Last edited: February 14, 2005

Gays Petition Foreign Office Over Arrests at Egyptian Disco

The Guardian, 21 August 2001
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By Lucy Ward, political correspondent

The Foreign Office is being challenged to warn gay travellers of the risks of visiting Egypt after 52 men at a Cairo disco were arrested and charged with sex offences.

Days before the men return to court for Egypt’s biggest gay trial, a petition launched today will press for warnings to be placed on Foreign Office websites alerting tourists to the apparent government clampdown.

The human rights campaign group Amnesty International has already called for a tourist boycott of Egypt, and the mass arrests prompted international protests.

The petition is being organised by the gay internet company A spokesman, Mark Watson, said: "We understand that Europeans were arrested at the same time as the 52 Egyptians but were released after questioning. Gay groups in Cairo are urging gay tourists not to visit the country.

"We are calling on the Foreign Office to update its travel advice notice for Egypt."

The petition will also urge the FO minister with responsibility for the Middle East, Ben Bradshaw, to express concern.

The 52 Egyptians, arrested in May when police raided the Queen Boat, a floating disco on the river Nile, are due to appear at a closed court on August 29 in Cairo. They could face prison terms of between three and five years.

Although homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, regulations on offending "public morals and sensitivities" are often used against gay men.

Egypt’s prosecutor general, Maher Abdel-Wahid, has accused the defendants of "exploiting Islam through false interpretation of verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, in order to propagate extremist ideas".

They are also charged with "performing immoral acts, the use of perverted sexual practices as part of their rituals, contempt and despite of heavenly religions, and fomenting strife".

The case is being treated as a matter of state security and will be tried under the emergency law established in 1981 to protect the Egyptian government from Islamic militants. There is no right of appeal, but sentences have to be ratified by the president.

The accused, aged between 18 and 35, are all Egyptians. About a dozen Europeans, along with a Saudi, a Qatari and a Kuwaiti, were released on the spot. Women were also allowed to leave the boat, which was not an exclusively gay venue but, unlike most discos in Cairo, had no "couples only" policy.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We keep our travel advice under constant review and will obviously look at new information and whether it warrants an update when it comes in."

FO website advice on Egypt was that travellers should respect local customs and sensitivities, she added.

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