used to say that we don’t 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."

Horus says that with most of the mailing lists closed down, gay Egyptians are keeping a low profile, meeting in small groups and leaving the country if they have the means to do so.

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