Islam and Homosexuality
Useful website for LGBT Africa: http://www.mask.org.za/
Important Report: In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct 3/04 by Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Project at Human Rights Watch
‘I Exist’: http://www.unlearninghomophobia.com/iexist_presskit/IExist.Info.pdf
‘Dangerous Living’: http://www.afterstonewall.com/dangerous.html
February 15, 2001
‘Gay rights’ protest as Egyptians close baths
by Philip Smucker in Cairo
Turkish baths in Cairo are being closed amid an accelerating campaign against the ostracised homosexuals of Egypt. The government’s moves against 13 Turkish baths in the capital have angered members of the city’s gay community, who use the baths as meeting places. Egypt’s ministries of culture and tourism say they are seeking status for the baths, or hamams, some of which date back to the 15th century. They argue that the crumbling buildings require urgent restoration.
The bitterness sparked by the closures has highlighted the isolation of the gay community in Egypt. Though often condemned by a conservative Islamic society, they have been tolerated for centuries. Baths, rather than bars, have been their traditional meeting places. One campaigner said: “The government knows these are the only places we have to meet and so they are trying to restrict us further.” The authorities have also closed several websites for homosexuals.
Government officials say the closures are not politically driven. They say the baths, heated by wood fires beneath their marble floors, are crumbling under the strain of several hundred years of use and many will reopen after renovation.
February 23, 2001
Egyptians Jailed For Gay Sex Website
Two men in Egypt have been given a jail sentence for setting up the country’s first gay sex website. Sami Gamal, 27, and Gameel Gebreel, 32, set up a website and posted explicit pictures of themselves. They also touted for gay sex. Gamal has been jailed for three years and Gebreel for 15 months by a court in Cairo. Homosexuality is illegal in Egypt.
May 7, 2001
Arab Feared Secret: AIDS
by Mariam Fam
Cairo Egypt (AP) – Seven months ago, this 38-year-old engineer thought about AIDS — if he thought about it at all — with pretty much the same attitude as many others in Egypt and across the Arab world. “All I knew about it was that it kills patients in a day or two at the most … and that it hasn’t reached Egypt and only foreigners can suffer from AIDS,” the engineer said. That was before he was diagnosed with AIDS. Now, he says he would rather kill himself than tell his secret. He won’t allow his name to be used for fear of being rejected by family and friends who think of the disease as synonymous with sin and shame.
The Egyptian engineer’s reluctance to speak out is typical. In other places in the world, sports heroes and film stars have spoken publicly about having HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — as a way to educate the public. But in the Arab countries, silence remains the norm. As does ignorance. Some strict interpretations of Islamic prohibitions against premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality, coupled with stern conservative traditions means that publicly discussing sex – let alone educating people about it — is taboo.
Many argue that Islamic strictures on sex will protect Arab countries from an AIDS epidemic. But experts say the number of cases in Arab countries is far greater than reported. In Egypt, the United Nations estimate of HIV-positive cases is nearly 10 times the official number. The engineer said that had he known how AIDS was transmitted – he believes he was infected during homosexual sex — he would have been more cautious. Nasr el-Sayed, director of the government’s National AIDS Control Program, often encounters such ignorance. Even some doctors, he said, don’t believe AIDS can strike in Egypt, with 65 million people the Arab world’s most populous country.
“Some people refuse to even listen (to information) about the disease. ‘We’re good and religious people, what do we have to do with AIDS? This is for other people,’ they argue,” said el-Sayed, whose office was established in 1986, the year the first AIDS case was reported in Egypt. El-Sayed said his office’s seminars, lectures and pamphlets have made Egyptians more aware of the dangers of AIDS, but they still have much to learn.
Because of the stigma, many cases go unreported. Egyptian officials say they have recorded only 928 HIV-positive cases, but admit that is likely well below the real number. The United Nations estimated that by the end of1999, some 8,100 Egyptians were infected with HIV.
Egypt’s situation is typical of Arab countries. Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have an official estimate of HIV-positive cases. In Yemen, the Health Ministry says the actual number is much higher than the 1,200 cases recorded in the year 2000. Jordan is trying to educate the public about AIDS, but ads and leaflets stop short of discussing safe sex. Misconceptions about the disease persist even in countries where officials consider public awareness high. In Kuwait, people remain fearful of AIDS patients and do not want to mix with them, said Rashed al-Owaysh, the country’s director of public health.
Egypt’s Health Ministry launched an AIDS hot line in 1996,advertising it through leaflets and posters at subway stations and on buses. The hot line gets an average of 1,000 calls a month. “We talk about patients as human beings with whom we sit and are not afraid of,” said Mervat el-Geneidy, a psychiatrist who takes some hot line calls. She added that by acting as role models, experts can help the public accept AIDS patients. But despite such efforts, negative attitudes linger.
The Egyptian engineer with the disease said Arab society regards AIDS patients as sinners who deserve what they got. He feels guilty himself. Though he believes he got AIDS through homosexual sex during army service eight years ago, he said he is not gay. Just as many Egyptians think of AIDS as a “foreign disease,” they refuse to admit that homosexuality or prostitution exists in Egypt, said Sana’ Nassif, who runs an AIDS program for the international aid group CARITAS.
Nassif, whose agency decided against creating a homosexual support group for fear of being accused of encouraging homosexuality, said this attitude makes it difficult to reach high-risk groups. Experts worry that the inferior status of women in Egypt puts them at greater risk. Nassif said some women who are certain their husbands are having affairs still do not dare ask them to use protection or be tested.
“It’s really tragic how women are unable to negotiate their own protection in wedlock or outside it,” said Jihane Tawilah, the World Health Organization’s regional adviser on sexually transmitted diseases. The engineer, who lives with his mother and siblings, said he is resisting the usual family pressures to get married because he doesn’t want to infect anyone. He is fearful his condition may be discovered because he has lost so much weight. “I just pray that God ends my life as soon as possible before more symptoms show,” he said. “I don’t want to create problems for my family.”
May 13, 2001
Egyptian police detain 60 men at gay wedding
Cairo – A gay wedding on the Nile turned sour when police rounded up 60 men for what they called “deviant sexual acts,” Egyptian court sources said on Sunday.They said five foreigners detained during last Wednesday’s wedding party on a boat moored on the Nile had been freed. Prosecutors were questioning 55 other revellers on possible charges of “violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity.”
The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of five years. Egyptian laws do not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, but the practice is taboo in this conservative, mostly Muslim country.
by Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The gay scene in Egypt may be very clandestine but it is definitely exciting and always unpredictable. It seems it’s almost a rite of passage for many young men but for others it’s often more a way of earning a little ‘baksheesh’. Discerning the difference is not easy since they all appear to delight in the fun and intrigue.
It was beautiful! I looked at the hand-woven cloth again. “…is only seventy pounds, mister.” The young Arab boy hesitated a second and then, taking my hand, slipped it under the cloth he was holding and wrapped it around his huge erection “…and for my friend, this is free.” This was the town of Aswan, southern gate to Egypt and the beginning of our journey down the Nile.
The noise and chaos of Cairo’s Ramses Station had been left behind the night before and traveling across the desert in the Tourist Express we’d reached Aswan in the early morning. Here we were joining the ‘Imhotep’, a river-cruiser of plush lounges, cocktail bars, boutiques and cabins just as beautiful with balconies and windows looking over the wide river to the northern hills beyond Elephantine Island. The luggage was brought in by a tall, slender young man dressed in smart ‘Whites’ who introduced himself as the cabin attendant, Joseph, and before leaving a few minutes later left no doubt that he was keen to offer more then just room-service….there was more to Egypt the temples and tombs!
Abandoned by the Pharaohs in the quarries above the town lies a gigantic, unfinished obelisk. Had it not cracked it was to have been the greatest ever raised to the glory of Amun. Just as interesting was the team of young Nubians, stripped to the waist, bodies gleaming with sweat as they loaded gravel onto the waiting transport truck–almost as interesting as the young man who casually took out his own considerable obelisk to piss up against the broken stones; there were photographic opportunities everywhere!
Moving on, shaded from the blazing sun by the little boat’s awning and cooled by the breeze coming off the lake we next visited the island temples of Phillae. Looking like a set for ‘AIDA’, the Priests in this ancient temple had seen the last sacred hieroglyphics carved and watched as the Emperor Hadrian, still grieving for his beloved Antinous, made sacrifice. This remote island refuge was the last stronghold of the ancient gods until an Imperial Decree from Christian Constantinople finally condemned and consigned the temples to history. It was here, also, that I bought the beautiful length of hand-woven cloth and made friends with an Arab boy!
The heat of the day had been tiring, but the warm night air was an invitation to explore the town. A little up-river was the elegant old Cataract Hotel used by Agatha Christie in her novel ‘Death on the Nile’. I’d only walked a few steps in that direction when a young Arab boy with a big smile and mischief in his eyes fell into step beside me. We never reached the gates of the old hotel. Sitting on a vine-covered terrace beside the river Ahmed and I talked, drank a few beers and discreetly explored each other under the table. It was after midnight when we left the little restaurant.
Aswan was still awake and light from the shops and stalls spilled onto the dark streets. Noise, smells, donkeys and dark-eyed Nubian boys. He led me through a maze of alleyways and souqs till we reached the deserted Public Gardens outside the town. Along the way we’d been joined by his friend, Mustapha, a boy still in his teens with equally mischievous eyes, just as big a smile and an even bigger eagerness to please. For a little baksheesh, he said, he would stand guard while Ahmed and I had fun. He lied. In a dark clearing behind some shrubbery Ahmed and I began working each other over. Mustapha couldn’t hold out and joined us for a free for all. The fatigue of the day dissolved in a delicious tangle of bodies.
The next day the ‘Imhotep’ headed out into the river and turned slowly northwards to Edfu. The passing scenery was breathtaking. Beyond the lush green belt of palm-fringed farmland loomed the towering cliffs and dunes of the Sahara and on the river graceful feluccas caught the desert winds and skimmed the water like swallows. Naked children splashed in the shallows and young men from the villages would turn modestly as we sailed by.
Stopping only at the temples of Kom Ombo we reached Edfu at sunset. It was a small town and after dinner I chose to relax on the pool-deck with a cold beer to watch the moons reflections on the river and the bustle on the waterfront. At about eleven I went back to the coolness of my cabin and a refreshing shower before bed.
The cabin phone rang. It was Joseph offering room service. He knocked quietly, entered, stripped off his uniform; nice body but I’d hardly got to grips with the situation when he groaned, filled my hand, re-dressed, thanked me–and disappeared. This had to be the shortest shipboard romance in history—and now I was ready!
It’s the night air: it carries a smell of adventure and intrigue. One of the horse-drawn carriages waiting on the quayside–a ‘caleche’–drew up as I stepped off the ‘Imhotep’ and the young driver fell into easy conversation as he trotted slowly beside me. Ali co-owned the caleche with his eldest brother and was on his way home. If I was looking for Coca-Cola, as I’d told him, I’d find some in the market and as he was going that way. We found and downed a couple of cold cokes and with our friendship cemented with coke (Coca Cola!) we trotted slowly back toward the cruise ship. “You like men,” he said. It was a statement. He knew this because I wore an earring and this was irrefutable ‘proof’.
As if this had already been planned, we trotted past the riverboat on the road out of the town and in the darkness of a palm grove beside the river called his horse to a halt. Two guys alone in the desert beside the Nile. This could have been a scene from a Kristen Bjorn movie or an MGM fantasy; any moment Mantovani would play a selection from ‘Kismet’. But wait, this was a serious moment as Ali turned his face to me, his eyes closed—this boy was for kissing. Our lips met, Mantovani played, the moon hid behind a cloud and all hell broke loose in a hail of denims, shirts, galabiyyas and sandals.
We returned from the temples of Edfu after breakfast the next day and before boarding the riverboat a dejected–looking store-owner tugged my sleeve and reminded me that I’d promised to visit his stall (?!). Gods and Tutankamuns stared down from every shelf. It was a small, hugely overpriced statuette of Horus, the falcon headed god whose temple we had just visited, that interested me. Bargaining was fierce. At last the storeman said he could go no lower, but if I took the statue would I be interested an a further discount of, should we say, eight inches?
Edfu slipped southwards and to the north still lay Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Karnak—and another adventure with another Ahmed. The Sound and Light at Karnak was an unforgettable end to the Nile journey. The next day we were to leave the ‘Imhotep’ and Egypt to continue our travels through France and Italy, but Egypt still held one more story: We met in front of the Winter Palace. Young, no great looks, but he had a physical sexiness about him. He talked soccer, but his body talked sex! “Come, sail with me, “he said waiving to where the deserted feluccas were tethered. Me, him, alone on the river. The night was mine! We walked together to the moorings.
Pandemonium: suddenly the quay-side became a shoving mass of men, women, chickens and goats and in two seconds flat I was sitting between Ahmed and a crate of chickens and heading out into the black waters of the Nile on a river taxi. My courage faltered as the lights of Luxor grew fainter, Was I crazy! Was I to disappear into the desert never to be seen again?
“Nubia Village…Nubia Village, my home!” Ahmed pointed excitedly to the lights on the approaching shore.
The ferry tied up alongside the market and erupted in a scramble of humanity and animals. A friend with an ancient and battered pickup was persuaded to give us a ride to Ahmed’s home a few kms outside the village where, Ahmed explained, I would meet “Fazzer, Bruzzer, Muzzer.”
Thirty minutes ago it was going to be fun in a felucca–now he wants me to meet mom, dad and the kids! Where was this all going to end? His home was a simple mud brick arrangement of rooms around a central courtyard and his family were warm and friendly. A hour later the old pickup came to fetch us again and we set off down the bumpy track back to the Nubian Village.
On one side, the deserted fields and dark date-palms grew down to the river’s edge and on the other, the moon shone on a desert stretching to the far-off sandstone cliffs. It was an enchanted vision. “You shy man?” I didn’t understand so I shook my head. “is good. My friend says he want for him to play also”. In the middle of no-where the old pick-up slowed to a halt. Without talking, without disturbing the silence, Ahmed, the taxi-driver and I got out of the truck and in an open field, washed over by moonlight and the warm scent of the desert, undressed. I was right, the night was mine–ours!
June 28, 2001
Egyptians in nightclub case charged with sodomy
Cairo – Fifty-two men detained in May after a police raid on a nightclub on the Nile have been charged with sodomy and religious crimes, the state prosecutor said on Thursday. “(The files of the) 52 men were transferred to a state security court in connection with charges of abusing religion to spread extremist ideas verbally and in writing…and practising sodomy,” Prosecutor General Maher Abdel-Wahid told reporters. Abdel-Wahid said three photographers who had also been arrested in the raid were set free.
Police said they had been watching the group for some time and had compiled a file on their practices before the nocturnal raid on the Queen Boat, known locally as a popular gay venue, on May 9. The defendants were also charged with distorting the Koran, causing offence to monotheistic faiths, immoral practices and praying in a manner which contradicts proper practice, Abdel-Wahid said. Two of the men were additionally charged with being “ringleaders and masterminds” of the group, he added. The charges carry a maximum total sentence of five years’ imprisonment, court sources said.
8 June 2001
Protest at Egypt “gay detentions”
The human rights organisation Amnesty International says it is “gravely concerned” about the detention of 54 Egyptian men, allegedly for their sexual orientation. The men were arrested by state security and vice officers nearly a month ago in a raid on a Nile river boat reportedly known as a meeting place for gay men. Amnesty says that the men have been subjected to examinations to determine if they had engaged in homosexual sex. It also said they showed signs of having been tortured since their arrest on 11 May. The organisation has called for their “immediate and unconditional release”.
The men — many reportedly in their teens — have been charged with contempt of religion and immoral behaviour. Egyptian law does not specifically prohibit homosexuality, but the charges of contempt of religion and immoral behaviour are “very broad,” Amnesty told BBC News Online. A spokesman said the immoral behaviour charge was added after the medical examinations and was “clearly” related to them. The organisation says it has received no response from Egypt’s public prosecutor to a letter expressing concern and seeking more details about the arrests. Raided before The Cairo Times newspaper reported that the boat where the men were arrested, the Queen Boat, has been raided before, but that suspects have never before been transferred to the prosecutor’s office to face formal charges.
The newspaper said that detainees are normally released after three to 10 days. Amnesty has also criticised Egyptian media reporting of the arrests. The suspects’ names have been published, as have some photos, places of work and one address. Homosexuality is taboo in Egypt, and the Cairo Times reported that several local human rights organisations were reluctant to intervene on behalf of the detainees because of the allegation of homosexuality. An appeals court in Egypt recently reduced the sentences of two men found guilty of setting up a website to promote homosexuality.
July 18, 2001
Egypt tries 52 suspected gay men for “immorality”
by Andrew Hammond
Cairo – A controversial trial opened on Wednesday in a Cairo state security court of 52 men suspected of homosexuality, as female relatives of the accused screamed hysterically and slapped and shouted at journalists. “Why are you taking pictures? Don’t take pictures! Don’t make a scandal!” two women shouted at a Reuters photographer, as they slapped and punched him in the face and tried to drag him outside the courtroom.
Many of the 52 men who filed into the cramped courtroom covered their heads with towels in an effort to hide their faces. One fainted, but recovered in the crowded stifling hot courtroom after the trial began two hours later than scheduled. The judge set the next trial session for August 15, when defence lawyers will begin their arguments. The men face charges including “forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propagate extremist ideas” and “practising sexual immorality” — seen as a euphemism for homosexuality, which Egyptian law does not expressly prohibit.
They were detained in May in a police raid on a floating nightclub on the Nile known locally as a popular gay venue. If convicted, the men could face five-year jail terms. The case, which has received extensive coverage in the local media, has aroused strong passions in conservative Egypt, where homosexuality is regarded as taboo. All of them pleaded not guilty when the charges were read out, some quoting Koranic verses to protest their innocence.
Dozens of angry relatives assailed waiting journalists outside the courtroom. “You journalists are filthy. The press wants to scandalise us!” angry women shouted, while pushing and kicking photographers. “The press fabricated this case.” Security guards with sticks cleared the courthouse of up to 200 people.
“This case is ridiculous. All he did was to be in the bar when they (police) rounded everyone up,” the mother of one of the accused, an English teacher, told Reuters. “He is really suffering in detention.” The case follows a string of publicised incidents involving homosexuality in the past year, including reports of gay soliciting on the Internet, which prompted one paper to call for the death penalty for homosexuals. The decision to try the men in a state security court under Egypt’s emergency laws, which have been in place since 1981, technically to counter Muslim militant violence, has raised eyebrows in Egypt and abroad.
August 15, 2001
(Translated from Egyptian)
Members of Congress announce their solidarity and allude to aid Homosexuals around the world unite to support Lot’s People in Egypt!
Homosexuals raised the slogan “Deviants of the World Unite!” in solidarity with their likes accused in the “Lot’s People” case. When the Egyptian government referred the 52 accused for trial it did not expect that allusions would be made to the sequestering of American aid in protest against the suppression of human rights and persecution of deviants. Today the members of 60 male and female homosexual organizations in 15 countries are organizing a boycott and activities to announce their mourning and their solidarity with their Egyptian colleagues, whose trial resumes as scheduled.
This may be the first time that homosexuals raise the slogan of world unity, following a call by a certain Faisal Alam, who heads a so-called grouping under the name of The Association of Muslim Homosexuals in the United States, in which he summoned his likes around the world to show solidarity with their fellow deviants in Egypt. Explaining the reason for the call, Alam said that government attacks on deviants were nothing new but that an international protest of this type was new.
He also criticized the feebleness of international pressure on governments that persecute deviants, while mentioning at the same time that “the campaign in the US congress in solidarity with us is a good beginning.” In a quick response homosexual organizations declared today, August 15, a day of protest and mourning and organized activities in solidarity on four continents, in Berlin, Canberra, Geneva, Kampala, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Atlanta, Vancouver and Washington.
In Washington, the display of solidarity did not stop with homosexuals, but spread into political circles and among congressmen, led by Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a homosexual, along with Tom Lants [?], well-known for his participation in any anti-Egyptian campaign. These two have collected 35 signatures from their fellow members of congress on a letter sent to President Hosni Mubarak.
In a surprise move, the congress members alluded to American aid to Egypt when they opened their letter by saying: Being strong supporters of aid to Egypt, we protest the trial of the homosexuals, and believe that bringing charges against men for practicing consensual sex with adults of the same sex is indefensible and inexplicable. Curiously, the members of Congress explain the connection between their protest and the allusion to a sequestering of aid by reference to the fact that aid is taken from American taxpayers’ money and that a not insignificant part of it is supplied by homosexuals! This aid is approved by members of Congress who support the right of deviants to life [sic] and reject any practices or discrimination directed against them.
September 5, 2001
Gays tortured in Cairo cells
Cairo Egyptian men standing trial on gay sex charges alleged here on Wednesday they are being subjected to
weekly torture sessions with interrogators applying electric shocks and prison guards beating them regularly since their arrest four months ago. Diplomats from several western countries are observing the trial of around 50 men at the state security court, and are “concerned” about reports the detainees have been badly treated in jail, one of them told AFP.
Ashraf al-Zannati, an Arabic language teacher at the British Council in Cairo, said through the bars of the courtroom cage that he and other defendants were subjected to a weekly “session of torture”. “We had one two days ago. You have to take off your t-shirt or whatever you’re wearing and they get other people to hit you on the back,” he told AFP, after being bustled into the state security court by guards. “They use wire and they usually hit us on the back so it doesn’t show, and with their hands,” said Zannati, adding that guards also threw their food onto the ground, making it inedible. Other defendants hid from reporters by covering their faces with handkerchiefs.
The group, branded “devil worshippers” by the local press, was reportedly arrested following a May 11 party on the Queen Boat nightclub on the Nile in central Cairo, but several defendants were arrested elsewhere. The main defendant, Sherif Farahat, who also stands accused of “exploiting the Islamic religion to spread extremist ideas”, told AFP his confession had been forced out of him.
While being interrogated, state security officers subjected him to “all that you can imagine”, he claimed. “I stayed there for more than three weeks, blindfolded. I could not see the people who were asking me questions and hitting me,” he said. Asked to give more details, Farahat said: “I’m afraid that they will hurt us if I tell you this, but electricity, this is the first thing I can tell you, not only to me but to other people.”
Defendants had charged at previous court sessions that they were beaten and tortured, and the French section of rights watchdog Amnesty International has called for an investigation to be opened into the allegations of torture. Defence lawyer Farid al-Dib also suggested in court that confessions had been forced out of the defendants and urged the presiding judge to clear them all, arguing that the state prosecution had fabricated the charges.
“The whole case, from beginning to end, has been oppression upon oppression,” he told the court, after listening to the prosecution reading from defendants’ confessions to having gay sex. Dib accused the prosecution of “scandalising” the nation by “portraying Egypt as transformed into a land of gays”, claiming none of the defendants were in fact homosexuals. All the defendants are accused of “practising debauchery with men”, although the practice of homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, based on Islamic law. Those convicted could face up to five years in prison and state security court sentences cannot be appealed under decades-old emergency laws aimed at protecting public order.
Amnesty International complained in June that “the majority, if not all, of these men are detained purely on the grounds of their alleged sexual orientation”. Diplomats from Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States have been following the trial due to the interest the case has drawn abroad. The trial opened in mid-July and will resume on September 19. Sapa-AFP
September 19, 2001
Boy, 15, is Sentenced in Cairo Gay Trial
Cairo – In the first verdict issued in a case arising from a police raid on a gay discotheque, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison. The boy, who was found guilty of practicing homosexuality and debauchery, is to serve his sentence in a prison for young offenders, a juvenile court ordered. The youth, who met his verdict with screams and sobs. was examined medically to prove he had committed debauchery, the court said. Gasser Abdel-Razek, a human rights activist, said the rulh1g was “based on what the judge thinks is socially acceptable or rejected, which ruins the whole concept of the rule of law”.
December 19, 2001
Egypt court cuts jail term for “gay” teenager
Cairo – A Cairo appeals court cut the jail sentence on Wednesday of an Egyptian teenager convicted of “practicing sexual immorality” from three years to six months, court sources said. Mohamed Abdel Fatah, 15, who was convicted of the charge which is a local euphemism for homosexuality, is set to be freed soon in account of time already served, the sources said. Fatah was arrested in May. The court reduced the maximum three-year sentence because it found the youngster lacked experience and the responsibility to determine “right from wrong,” the sources said.
The court ordered Fatah to be put under police surveillance for six months after his release. Last month, an emergency state security court sentenced 23 men to jail terms of one to five years for charges including “practicing sexual immorality,” while 29 were acquitted. Under Egypt’s emergency laws, the convicted men have no right of appeal and can only overturn the sentences through a petition to President Hosni Mubarak. Fatah, who was one of the group of men arrested after a raid on a popular gay venue in May, was able to appeal because as a minor he was tried in a juvenile court.
November 14, 2001
Accused Gay Egyptian Men Sentenced
by Sarah El-Deeb
Cairo – Egypt Twenty-three Egyptian men accused of being gay were sentenced Wednesday to jail terms from one to five years in a trial that human rights groups have denounced as persecution of people’s sexual orientation. Another 29 men also in the case were acquitted, prompting cries of joy from relatives who had denied the charges and accused the Egyptian media during the four-month trial of sensationalism and destroying the young men’s reputations.
There were chaotic scenes outside the courthouse before the verdicts were announced. Only a few people had been allowed into the courtroom, and police wielding sticks drove back a crowd of about 200 relatives, lawyers, journalists and passers-by outside. When news of the sentences came in bits and pieces from people leaving the court, one elderly woman joyfully distributed sweets and soft drinks, saying she had heard her son was among those acquitted.
The men were put to trial after police raided a Nile boat restaurant in May and accused them of taking part in a gay sex party. Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, and prosecutors leveled charges including debauchery and contempt of religion. Sherif Farahat received the longest sentence – five years for debauchery, contempt of religion, falsely interpreting the Quran and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas.
Mahmoud Ahmed Allam received three years on the religious charges, but was acquitted of debauchery. Twenty others were sentenced to two years and one man was sentenced to one year. “Egypt will not be used for the defamation of manhood and will not be a hub for gay communities,” prosecutor Ashraf Hilal told the court in September. The accused entered the courtroom Wednesday wearing white prison uniforms and hiding their faces behind masks and handkerchiefs. Local and international human rights groups criticized the trial.
Amnesty International accused Egypt of prosecuting people for their sexual orientation and said the type of court, the Emergency State Security Court, was not independent. Earlier Wednesday, a director of the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Scott Long, said the government was manipulating religion in its prosecution of the accused. “Fifty-two lives, 52 reputations and 52 human beings are being damaged. This is what is brutal about this,” Long said.
November 15, 2001
U.S. rights group condemns Egypt “gay” convictions
Cairo – A U.S.-based human rights group has condemned the convictions of 23 Egyptian men on charges including “practising sexual immorality,” a local euphemism for homosexuality. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement sent to Reuters on Thursday that the trial was “a miscarriage of justice” and criticised the government’s use of state security courts that were more susceptible to government influence.
A state security court on Wednesday sentenced one man, Sherif Farahat, to five years in jail for “forming a group which aims to exploit the Islamic religion to propagate extremist ideas” and “denigrating monotheistic religions,” as well as “practising sexual immorality.” The other 22 men received between one and three years, but a further 29 men were acquitted. Homosexuality is regarded as taboo in Egypt, but not expressly prohibited by law.
“The government prosecuted these men in an unfair trial, apparently in order to distract public attention from their own unpopular policies, and to placate conservative elements in Egyptian society,” said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. The men were tried under Egypt’s emergency laws, which allow no right of appeal and whose verdicts can only be overturned through a petition to President Hosni Mubarak. Other rights groups and Western diplomats have also condemned the trial. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday France was concerned by the sentencing. “We hope that measures of clemency will intervene in their favour,” Bernard Valero told a daily briefing of journalists, adding that France would “continue to follow this case closely.”
Stork criticised the Egyptian government’s increasing use of state security courts and military courts, whose verdicts are more susceptible to government influence. “The other casualty of this miscarriage of justice is the further undermining of Egypt’s independent judiciary,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
November 16, 2001
Activists: Egypt tortures suspected gays
Cairo – Only one day after a court sentenced 23 allegedly gay men to between one and five years of hard labor, an Egyptian newspaper reported on Thursday a new case against four presumed homosexuals who are also likely to face criminal charges. International gay rights activists, already outraged by the court case, are now warning that gays in Egypt may be under threat of systematic persecution. Local rights groups, however, have been mostly reluctant to intervene, feeling that any support of homosexuality could mean the end of a fledging civil society movement in socially conservative Egypt.
The Egyptian state daily Al Akbar wrote on Nov. 15 that police in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza had arrested four men who had turned their apartment into a “den of perversion.” The men are being held in detention on suspicion of “habitual practice of debauchery,” the same charge leveled at 52 men arrested at a Cairo nightspot earlier this year. Although they have not been formally charged yet, public prosecution services are holding them in prison under administrative detention.
Although homosexuality is not specifically referred to in the Egyptian legal code, prosecutors have been able to charge the men under a vague law relating to prostitution and obscene behavior. “This new case is eerily similar to the Cairo 52 case,” stated Scott Long, Program Director with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, an organization that monitors discrimination against homosexuals. “Presumed homosexuals arrested at random under the same law on prostitution, beaten in prison, and vilified by the media, while police fabricate facts that do not add up.” Long, who came to Egypt to monitor the case, spoke with one of the arrested men in a Cairo police station. Speaking in tears, the man said that he was forced to strip naked and beaten, splashed with cold water and left hanging by the bars of his prison cell, Long said.
An Egyptian gay rights activist who did not want his name mentioned also told United Press International that, contrary to police claims, the four men were not arrested together. He also said that two of the men were picked up from the streets seemingly at random. These charges of torture and wrongful arrest are similar to those reportedly experienced by some defendants in the Cairo 52 case. The Cairo 52 is not an isolated case,” Long said. “It is becoming clearer that persecution of homosexuals is a major human rights issue in Egypt. The international community should be clear with Egypt as well in demanding the Egyptian government to stop these abuses now.”
Earlier in the week, the final verdict for the four-month-long trial was handed down in a state security court in the Cairo neighborhood of Bab Al Khalq. Crammed in a small courtroom cage, 52 presumed homosexual men were handed down a mixed verdict. Although 29 of the defendants were acquitted of all charges, 23 were given one to five-year sentences. The final session of the trial, known as the “Cairo 52 case” or “Queen Boat case,” took place in chaos has many of the lawyers involved in the case were barred from entering the courtroom. Only a small contingent of lawyers, activists, journalists and diplomats were allowed — seemingly randomly — to enter the courtroom.
The judge’s speedy reading of the verdict in the noisy courtroom also led to much confusion, as most observers could not make out what the judge was saying. It took over two hours for the verdict to become clear–leaving many friends and relatives of the defendants frustrated. One man, whose friend was among the defendants, lurched out at cameramen in a fit of anger, shouting, “There is no justice!” as he mistakenly believed his friend has been convicted. He later discovered he had been acquitted. Family members were the most dismayed, with women weeping out loud and invoking God or distributing sweets to passers-by depending on the verdict.
The four-month long trial has taken a particularly heavy toll on families, as Egypt’s tabloid press published the names of the defendants and in some cases doctored pictures showing them in Israeli uniforms. Social stigma over homosexuality may mean that, even if acquitted, many defendants will not be able to return to their normal lives. Since the trial took place in a State Security Court, the defendants have no right to appeal. Under Egypt’s 1981 Emergency Law, State Security Court rulings must be ratified by the military governor, who is the president of the Republic. Although rights activists are appealing to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, they think he is unlikely to pardon the Queen Boat case defendants, whom have drawn little public sympathy. One Egyptian gay rights activist present at the hearing, who did not want his name to be published, suggested that Mubarak may have been behind the verdict, as State Security Courts are not considered to be independent from the executive. Nevertheless, activists are trying to put pressure on Egypt’s leader to pardon the men.
Long said he hoped Mubarak would reverse the ruling. “The decision now lies with President Mubarak,” Long stressed. But he also accused Egypt’s government of using the defendants as scapegoats at a time when Egypt is in economic and political difficulty. “The government is creating a distraction. It is taking the position of the fundamentalist right, which is usually the victims of these courts.” State Security Courts have been mostly used against Islamic fundamentalist over the past 20 years, ranging from the peaceful and popular Muslim Brotherhood movement to terrorist organizations such as Gamaa Al Islamiya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which conducted a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1990s and are thought to have links with Osama Bin Laden.
Egyptian human rights activists are now worried that the use of State Security Courts is spreading to include other forms of opposition. Over the past year, the courts have been used against civil society voices such as American University in Cairo sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an American-Egyptian academic, who worked on election monitoring programs. Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years of jail last summer despite international pressure to free him. However, local rights groups have been reluctant to defend the Queen Boat case defendants, with only one organization, the Hisham Mubarak Center, providing legal aid for eight of the defendants. Other organizations have steered clear of the case. “In my mind I have no doubt that this is a rights case,” explained Hisham Kassem, president of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights. “But sometimes you have to make tough decisions.
We are already seen as fifth columnists who get money from abroad, if we defend (the Queen Boat defendants) we will be seen as introducing homosexuality to Egypt. It would kill the concept of human rights in Egypt.” Foreign activists such as Long have little sympathy for this argument. “These men have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture and trial without the possibility of appeal,” he said. “These are not sexuality issues, they are human rights issues. They (local rights organizations) should not let the government play divide and conquer.” Although there is the possibility of defendants taking their case to the U.N. Commission of Human Rights, observers think that the current international situation may not favor the prospects of the Queen Boat case defendants. With the United States striving to keep the coalition against terrorism together despite Arab fears that the war on terrorism is turning into a war against Islam, human rights issues such as the Queen Boat case or the jailing of Saad Eddin Ibrahim are likely to play second fiddle to more pressing concerns.
December 18, 2001
Two Egyptian students jailed for gay sex offer
Cairo, Egypt – Two Egyptian university students have been convicted of offering gay sex on the Internet and sentenced to one year in prison, judicial officials said Tuesday. The Boulaq misdemeanor court on Thursday convicted Sherif Abu Bakr, from the Cairo engineering college, and Khaled Mohammed, from the science college, of indecent acts. The two were charged with setting up a Web site offering gay sex for 100 Egyptian pounds per hour, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
A security agent, posing as an interested gay, arranged a meeting with the students at a five-star hotel, where the two were arrested, the officials said. Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, but a wide range of laws covering obscenity and public morality are punishable by jail terms. The debauchery offense carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. Last month, an Egyptian court convicted 23 alleged homosexuals of debauchery and contempt of religion. They were arrested in May on a Nile boat restaurant. Gay cases have shocked conservative Egypt and prompted international attention and support from gay rights activists who have demonstrated in Geneva and in Stockholm against gay trials in the country.
February 11, 2002
Gay Egypt In the Dock :The big crackdown might reflect Cairo’s own insecurities
by Joshua Hammer
Harassment of homosexuals is hardly a new problem in Egypt. But in recent months an unprecedented vilification campaign against gay men has drawn international opprobrium–and cast new light on the often violent collision between traditional and Western values that is convulsing the developing world. The crackdown began last spring, when 52 allegedly gay men were arrested at a Cairo discotheque and in nearby apartments and hauled before Cairo’s State Security Court, normally reserved for trying terrorist suspects. There they were accused of crimes ranging from contempt of religion to false interpretation of the Qur’an. After a highly publicized trial, 23 were sentenced in November to prison terms of up to five years; the rest were acquitted.
Then, two weeks ago, security forces arrested eight men in the Nile Delta town of Damanhur on similar charges. Described in the local media as a “network of perverts,” the men are being held without bail. The crackdown has been a severe embarrassment for the government of President Hosni Mubarak, which has sought to present itself to the West as a bastion of moderation in a region fraught with radicalism. It also appears to be a calculated gamble by an insecure regime. The crackdown on gays, as diplomats and political analysts see it, reflects government concern about growing freedom of expression in Egypt–fueled by the proliferation of Internet chat rooms and Web sites beyond the regime’s control. The government may also have contrived the prosecutions to bolster its Islamic credentials at a time when Egyptians are angered by an imploding economy and the arrests of fundamentalists. The strategy may be working.
Although condemned abroad, the trial of the “Cairo 52” has met with nearly universal approval at home. “Being gay is not a fundamental right in Egypt,” says a Western diplomat in Cairo. “It’s seen as a perversion.” Until recently, it was also buried deeply in the Egyptian closet. The media and the government pretended that homosexuality was a Western “disease” that hardly existed in Egypt. As a result, many gays grew up in self-loathing and isolation, desperately searching for soulmates. “When I first had these feelings, I believed I was the only one,” says Ramzi, a 24-year-old Cairo lawyer. “Then I met someone, and we thought we were the only two. Slowly we found our way into the community.”
That community has maintained a vibrant yet fragile existence in urban centers such as Alexandria and Cairo. The capital’s affluent neighborhoods offer a handful of nightclubs, discos and bars where gay men can fraternize, although police harassment occurs regularly. Last summer Ramzi was picked up with 150 other gay men in a sweep of hangouts in central Cairo; he says he was punched, tortured with electric shocks and held in a cell, without charges, for three nights.
In the last two years, activists say, gays in Egypt have become more assertive. Dozens of Internet chat rooms have started up, allowing gay men to establish support networks, organize parties and arrange dates. (Online dating can be perilous: last year, gay activists and diplomats say, one man was lured to a Cairo rendezvous by a date who turned out to be a security agent; he was arrested and spent time in prison.) Overseas-based Web sites such as Gayegypt.com poke fun at Egypt’s autocratic regime with an irreverence no domestic site would dare express. One photograph on the site shows Mubarak pinning a medal on the uniform of a young soldier; the caption reads that the president is “choosing the prettiest gay cadet.”
Then came last year’s bust. The target was the Queen Boat –a three-deck floating discotheque and nightclub moored on the Nile whose Thursday–night parties attracted a sizable gay clientele. Police had raided the boat several times, usually releasing suspected gay men in a matter of hours or days. This time it was different. In the early hours of Friday morning, May 11, security agents rounded up dozens of men on the Queen Boat. After releasing the foreigners, the police jailed the Egyptians, then tracked down other gay men at home, using confiscated mobile phones and address books.
Arguing that their actions defiled Islam and thus constituted a risk to the state, prosecutors tried the case in State Security Court, a tribunal established by the emergency laws passed after Anwar Sadat’s 1981 assassination. In the past, the one-judge tribunal has been primarily used to try fundamentalist militants from the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Islamic Jihad; the tribunal traditionally hands out stiffer sentences than ordinary courts. Verdicts must be approved by the head of state, and defendants have no right to appeal. The case laid bare the revulsion felt toward homosexuals by Egyptian society. Local human-rights groups refused to provide support to the accused men, arguing that their ability to defend other victims of government abuse would be fatally compromised. “We’re already vilified as fifth columnists who take money from abroad to ruin the country’s image,” says Hisham Kassem, director of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization. “If we’d taken this on, we would have killed the concept of human rights in Egypt for 10 years.”
A respected professor of medicine in Cairo suggested a “sure cure” for homosexuality: castration. Many lawyers refused to touch the case, and those who did based their defense on denying that their clients were homosexuals. Prosecutors forced all the defendants to submit to anal examinations; Sherif Farahat, a health-club masseur who was described as the “ringleader” of a homosexual “network,” drew a five-year prison term; 22 others were sentenced to between one and three years.
Why did the government crack down so heavily? With about 15,000 Islamic militants in prison, and the government stranglehold over Egypt’s mosques becoming ever more extensive, some experts believe the prosecution was intended as a sop to the country’s conservative masses. The Egyptian government regularly doles out severe punishments for “defiling religion,” although the Queen Boat trial may be the first time sex was involved; last week a young man went on trial in central Cairo for, among other offenses, describing the house of the Prophet Muhammad as a “pile of stones.”
Other observers speculate that the government wanted to intimidate Cairo’s increasingly visible gay population. Western diplomats believe that Egyptian security forces learned through the Internet that several activists were contemplating launching a gay-rights movement in Egypt and applying for Western funding; a gay activist in Cairo confirms that he and several others have discussed such a project. “It’s possible that the security forces said, ‘Oh no–we won’t let that happen’,” says the Western diplomat.
Whatever the cause of the crackdown, the consequences for Egypt’s gay community have been drastic. Gays are avoiding their old public gathering places, including the Queen Boat. Many members of the community stay away from private parties as well, fearing they’ll be turned in to the police by informers. “Everybody is terrified,” says “Horus,” a ponytailed 34-year-old who runs an Internet chat room and monitors government abuses of homosexuals for international human-rights groups.
Gay Web-site users, fearful that their real identities will be ferreted out by eavesdropping security agents, are logging off in droves; the number of subscribers in Horus’s chat room has dropped from 400 to nine since the Queen Boat convictions. Horus, one of a tiny handful of gay Egyptians who have “come out” to their parents and friends, regards the anti-gay crusade with a grim sense of irony. “We’ve spent years just trying to prove that we exist,” he says, smiling wearily. “Now everybody knows that we exist – but they all think we’re monsters.”
12 February 2002
Egypt: Man Sent To Prison For Being Gay
A man in Egypt has been sentenced to three years in prison, convicted of “immoral practices” for putting an advert on the internet soliciting gay sex, according to local press reports. A court in Cairo sentenced computer engineer Zaky Sayed Zaky Abdel Malik to three years in prison followed by three years’ probation for “promoting immorality.” It is claimed that the police monitored Malik’s site, which he used to make contact with men for sex, for several months before arresting him. Earlier this year a number of men were arrested on a raid in Egypt for “immoral practices”.
They are being held awaiting a trial date. In November last year a state-security court imposed sentences ranging from one to five years on 23 young men charged with immorality and disrespect for religion. They were part of a group of 52 men who were arrested in a raid on a river boat in Cairo. Human rights groups around the globe, including Human Rights Watch, have condemned Egypt for their actions. Human rights groups within Egypt, however, are too frightened to speak out in support of the gay community for fear of losing what little human rights exist in the country.
February 11, 2002
Group Can’t Defend Gays in Egypt
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 promoting homosexuality. 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.
February 16, 2002
One Man’s Tale: A gay activist in Egypt describes the nightmare of the government’s crackdown on homosexuality
by Josh Hammer – Newsweek Web Exclusive
He was standing in the lobby of the Marriot Hotel in Cairo, just in front of the reception desk, when I first laid eyes on him. A chubby, pleasant-looking man in his mid thirties, he wore a fashionable black turtleneck and a pony tail that set him apart from the conservative-looking Arab businessmen congregated in the opulent lobby. I nodded at him and flashed him a copy of NEWSWEEK, as we’d agreed on the telephone; he gave me a little smile of acknowledgment and followed me out the glass door and onto the banks of the Nile.
As we stepped into a taxi for a trip across town to Cairo’s bustling bazaar district, Horus, as he called himself, admitted that his pony tail was a risqué statement in today’s conservative Egypt. “People give me looks,” he said, in near perfect English. “I’m now considered a ‘suspect'”. These are perilous times to be gay in Egypt. During the past 12 months, a massive police crackdown against homosexual men has terrified the country’s deeply closeted gay community and raised a chorus of criticism from human rights groups in Europe and America. Nobody knows how many gays are languishing in Egyptian jails–the number is certainly in the hundreds–or what prompted the massive dragnet.
But because of the strict societal taboos against homosexuality, Egyptian human-rights groups have shunned such cases, leaving it to a handful of local gay activists to raise legal fees and provide other support. The work can be hazardous. Gay activists in Egypt risk ostracism, arrest and even violence. But for crusaders like Horus, one of perhaps a dozen Egyptians who has ‘come out’ to friends and family, heightening the world’s awareness of human rights abuses takes priority over personal safety.
Born into an upper-middle-class Cairo family, Horus came out eight years ago, he told me, following a traumatic breakup with a longtime lover. The man had been a fellow performer in Horus’s theater group in Cairo; but he was so ashamed of the relationship that he kept it a deep secret, refusing to let them be seen together in public. Eventually he left Horus, claiming that homosexuality was a “sin”. At first, Horus felt betrayed and angry. “Then I thought to myself, ‘How can I blame him when I’m doing the same thing he’s doing?” he says, sipping thick Arabic coffee in an outdoor stall. “I also was hiding who I really am.”
He first revealed his sexual identity to his theater colleagues, most of whom proved to be supportive. His immediate family was far less so. “My brother was very homophobic. He accused me of being sick, called me a faggot and told me I had to be treated by a psychiatrist.” His father, a chemist at a Cairo university, responded by walking out of the room and refusing to discuss the subject further. (His mother had died years earlier.) Even sympathetic relatives responded with a measure of denial: A favorite aunt still invites him to her house for social engagements–to meet available women. “She still believes that I just haven’t met the right girl,” he said with a resigned smile.
Gradually, his activism deepened. In 1999 Horus wrote and directed an experimental play for a Cairo theater called ‘Harem’–a pun on the Arabic word ‘Haram,’ meaning forbidden–a semi-autobiographical work dealing with homosexuality and other taboos. The play was praised by many Cairo critics and selected as an entry into an international theater competition in Europe. But some members of the Egyptian nomination committee called the work “immoral” and, after a heated debate, the play was withdrawn.
Since then, Horus says, he has had difficulty finding financial support or a stage for his plays. Even as his work in the theater dried up, he was finding a new identity. In 1998 Horus became the “moderator” of an Internet mailing list and chat room for homosexuals that caught on in the Cairo underground; within a year more than 800 subscribers had signed on. The Internet brought Horus into contact with other Egyptian gays who had similar stories of shame, self-loathing and deeply closeted lives.
He encountered young men who had been locked out of their homes by their parents and forced to sleep on the streets, others whose fathers had savagely beaten them, some whose parents had forced them to seek psychiatric help so they could be “cured” of their “disease.”
At the same time, he discovered that his chat room was providing a desperately needed service: it was allowing gay men to be candid about their identities, to discuss their frustrations, and develop a support network of fellow gays. “There were three optimistic years when people were finding their way to us and other Web sites, and we started to have hope that maybe one day people will understand that we exist, that we are visible,” he says.
Then came the crackdown. Apparently worried about spreading gay activism and anxious to placate its fundamentalist Muslim constitutency, the increasingly conservative regime of President Hosni Mubarak tightened the screws on Egypt’s homosexuals. In 2000, Horus says “we started to hear about an Internet crimes department–set up mainly to trap gray men on the Internet.” That year, two men who ran a gay Web site were arrested, convicted of various crimes and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. The government also intensified its harrassment and prosecution of gay men gathering in public places.
In 2000 eighteen homosexuals were convicted and jailed for two years following a dragnet of Cairo nightclubs and discotheques. Then in the spring of 2001, came the case that made headlines around the world and became a symbol of Egyptian intolerance: the arrest of 53 gay men at the Queen Boat floating discotheque on the Nile in Cairo, and their highly publicized trial last November before a special State Security Court normally used to prosecute suspected Islamic terrorists. The Queen Boat case had a personal impact on Horus.
Although he rarely attended parties on the boat, three of his closest friends were among those arrested that night. Within days, the Queen Boat case “took over my life,” he says. He pressured reluctant attorneys to defend the arrested men, contacted their families, raised funds abroad via the Internet, followed the trial and wrote lengthy reports for international human-ights groups. He even took the dramatic step of appearing undisguised on CNN International to talk about the case. In the end, 22 of the defendants were convicted on charges ranging from defiling religion to debauchery; one was sentenced to five years in jail, while the others drew prison terms of between one and three years.
The last few months have left Horus feeling increasingly pessimistic. His Internet chat room has all but disbanded. Most of the gay men he knows are frightened and have stopped going out at night. Every day brings new stories of roundups of homosexuals in Cairo and other cities; several friends have been held for as long as sixty days without charges and beaten badly in prison. Horus is now trying to arrange attorneys for eight suspected gays picked up in the Nile Delta city of Damanhur and charged, like the Queen Boat 52, with defiling religion and debauchery; last week police refused to allow the lawyers entrance into the prison where the suspects are being detained.
“Egypt was one of the most open minded countries in the area, but now we are more conservative than any other,” Horus said, leading me through the labyrinthine alleys of the bazaar. He flinches at the sight of a half dozen Egyptian security policemen making their rounds past souvenir stalls and coffee shops. “I get paranoid whenever I see the police these days,” he admits. He points to a cluster of burqa-wearing women gathered outside a mosque: “Look at that. A few years ago those women would have raised eyebrows in Cairo. Now, nobody pays attention. The fundamentalists are taking over this country.”
Horus’s increasingly high profile as a gay activist in Egypt has begun to earn him invitations abroad even as he finds himself at growing risk at home. Next week, he is flying to the United States to attend a human rights conference, after which he plans to tour the country for the first time. He says he has often contemplated leaving Egypt for good. “I’m going through ups and downs,” he says. “One day I feel the country isn’t safe for people like me. Other days I think I should stay and fight.” At a taxi stand on the edge of Cairo’s old city, Horus bids me farewell. “I try to stay hopeful,” he tells me, shaking my hand. “But it’s a very dark time right now.”
February 28, 2002
Egypt cracks down on homosexuals: Interview with victim
By Sarah Gauch, Special to the Christian Science Monitor
Cairo, Egypt – The Egyptian man with short black hair and a brown turtleneck sits relaxed, casually sipping his coffee. Only the deep circles under his eyes reveal his misery as he recounts his six-month ordeal when Cairo police arrested him, then interrogated, whipped and imprisoned him and 51 other alleged homosexuals. They were arrested last May during a highly publicized raid on the Queen Boat, a discotheque and gay hangout on the Nile River. Ayman (not his real name) thought his troubles were over after he and 28 others were declared innocent and released this past November, but he was wrong. “The case changed my life completely,” he says. “I had a job, a family, money, a very good career, friends. I’ve lost everything.”
Today, Ayman is desperately seeking political asylum in France. Hossam Bahgat of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian human rights organization, and other experts estimate that since January 2001, the police have made about one arrest per month based on a person’s sexual orientation. Often police torture these detainees to extract confessions, use questionable evidence to convict them, impose harsh prison sentences, and allow the media to publicize the cases, often rendering defendants social outcasts in this traditional society that rejects homosexuality, they say.
“There’s an alarming trend now to convict alleged homosexuals in very weak cases that lack any evidence against them,” Bahgat says. “This suggests that the judges are ruling according to their own moral and social beliefs, rather than by the law.”
Experts attribute the rise in arrests to the Internet, a popular means for gays to communicate. They say police have made good use of cyberspace to entrap gays by setting up supposed dates and then arresting them. In one of the latest convictions of alleged gays earlier this month, four men were given the maximum sentence of three years in prison, based largely on accusations of an arresting officer who never appeared in person to present his evidence to the prosecutor, say Bahgat and Scott Long, director of the San Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Defendants claimed they were tortured during their detention, and witnesses at the trial say the judge shouted “bring on the faggots” from his office before the case began. In the Queen Boat case, 52 suspected homosexuals were tried in a security court, which usually doles out stiffer sentences and gives no right of appeal. The other cases against gays have been in civil courts.
The court sentenced 23 of the accused to one to five years in prison for “habitual debauchery” with two also being charged with “contempt of religion.” At the beginning of the case, Egypt’s semiofficial press branded the detainees perverts and traitors, publishing their names, professions and pictures. When asked whether the government was conducting a campaign against gay men, state information services chairman Nabil Osman said: “It’s very disgusting. Homosexuals may be accepted in Western societies, but they’re not accepted in our society. Neither are they permitted by religion, be it Islam, Christianity or Judaism.”
Political analysts offer various theories to explain this apparent campaign against gay men. Some say the government wants to confirm that it protects the country’s moral rectitude – not the Islamists, who enjoy wide popular support in this conservative Muslim country. “The government is trying to send the message that it also defends religious and social values, not only the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Ahmed Seif el-Islam, executive director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. For years, Egypt’s human rights groups have felt threatened by restrictions on their foreign funding and by arrests of rights activists.
However, Western human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have stood by Egypt’s gays, charging the Egyptian government with a miscarriage of justice, persecuting homosexuals, and violating basic human rights.
13th March 2002
Egypt Officially Brands Homosexuality ‘Perverted’
The Egyptian State Information Service has issued a strongly worded condemnation of homosexuality. The ESIS said that because homosexuality is illegal under Islamic Sharia law, its practise is believed to be “socially detested”. The organisation said that homosexuality “defies normality,” it blamed gay men for spreading AIDS and branded homosexuals “perverts”. The statement went on to describe Egypt as enlightened in its criminalising of homosexuality, and western countries who implement laws protecting partnership rights for same sex couples as “perverted”.
The outburst came about when a RainbowNetwork member, who has declined to be named, contacted the ESIS in an attempt to find out more about the Cairo 52 case, in which a number of men were arrested by the Egyptian government and imprisoned on charges relating to homosexuality. The member asked if it is illegal to be gay in Egypt. An anonymous spokesman for the ESIS, the official information service for the Egyptian government, replied via email. He told the RainbowNetwork member: “We have received your email by which you have expressed your disappointment as regards the fate reserved for homosexuals and lesbians in Egypt.” The email continued: “We, too, we are disappointed for the sympathy you reserve for those who, by their immoral practices, defy and contempt very cherished values of our society.”
It read: “Egypt is a Muslim country and according to our Islamic Sharia teachings and tenets, sex should be practiced between a male and a female strictly through conjugal relations – the “family” being the core and nucleus of the Islamic society. That is in full obedience and conformity with the natural disposition of Mankind as Created by God for the population of the Earth with righteous men and women, not wrong doers who commit vice by practicing their lusts on men in preference to women (or the latter with the same sex in preference to men).” The email continued: “Consequently, homosexuality is socially detested and legally condemned and persecuted. It defies the society’s norms and moralities as inspired by the religion and stipulated by law. And this is for the good interest of families and children to live in a society free from both physical and psychological disease and problems. It is worth mentioning in this context Egypt currently does not suffer from disastrous plagues such as HIV AIDS which haunts non-Muslim societies.”
It added: “Moreover, one might agree that such a perverted practice is a question of individual freedom on the grounds that one can use or exploit his own body freely and in the way he likes. But the freedom of anyone ends at the point where other’s start. For instance, no one can take to the streets all naked, thus offending the society and transgressing its values. In this context it is worth noting that those perverts, while inside the bar for trial, were very keen, out of shame, to cover and hide their faces from the press cameras because they were innately aware that they have transgressed all sacred tenets of society.” The statement criticised attempts in the West to enshrine gay rights in law. It said: “It is not out of backwardness that we denounce and criminalise homosexuality, for persecuting disgrace, mischief and perversion is full in tune with our civilization, cultural and religious – the true civilization, not the perverted one – which accepts and even legitimizes homosexuality and homosexual marriage!!”
The email concluded: “Finally, and now that we are engaged in the so-called dialogue between religions and civilizations, you might, one day, come to understand not to accept our genuine values which have their roots deep in the history of Egypt, the cradle of civilization.” The statement comes days after five men were sentenced to hard labour in prison on convictions related to homosexuality. It follows comments made last December by the Speaker of the Egyptian parliament. Ahmed Fathi Surer said: “Homosexuality does not figure in Egyptian law.”
In recent years the Egyptian government has mounted an increasingly aggressive campaign to arrest and prosecute homosexuals. Although homosexuality is not explicitly referred to in the Egyptian penal code, a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and debauchery are applied to homosexuals The RainbowNetwork member said: “I was quite amazed with the response, but think it was a standard reply that other people might have received. Politeness was repaid with a strident response which left me flabbergasted.” He added: “I was very annoyed when the Prime Minister took a family holiday in Egypt. To a degree I couldn’t help feeling that the Egyptian view expresses what is left unsaid by some senior politicians in this country.”
April 28, 2002
Fear and loathing keep Egypt’s gays in the closet
by Cynthia Johnston
Cairo – The posh clubs where Egypt’s once thriving gay community used to meet are empty and fear is widespread. A government crackdown has pushed a fledgling gay support network underground. But a spate of recent arrests has stirred cautious debate and raised awareness in Egypt, a conservative country where homosexuality is widely condemned as immoral. “Hiding is worse than being arrested… I want to feel dignity.
When I was harassed, my friends told me, ‘Cut your hair.’ But I said no. That’s not me. I don’t want to hide,” said one gay rights activist whose wears his curly black hair in a ponytail. “I don’t want to stay in the closet forever. I want to help people come out. I feel that I wasted my life in the closet,” said the man, who called himself “Horus”, after the falcon-headed Egyptian god who was the patron of the living Pharaoh and is sometimes associated with homosexuality.
An underground gay scene flourished for years in Egypt despite being viewed with disdain by most members of the Muslim and Christian communities. As long as gay life was discreet, it was long tolerated as an open secret. Lesbians are virtually invisible in Egypt. Activists said the concept of two women having sexual relations was incomprehensible to most Egyptians, adding they were not in contact with any lesbian groups.
A landmark court ruling in November against a group of men accused of being gay frightened Egypt’s gay community, most of whom keep their sexuality secret. An Egyptian court sent 23 men to jail for one to five years on charges including “practising sexual immorality”, a local euphemism for homosexuality. Another 29 were acquitted. Human rights groups condemned the verdicts as a miscarriage of justice. But Egyptian officials said the West has no right to impose its values on Egypt, an Arab country where they say cultural norms make overt homosexuality unacceptable.
“When push comes to shove, most people will say that homosexuality is a horrible thing, but not in the sense of ‘Put them in jail’,” said Hania Sholkamy, a professor of anthropology at the American University in Cairo. “Homosexuality is there. It’s more accepted as a certain phase in life…as long as they click out of it and then get a wife and ‘become straight’ again.”
But talking about one’s homosexuality, or claiming it as an identity, is still not acceptable in Egypt, she said. Activists say gay life in Egypt has not died out completely. But the continued crackdown has injected caution into a community adjusting to changing rules on what is safe and what is out-of-bounds.
Night after night, the Queen Boat nightclub where many of the convicted men were arrested turns on its lights. But the club, moored along the banks of the Nile near one of the city’s most elegant luxury hotels, sits half empty. Another Cairo pub frequented by gays has become a no-go zone. “It’s filled with (heterosexual) couples,” one gay man said.
A web site geared to Egyptian gays warns readers about the perils of being gay in Egypt. “Guess who’s watching? Egyptian state security. Try to avoid always logging on from the same location,” the site warns. Gay men meet in small circles or talk over the Internet. They do not give out real names or personal phone numbers to strangers, at least not anymore. Some have already left Egypt for the West, and more are thinking about it. “Almost everyone I talked to wants to leave. They just can’t,” a second gay activist said.
“I personally know four people who got political asylum in the United States.” But activists note that compared to some other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt is relatively open. “If there is going to be an alternative movement in the Middle East, Egypt will be the place it will start,” said Scott Long, programme director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a U.S.-based group that has been monitoring the situation.
“I don’t mean just a gay movement. I mean movements that talk about societal transformation,” he added. Since the Queen Boat arrests, more men have been quietly detained in Egypt, accused of being gay. Some have been convicted and jailed. An Egyptian court jailed five men for three years in March for “practising sexual immorality”. They were also accused of wearing women’s clothes and make-up.
No one seems to know what prompted the string of arrests after so many years of unofficial tolerance. Some cite an attempt to divert attention from a battered economy. Others say Egypt’s gay community was becoming too organised, too vocal and most of all, too visible. Prior to the arrests, Horus said he had started distributing information to confused gay men in Egypt over the Internet. When people needed legal aid, he and others helped arrange it. He also shared information with Western gay rights groups.
Whatever the reason for the crackdown, the men’s case has brought the issue of homosexuality to the dinner table in Egypt, where gender roles are clearly defined and young men and women are expected to follow them. But most people agree that open debate over homosexuality, or a full-fledged gay rights movement, remain a long way away. “We need to work on the basics first,” Horus said. “We are not looking for the right of marriage… “We are looking for) the right to exist.” .
May 21, 2002
Busted! Cyberspace-Scouring Cops Accused of Suppressing Online Expression
Cairo, Egypt – A Web site devoted to homosexual issues in Egypt includes this warning: “Guess who’s watching? Egyptian State Security!” Egypt’s gays, an ongoing police target, aren’t the only Web surfers who should beware. In recent months, Egyptian police also arrested a Web designer who posted a poem deemed politically suspect and a student who used the Internet to spread what officials said were false rumors. “The new millennium came with unexpected changes in the use of technology in committing crimes. We had to respond,” said Gen. Abdel-Wahab el-Adly, the Egyptian police official in charge of vice.
“We are dealing with a different type of criminal and the spread of new crimes,” added Gen. Ahmed Shehab, who handles information technology for the police ministry. “This requires security and technical expertise to be able to patrol the Internet the same way we patrol Egyptian streets.” As part of the effort, police have gone online masquerading as gay men seeking partners, placing ads on sites that cater to gay Egyptians. Police arrested men in recent months who responded to the ads. “We got 19 cases this way,” el-Adly bragged. “It was great arresting them.” New Tech for Old Campaign Human rights advocates say Egypt is simply using new technology in an old campaign against freedoms.
“We think it is really scandalous that Egyptian authorities are using the Internet to muzzle freedom of expression,” said Virginie Locoussol, head of the Middle East Desk of Reporters Sans Frontiers. “If the state controls everything, then it is a police state.” RSF’s upcoming report Enemies of the Internet, expected in September, will cite Egypt for the first time, Locoussol said. Last year’s report, the first compiled by the independent journalist group that campaigns for freedom of expression, didn’t mention Egypt, but criticized such countries as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and China. Saudi Arabia monitors all Internet use and blocks access to as many as 1 million sites at any given time.
China trains brigades of police officers to fight a war “against anti-governmental and anti-communist articles published on the Web” and violators can face the death penalty, RSF said. The U.S. State Department’s latest report on human rights in Egypt estimates that only about 1 million of Egypt’s 68 million citizens are Internet subscribers. And while Egypt doesn’t restrict Internet use and doesn’t monitor citizen’s online behavior on a broad scale, its law officers do keep watch on cyberspace, the State Department said.
The Internet was first introduced in Egypt in 1993, but the Interior Ministry, the ministry in charge of police, didn’t get wired until 1995. Police say they began monitoring Egyptians’ Internet use five years later. Each police and security department has been provided with Internet access and computers, said Shehab. His department offers technical assistance to anyone on the police force who needs it.
True or False?
The Internet police recently caught Andy Ibrahim Shoukri, a 19-year-old student, spreading warnings via e-mail about a serial killer in Cairo. Police say the rumors were false. Shoukri was sentenced to a month in prison by an Emergency State Security court in April for spreading false information. He could not be reached for comment. In March, a trial for Web designer Shohdi Surur, 40, opened on charges stemming from his posting on his personal Web site a poem written by his late father almost three decades ago that reflects bitterly on the state of Egyptian society and culture. If convicted, Surur could face up to two years in prison or a fine of $2,000.
“I’m not scared of the case as such, I’m scared of living under a horrendous violent and unjust regime. All of us are being watched all the time. Where is this leading to?” Surur told The Associated Press. International human rights groups have also accused the police of entrapping and persecuting gays. Homosexuality is taboo in this conservative society and although not explicitly referred to in the Egyptian penal code, a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and debauchery have been applied to homosexuals.
Homosexuality is frowned at in all Arab countries and is explicitly illegal in some, but Internet-surfing Egyptian police seem to be the most aggressive in chasing gays right now. “We are for personal freedom as long as it doesn’t cross the red line of public morals,” said el-Adly. Statements violating Egypt’s “religious and ethical values” won’t be tolerated, he said.
June 17, 2002
International pressure dilutes Cairo’s ‘witch hunt’ for gays; Mubarak weighs political capital against damage to foreign alliances
BySteve Negus, Special to The Daily Star
Cairo – Several weeks ago, a visitor to Cairo’s Queen Boat floating nightclub witnessed a raid by the Vice Squad. A number of suspected prostitutes, familiar with the drill, lined up against the wall in an orderly fashion and were led off to the station. The handful of gay men in attendance were allowed to continue with their evening.
Suspected gay men in Egypt continue to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. Activists estimate that dozens, if not hundreds, remain in prison. However, the political will behind the year-long crackdown appears to have ebbed since President Hosni Mubarak in late May overturned the 21 convictions of allegedly gay men sentenced to prison in the so-called Queen Boat case for “habitual debauchery” in the case.
Twenty-nine others have been acquitted, while two defendants convicted of “contempt for religion” remain in prison. Mubarak had apparently accepted a defense brief arguing that the State Security (Emergency) Court did not have jurisprudence over a routine criminal matter – “habitual debauchery” is a euphemistic legal expression normally used for prostitution, as Egypt lacks specific laws against homosexuality. Mubarak’s decision was undoubtedly the result of international pressure. International gay and human rights groups had mounted a sustained campaign against Egypt following the Queen Boat prosecutions.
In February, French President Jacques Chirac told a visiting Mubarak of his concern about the trial, while in March, 37 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to the Egyptian president protesting what they said appeared to be a policy of persecution. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) has told visiting Egyptian delegates that he would make congressional approval of a hoped-for free trade agreement a gay rights issue unless imprisoned gays were released. Mubarak himself is not known to be personally hostile to gays, and despite allegations that the crackdown was an attempt to appease the Islamists, it does not appear to have been politically motivated. Activists say the crackdown began in early 2001 when the Vice Squad became aware of Egypt’s growing gay subculture through the internet.
The first reported cases were of gay men who responded to liaisons arranged over the internet, only to find their partners were undercover agents. The politicized State Security branch elbowed their way onto the case after police reportedly seized pseudo-religious literature owned by one of the defendants. Religion is a State Security remit (secular writers, heterodox Islamic cults, and allegedly Satanic heavy metal fans have all fallen victims in the past); misdemeanor morality charges are not. Nonetheless, the involvement of State Security in the case, and its referral to the exceptional State Security (Emergency) Courts that admit no appeal, gave the impression of regime involvement, and at first the regime appeared to dig in its heels when subjected to pressure.
In the long run, however, Mubarak seems to have concluded that the fairly minimal political capital that could be obtained from a crackdown on gays surely could not be worth a harsh word from a personal friend like Chirac (probably the Western leader with whom the Egyptian president feels most comfortable) – let alone an agreement aimed at boosting much-needed exports. Nonetheless, gay men continue to face arrest by the Vice Squad and prosecution in the criminal courts, the most recent example being a three-year prison sentence handed down by a south Cairo court on June 7 on a man who responded to an internet ad. Vice Squad chief General Abdelwahhab al-Adli told the Associated Press recently that his department had prepared 19 such cases.
However, prosecutors have also suffered a number of legal reverses in recent months, most notably in the case of five men from Damanhour convicted in March for “sexual practices contrary to Islam” and released by an appellate court in April. Gay activists have cited skepticism among judges about evidence used in a half-dozen trials of allegedly gay men in the past year. Normally prosecutors make use of confessions, which may have been obtained under torture, or forensic examinations which determine whether or not a defendant has been “used,” which may indicate “debauchery,” as far as the court is concerned, but not necessarily that it was “habitual” or voluntary.
In short, international pressure has fallen short of creating a situation where gays in Egypt can thrive in the open. However, it appears to have lifted the climate of fear that has prevailed over the past year, wherein men could be swept up in dragnets and convicted in mass trials on scanty evidence. Gays will continue to be wary of a police force that tries desultorily to enforce traditional morality, but the worst of what activists have termed the “witch hunt” may be over. . Steve Negus is a Cairo-based journalist.
July 26, 2002
Trial of 50 young Egyptians accused of homosexuality reopens
by Assad Abboud
Cairo – Fifty young Egyptian men accused of practicing homosexuality are back in court Saturday for a retrial ordered by President Hosni Mubarak. The trial is to open before the Abdine criminal court. The state security court last November sentenced 23 of the men to prison, mostly for one to two years, on charges of practicing homosexuality and acquitted 29 others. Mubarak, empowered to cancel judgements and grant amnesties, ordered their retrial in May, saying the case did not fall under the jurisdiction of the state security court. However, he upheld jail terms of the two leading defendants, Sherif Farahat and Mahmud Ahmed Allam, to five and three years respectively after they were accused of “scorning religion.” Farahat was also charged with “sexual practices contrary to Islam.”
The retrial of the other 50 men was to open July 2 before the Abdine court but was delayed when judge Mohamed Abdel Karim excused himself, saying he had already judged the accused in their first trial in November. On July 16, Karim announced the trial would re-open on July 27 before the same court under judge Hassan al-Sayess, who will consider whether to convict the men, mostly aged around 20, for “debauchery”. When the first trial opened on July 18, 2001, it sparked protest and anger from Western gay rights movements and human rights organizations, notably in Switzerland, France and the United States. Pressure from Western officials, groups and leading figures continued after the sentences, until Mubarak’s decision to throw out the verdicts and order a retrial.
French President Jacques Chirac expressed his “concern” to Mubarak in Paris in February and “wished, without wanting to interfere, that the decision would be rescinded”, while French singer Jean-Michel Jarre delivered an open letter of protest to the Egyptian ambassador signed by 6,000 people. The petition, addressed to Mubarak, included the signatures of the actress Catherine Deneuve and the philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International twice demanded the release of the defendants, an investigation into allegations of torture during their detention, and respect for sexual orientation. And many Western diplomats in Cairo followed-up the trial closely and attended the trial sessions in a show of support for the accused. Homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law which is based on sharia, or Islamic, rulings, although numerous statutes condemn conduct deemed to be an affront to public morality.
July 27, 2002
Gay retrial adjourned in Egypt
by Nick Thorpe, BBC correspondent in Cairo
The trial of 50 men in Cairo accused of depraved behaviour for their alleged homosexual leanings has been adjourned by the judge to give the defence more time to prepare its case. Twenty-one of the men were originally convicted of the offence last November. But the state security court verdict was overturned by President Hosni Mubarak, who ordered that the case be heard again in an ordinary criminal court. The trial of the men continues in both senses of the word. Homosexuality crackdown Judge Hassan al-Sayess read out the names of the accused at a court in central Cairo. Only their lawyers were present–the men avoid appearing in public whenever possible because of verbal attacks against them in the Egyptian media.
One defence lawyer then complained about the retrying of those men who had already been acquitted, and the judge then adjourned the case until September. Homosexuality was until recently quietly tolerated in Egypt, but the authorities began a major crackdown in May last year with a night raid on a disco where some of the men were arrested. Homosexuality itself is not a crime – the men are charged with offending public morals. Two other men, also convicted last November, are already serving three and five year prison terms, and their cases are not subject to a re-trial.
Different explanations have been put forward to explain the crackdown. One is the growing public visibility of Egypt’s gay community because of the internet. Another is that this is a move to please conservative Muslim clerics, to distract them from the fact that up to 15,000 Islamic activists remain in prison, in many cases without formal charges having been brought against them.
December 10, 2002
Postcards from Egypt: Whether inside a pyramid or at a Nileside cafe, a gay American tourist in Egypt needs to step carefully.
by Mubarak Dahir
Tomb of Darkness-The Pyramids
I am inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, at the pinnacle of a 460-foot stairway to heaven. And I am in total, pitch-black darkness. To get out of here will depend as much on a sense of faith as on a sense of balance. My mind rewinds to the recent ascent—hundreds of steps angled at a dizzying 52-degree pitch. At some points during the climb up the pyramid, I literally have to get on my hands and knees to crawl through the narrow tunnel of limestone lifting me to the gods.
It doesn’t help that I make this trip in June. Outside the temperature must be 100 degrees, and inside the air is not much cooler. Dim rows of flickering fluorescent lamps spaced periodically up the ancient shaft provide the only lighting. In many places there are no handrails. Underfoot, rickety wood slats have been laid over the grand stones that first raised men’s bodies and spirits to what 4,600 years ago must have seemed like the top of the world. It still does.
The climb is well worth the effort, but not simply to see the smoothly sanded red granite tomb at the top known as the King’s Chamber. Though the room is an engineering feat in any age — the granite roof alone weighs more than 400 tons —it is visually plain and unimpressive. The reasons to climb the Great Pyramid are less tangible than anything you could photograph. They have to do with mystery and adventure, history and spirituality, the greatness and sorrow of a lost civilization, and the mythological imagery that the sole survivor of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders holds in the popular imagination.
As I begin my descent, I stand on the precipice of the King’s Chamber and stare down into the dimly lit passage. It feels like I am staring back into time itself, and I wonder what it must have been like for the ancient Egyptians who had to make the treacherous climb without the aid of electricity, however flickering it might be. And that’s when the lights go out. I freeze. Though there are perhaps a dozen tourists stuck with me, for a long moment it is eerily silent, and I am reminded that this great monument is first and foremost a tomb. Then a splash of light beams its way up from about 20 feet below. It is our Egyptian tour guide, equipped with a flashlight.
“Hold hands and follow me slowly,” he says to the seven of us together on this trip. Electrical failure is apparently not unusual, and our guide’s nonchalance about it is oddly reassuring. To my amazement I find myself complying with his instructions to proceed. I am the last of the seven in our troupe. We inch our way down together, one unsure step after the other, the flashlight beam acting like a beacon. My alarm subsides, and a weirdly American thought races through my mind: “If this were the United States,” I ponder to myself as I negotiate the unseemly gradient in the grayness, “just think of the lawsuits.”
Great hairdos at Abu Simbel, the temple of Ramses II The temple of Ramses II
The next morning I meet my travel companions in the hotel lobby at 2:45 a.m. We are up before dawn to catch our Egypt Air flight from Cairo to Abu Simbel, at the southernmost point of Egypt’s border with Sudan. Summer flights leave at an ungodly hour in order to deposit tourists at the monument while they can still withstand the withering heat.
By the time we hike on foot the final dusty mile to the monument, it is about 9 a.m., and the heat is already causing me to bead with sweat. The trail slopes and curves dramatically down from the crest of the mountain, where merchant’s stalls are huddled. To one side, rock desert mountains in hues of yellow and pink stretch as far as the eye can see. To the other, the jagged and barren mountain ranges plummet forcefully into the endless expanse of the pristine blue Lake Nasser—the world’s largest man-made lake, created by damming the Nile further north at the High Dam.
During the descent to Abu Simbel, the temple of Ramses II is obscured. Only when I reach the bottom of the trail does the colossal temple carved into the mountain show itself. I literally stop in my tracks.
In front of me are four gigantically crowned statues of Ramses II, for whom the temple was erected. Each statue is etched 70 feet high into the side of the mountain, and in each one Ramses’s hands are resting calmly on his knees, his serene gaze fixed out over the lake. One of the masterpieces of ancient Egypt, the temple dates back approximately 3,050 years. When famed Swiss explorer John Lewis Burkhardt stumbled across it in 1813, only one of the four heads was peeking out over the sand drift that had engulfed it.
But perhaps the greatest recovery of the temple was its most modern one. You could never tell by looking that the original site was actually built some 200 feet below where the quadruple Ramses now stare transfixed in time. When the High Dam project began in the 1960s, this site was one of countless treasures that were threatened with drowning under Lake Nasser. Thanks to an international effort, however, the mountainside monument was carefully chopped into more than a thousand pieces and painstakingly reassembled at its current site.
Just next door is the Temple of Queen Nefertari, supposedly Ramses’s favorite wife. This temple is slightly smaller but similarly carved from top to bottom with hundreds of the geometric and animal-shaped hieroglyphs that are the signature of Egypt’s great past. As I stand there trying to be reverential—as one is wont to do in such a setting—I begin to giggle. My eye has settled on a carving of the goddess Hathor, wife of the sun god, and I can’t help but notice that her hairdo is the splitting image of Marlo Thomas’s in That Girl!
“The Nile is Egypt, and Egypt is the Nile”- The Nile at Luxor
I am watching the murky Nile flow by from my perch at the bow of a small, wobbly wooden boat with a single large sail. No trip on the Nile is complete without a jaunt in one of these famous old boats, called feluccas. The tourist trade has inspired a rash of imitations—cleaner, lighter, larger polystyrene impostors without even half the ambience.
When searching for a genuine felucca, there are a handful of easy-to-spot signals that will tell you if you are getting the real adventure or a sanitized mutant of it. But the biggest clue is simply your gut: If you get on a boat and it feels solid and sturdy, get off. A real felucca is a little unnerving: It should creak when you step onto it.
Our captain is a man named Mahmoud. His head is tied in an unwieldy turban-like cloth and he is wearing a flowing white galabia, the common robe worn by men. When we shake hands, I’m struck by his rough skin. His face is weathered and creases deeply around his eyes when he smiles and laughs, which he does constantly. Like most experiences in Egypt, a ride on a felucca is at least partly about faith, be it in the pharaohs or Allah. I settle into our felucca, painted an optimistic orange, and leave the rest to Mahmoud and the gods.
The boat sits so low in the river and the water laps so high it almost spills over the edge. An old Egyptian saying, roughly translated, says, “The Nile is Egypt, and Egypt is the Nile,” and it remains true today. From the felucca, I watch Egyptians on the shore using the river for every imaginable need: Farmers use it to water their fields, and sometimes you can see irrigation canals growing like fingers directly from the banks of the river to nourish crops. At another point a woman with a large basket on her head comes to a halt, unloads her cargo, and starts washing clothes. And all along the banks, young boys dip into the river for a little relief from the brutal heat. And though I don’t witness it myself, it’s well-known that Egypt’s poorest residents use the river as a toilet too.
I use my broken Arabic to ask Mahmoud about the water’s safety. He swears that here in Aswan, our first port town on the Nile, the water is clean and safe. To prove his point, he pulls out a glass, dips it into the river, and gulps down the contents.
A strong cup of coffee and a date with Ramses
Egypt comes alive in the evenings. All during my cruise on the Nile, from the start in Aswan to the endpoint in Luxor, it is the same: When the sun starts to recede, the dusty, overheated, sometimes even desolate-looking mud-brick villages and towns begin to pulse with life. Shops of all kinds stay open until very late, and contrary to popular Western misconception, women can be seen on the streets well into the night hours as well.
It is true, however, that you see few single women out alone. Most are mothers with their children or women with their husbands strolling the streets or eating with their families. But there’s no denying that Egypt is a male-dominated culture, and at night it feels as if hundreds of men spill into sidewalk cafés, drinking tiny cups of strong Arab coffee, puffing on water pipes, and playing backgammon. There is a strongly homoerotic component to this overwhelmingly male display of public life.
I am carrying Ramses on my shoulder, and he’s getting heavy. Three feet tall and solid granite, Ramses is my proud midnight purchase the evening we dock in a town along the Nile called Edfu. It takes a long time to get Ramses. To show the shopkeeper I understand the intricate culture of bargaining, I indulge in the ceremonial practice of swapping life histories, debating politics, and sharing the customary glass of sweet mint tea. An hour later I walk out with Ramses tightly wrapped in brown cardboard and string like a modern-day mummy.
It is another half mile to the cruise ship when I decide I need a break. Most of the shops have closed, but the coffeehouses are still teeming with men out for the night. You have to be careful, of course. Homosexual activity is something that is common but fiercely denied in Egypt. And I am keenly aware of the government’s crackdown in Cairo on gay men in the infamous Queen Boat incident. Though there is no law specifically forbidding gay sex, social custom frowns on it if it is expressed too openly, too publicly. But there is no mistaking the meaning of the heavy stares and subtle gestures exchanged at such meeting places.
Cairo at night
I pick one of the busy coffee shops with a sprawling patio. I have no conscious intention of cruising, but I do like to look at the handsome Egyptian men with their tanned skin, thick black beards, and smoldering, sensuous eyes.
It isn’t long after ordering a demitasse of coffee and a coal-fired water pipe that I feel the weight of Ahmad’s stare from the next table. He approaches me with the characteristic friendliness of most Egyptians. Ahmad is 25 and stocky with a stubbly beard. He and I have met before. Earlier in the evening I purchased a few souvenir T-shirts at a store owned by his family. He remembers my name and sits down at the table with me, using Ramses as an easy conversation starter.
It is 1:45 a.m. when the conversation steers towards relationships. Am I married? He wants to know. Ahmad wants to get married as soon as he can, but at 25, he can’t yet afford a dowry. Is that why I’m not married either? He presses. Or don’t I like women? I like women, fine, I say, but I won’t ever marry. I know he understands what I mean. Ahmad buys us another round of coffees and smokes. When we finish round two, Ahmad invites me to a “party.” Skeptical, I look at my watch. It’s the summer, he says, and people will be up until 5 a.m. I flirt with the notion of accompanying him, but demur, conveniently holding out Ramses as an excuse.
“Ramses is welcome to come,” laughs Ahmad. “He can join us.” I smile not just at the subtle but intended, double entendre, but also at the notion of making love with the hard phallic pharaoh at my feet. “Thank you,” I say finally. “But Ramses isn’t into threesomes.”
Dahir is an editorial writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.