Group Can’t Defend Gays in Egypt
Associated Press, February 11, 2002
BY Nadia Abou El-Magd
CAIRO, Egypt—Homosexuality is so detested in
Egyptian society that Egypt’s largest human rights group says it cannot
speak out against state prosecutions of gay men—even though foreign
observers have been.
Most recently, French President Jacques Chirac said Saturday he had
expressed concern to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about a court’s
November sentencing of 23 men to up to five years in jail for engaging in gay
sex. Chirac said he was not seeking to interfere, but he hoped "those
decisions might be overturned."
Islam prohibits homosexuality and, though not explicitly referred to in the
Egyptian penal code, a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and
debauchery are applied to homosexuals.
This zero tolerance has intimidated human rights organizations in Egypt,
which defend women, minority Coptic Christians and prisoners but not gays.
"What could we do? Nothing. If we were to uphold this issue, this
would be the end of what remains of the concept of human rights in
Egypt," Hisham Kassem, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human
Rights, said Sunday.
"We let them (gays) down, but I don’t have a mandate from the
people, and I don’t want the West to set the pace for the human rights
movement in Egypt."
Egyptian human rights groups long have been in a delicate position,
politically and financially. International human rights groups accuse the
Egyptian government of trying to silence them by limiting their foreign
funding—their only real source of revenue—and arresting rights activists.
Last year in Cairo, 52 men were tried by an Emergency State Security Court
on charges of immoral behavior and contempt of religion after police raided a
Nile-boat restaurant and accused them of taking part in a gay sex party.
The court was created by 1981 laws to protect against threats to national
security. Twenty-three of the men were convicted and sentenced; appeal from
the emergency courts is limited.
At least eight more men were arrested in January on suspicion of homosexual
behavior in what the press called a crackdown on a "network of
perverts." Their detention was extended by 45 days last week as the
investigation continued. No trial date has been set.
Egyptian police also continue to track down gays by monitoring Web sites
Hossam Bahgat, founder of a new Egyptian human rights group, said his
center intends to protect personal rights, including those of a gay person.
"People have the right to reject homosexuality, but we believe that
any moral conviction shouldn’t be the basis—and shouldn’t take the form—of
discrimination or persecution," Bahgat told The Associated Press.
His would be the first rights group in Egypt to consider discrimination
based on sexuality among its issues of concern.
Last week, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., denounced Egypt’s
treatment of homosexuals in declining an invitation to a government-sponsored
forum on cross-cultural understanding.
The issue hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Egyptian media, which tends to
espouse the view that attitudes toward homosexuality amount to a cultural
difference between East and West.
In its latest issue, the pro-government Rose El-Youssef weekly described
complaints by the global political and human rights community as "an
international homosexual campaign against Egypt."
Hussein Derar, deputy-assistant foreign minister for human rights, also
attributed differing attitudes toward homosexuality to the difference between
Middle Eastern culture and Western culture.
"They have their Western culture and we have our Islamic
culture," Derar told the AP. "We are a religious society.
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