Egypt: Witch Hunt Underway


Because these men have been accused of acting under foreign influence, IGLHRC does not at this time recommend that individuals outside Egypt send letters to the Egyptian government. Such letters might reinforce the impression, already cultivated by comments in the Egyptian press, of conspiratorial international activity aimed against both morality and the State. Instead, IGLHRC urges for the present that sympathetic governments and organizations directly approach the Egyptian government to condemn this action.

IGLHRC therefore asks that all persons contact:

Their Foreign Ministry;
Their Member of Parliament or Congress;
(for citizens of the European Union) Their Member of the European Parliament.

Ask that these institutions or representatives condemn the persecution and prosecution of these men, both publicly and in private communications to the Egyptian government.

Urgent action is needed. Each day may bring more arrests in Egypt. Each day, the climate worsens, as new articles in State and non-State media dwell on the religious and political threat of homosexuality. Urge your government now to speak out publicly---and to speak directly to Egypt's leaders calling for an end to repression.


On the night of Thursday, May 10, police in Cairo raided the "Queen Boat," a discotheque regularly held in a boat moored in the Nile in Zamalek district. Thursday night parties at the discotheque are reportedly popular with gays in Cairo, but the place is neither openly nor exclusively a gay venue.

Ten undercover officers from both State Security and the Cairo vice squad entered the bar at about 2 AM; after watching (and, according to one news report, filming) the dancing for some time, they began forcibly rounding up Egyptian customers. An Egyptian man who was present that night, but who managed to escape, has stated that police targeted either men "who look gay" or who were simply unaccompanied by women. According to the English-language Cairo Times, no foreigners were arrested; other sources have later suggested that five foreigners were detained briefly, then freed.

The Cairo Times reported that 55 persons were arrested (other papers have suggested 56, 60, or 62). One of them, a professor at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, "was slapped on the face several times by a police officer and called a derogatory slang word for homosexual when he refused to go" ("Morality Police Crackdown," Cairo Times, May 17-23, 2001). The owner and staff of the discotheque were not arrested. Those detained were driven to the vice squad headquarters in Abdin police station.

Reports in the Western press that a "gay wedding" was taking place in the discotheque are apparently based on defamatory reporting in the Egyptian media, and are untrue. Homosexual acts are not expressly criminalized by Egyptian law. A variety of laws penalize "offences against public morals and sensitivities," creating a clear legal framework for harassment and arrest of homosexuals. However, in this case the charges are still more severe. The authorities have chosen to treat sexual nonconformity as the mark not of a community but of a subversive cult. Officials of the High State Security Prosecution Office told the press that the men would be charged with "exploiting religion to promote extreme ideas to create strife and belittling revealed religions." The Cairo Times also reports that the defendants will stand trial before a State Security court, whose rulings are not subject to appeal.

The arrestees were interrogated for at least two days by the High State Security Prosecution Office, led by Prosecutor Hisham Badawi. Their whereabouts were not revealed to their families or friends. An Egyptian source who wishes to remain anonymous tells IGLHRC:

We couldn't do anything more than sending a lawyer to help. He went to the police station to look for our friend and the others. But they denied they were there. After bribing a soldier, our lawyer found out that all the arrested people were locked in there and that they'll be sent to the prosecutor next morning. One only wonders what is going on in there. Still the lawyer couldn't meet his client. Is it in the law that a lawyer can't meet his client?

On May 12, a source in the prosecutor's office told the press that the defendants were "practicing deviant rituals and holding parties where they practiced group sex and abnormal activities." This statement inaugurated a vicious smear campaign in the Egyptian media, seemingly aimed at pillorying the 55 arrestees before they could ever approach trial. For the benefit of nationalists, they were identified as Europeanized cosmopolitans and Israeli sympathizers; for the benefit of Islamists, they were charged with Satanism.
On May 13, the daily paper Al Maasa alleged the defendants belonged to an organized group, of religious heretics as well as foreign agents: "The accused persons admitted to the police officers that they believe in . . . perverse ideas which they brought from a perverse group in Europe whose members practice deviant practices such as homosexual marriage, and believe that perverse relationships between men are stronger than sexual relationships between men and women. Their ideas stress the negation of revealed religions, which they consider based on absurd and mythical beliefs." The group spread its ideas "among youth groups in universities, high schools, and clubs." The State Security Office had been tapping the telephones of members of "the perverse group" for some time, Al Maasa reported.

On the same day, the crime page of the state-owned daily Al Ahram also identified the defendants as devil worshippers and cultists, who "tried to recruit new members to their cult and called on them to go to swim in the Dead Sea in Jordan to be blessed by its water." One of the group, Al Ahram stated, had confessed to being "immersed in Judaism." Al Maasa on May 14 quoted Mohammed El Shahat, Professor of Islamic Law at Tanta University, as urging that, with this "perversion" spreading, the highest possible punishment should be imposed for the sake of deterrence. ( Egypt, nonetheless, does not apply Islamic shari'ah law.) On May 15, Al Maasa returned with the "Latest on Satanists' Case." By this time a "leader" of the "group" had been identified: a man "who traveled to a number of European countries as well as Israel, and is also a prominent member of many international perverted organizations that are widespread in these countries, and adopted their perverted ideas in practicing deviance, and recruited a number of his friends to spread the organization's ideas in Egypt." The newspaper reported that three additional Satanist "cells" had been closed down in the cities of Maadi, Heliopolis, and Hadayek el Kobba. It also noted that lawyers were refusing to attend hearings in the prosecutor's office "after seeing the photos of the suspects in disgusting deviant poses," and that the suspects' families refused to visit them "for fear of scandal."

The truth appears to be quite different. The accused have so far been denied legal representation. According to the Cairo Times, a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Center for Law--an independent Egyptian human rights organization--tried to visit the defendants, but was turned away. Another Egyptian source tells IGLHRC, "By a strange process, State Security says that the prisoners themselves must appoint a lawyer by writing out a power of attorney in person; since no lawyer is allowed in to see them unless s/he can produce a power of attorney, it becomes a catch-22 situation."
Meanwhile, family members have been forbidden to see the prisoners and denied information about their whereabouts. The same source reports,

Today I myself went, with the brother of one of the suspects, to State Security Headquarters, where he asked to see him. Despite the fact that a brother conforms to their requirements for an "immediate relative", they absolutely refused to let him see the suspect in question, saying "Come back on the 23rd [of May], and stand outside like all the [other families], and you'll be able to see him being brought in."

The 23rd is the day for renewal of the detention period -- meaning that he would just catch a glimpse of him being led in handcuffs from the armored prison van into the State Security building, but not be allowed to go inside and talk to him.

The prisoners have reportedly been transferred to Tora Prison. Egyptian human rights organizations have documented patterns of physical abuse of prisoners in Tora. IGLHRC's source fears that family visits are being denied in order to conceal the evidence of physical torture during the interrogations.

In addition, Al-Wafd newspaper revealed on May 14 that State Security had subjected the prisoners to an anal forensic medical examination. Determinining whether they had been anally penetrated would offer "proof" of their homosexuality. Both Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC have condemned such examinations as a form of cruel and inhuman treatment, "profoundly degrading and humiliating to those forced to undergo them" (HRW and IGLHRC, Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania, p. 87). As an intrusive assault by the State upon the bodily integrity of the victim, they are comparable to forced examinations of women's virginity, a practice which has also been condemned by the United Nations. (See Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Turkey, 23/01/97, A/52/38/Rev.1, paras.151-206; and Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : South Africa, 28/01/2000, CRC/C/15/Add.122.)

The present case resembles a 1997 case in Egypt where 78 teenage men were arrested, and, amid charges of homosexual practices, accused of Satanism. While the case never came to trial, their names and even photographs were widely circulated in the popular media. The case also follows on another incident in February 2000, in which two gay Egyptians who had arranged dates through the Internet were arrested and charged with prostitution, a crime carrying a 3-6 year prison sentence. Media coverage of that case played heavily on fears of globalization and porous borders, with one newspaper warning of "new criminals" using "new technologies" in a world "which will become one in a short while" (El Nabaa, March 4, 2001). IGLHRC fears that the Egyptian government is combining homophobia and nationalism in a volatile and deadly cocktail, to invigorate its support among conservative and Islamist political forces.

IGLHRC further fears that a police campaign against Egyptian gays may be underway. The identities of those arrested in the boat raid are already public knowledge: on May 13, Al Maasa listed 56 names of the accused. On May 15, the newspaper Al-Gomhoureya proceeded to list the names, ages, and occupations of 30 members of the "Satanist organization." The presence of doctors, lawyers, and engineers among the "perverts" was particularly noted. Beyond the humiliation such publicity entails, the details reveal an ominous fact. Less than half of the names on the May 15 roster are from Al-Maasa's older list of arrestees; the rest of the names are new. One possible explanation is that police are rounding up additional "Satanists," perhaps by forcing those already detained to name names.

An atmosphere of terror now invests much of Egypt's underground gay community. Some gay men are reportedly destroying computer files, and even their computers. One source in Egypt writes to IGLHRC: "Pray for us."