Gay men arrested in Cairo, state of gay rights in Egypt still uncertain

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An Egyptian state newspaper reported the arrest of over a dozen “perverts”—gay and bisexual men—at a Cairo health center Sunday, citing a raid that caught the offenders “in positions that are against religious precepts.” 

According to state paper Akhbar el-Youm, “The center welcomed perverted men and boys to practice immorality in its rooms. The management staff was caught, along with a large quantity of pills and sexual stimulants.” State sources indicate 14 men were detained, though it is not clear if that includes the staff.

The establishment, described as a “health center” by the Egyptian government but intimated in state press to be a gay bath house or brothel (though third parties like LGBT activist and former executive director for Human Rights Watch’s LGBT program Scott Long insist that it was simply a gym) resides in El-Marag, a poor, working-class neighborhood in the northeastern quarter of the city. 

“There was never any sign of any sexual activity on site, although it was obviously gay friendly and it was easy to meet people there,” a blogger for GayEgypt.com wrote this week, speaking of his own visits there. The post says that the center has long been an “open secret” and suggests that police have known about it for years.

“It’s very depressing that the raids have taken place not under Morsi’s Islamist presidency but under the stewardship of the avowedly secular military,” the blogger (who asked that his name not be used) told 429Magazine, speculating that “The generals are keen to stamp uniformity on society, with no tolerance for ‘deviants’ whom they see as undermining Egyptian manhood.”

The state of LGBT rights in Egypt remains murky and difficult for outsiders to parse. Under longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, no laws specifically governed private sexual conduct, but authorities could bend unrelated laws to harass and arrest LGBT Egyptians (particularly gay men) when they wished, and a nascent gay rights movement played a notable role in the protests that led to his ouster. 

In post-Mubarak Egypt, uncertainty is the name of the game: No new laws have been passed, but neither does it appear they’re needed if authorities wish to pursue prosecutions. Though LGBT Egyptians were fearful of former president Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist-leaning government, the military council that supplanted him this year may not be any friendlier to their interests. 

Writing for the Washington Post in August, Human Rights Watch researcher Dan Williams said, “Muslim Brotherhood abuses continue under Egypt’s military,” noting that “excessive and deadly force marked the new Egyptian order.” 

New elections are tentatively set for the spring.

429Magazine

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