Egypt: apartment raids, Grindr sweeps, and Facebook monitoring

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Egypt’s anti-LGBT crackdown continues, with six men sentenced yesterday for “committing debauchery.” At least some of the men were residents of an apartment that they were renting to other gay men as a place to have sex. Police statements implied that some of the men may have been having sex during the raid, which led to a comparatively quick sentencing of two years in jail for all six men.

That sentencing follows the arrest on Tuesday of a transgender woman and the sentencing on Monday of four other men in a similar indecency case, three of whom were given eight year sentences while the fourth received three years plus labor. In the past few months, similar cases, including that of a purportedly gay wedding ceremony on a Nile barge, have suggested a more systematic targeting of LGBT people. This comes after revelations of Grindr’s security flaws, which recently motivated the company to warn users in Egypt about the risk of police “posing as LGBT on social media in order to entrap you.”

Many Egyptians had hoped that the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011 would spur the creation of a new Egypt where LGBT citizens could be free from persecution, but those dreams were curtailed by the rise of anti-LGBT religious parties. As one legal worker for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights put it in 2013, with “the fall of Mubarak, the criticism of [revolutionary]groups has always contained a sexual element,” with women “called prostitutes or ‘loose’ women,” while “men are called homosexuals.”

With the replacement of the democratically elected Islamic government of Mohamed Morsi with essentially a military dictatorship, the government may be seeking to appear legitimate to social conservatives by tightening anti-LGBT restrictions. Whatever the motive, human rights groups allege that the government’s policies have led to 80 anti-LGBT arrests since the military solidified power in the fall of 2013.

Public commentary in Egypt and abroad has been critical of the government and its actions, often finding expression on Facebook and twitter. On Twitter, in particular, the hashtag #ضد_حبس_المثليين, which translates to “stop jailing gays,” began trending and was a key rallying point for supporters in many countries. The issues of visibility obviously hangs heavily in their conversations, with one picture of a gay man publicly outing himself being widely shared, while an LGBT advocacy group based in Egypt explained:

A Facebook event calling for online protests similarly advocated for privacy as an LGBT right while criticizing the Egyptian government for “focusing its efforts on monitoring people’s private lives whether in the bedroom or on their facebook [sic]accounts.” With several of these cases beginning with raids on apartments or with seizure of private videos and pictures, the need for—and right to—a personal life for LGBT people has become a hot issue in Egypt.

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