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Cairo bathhouse raid spreads fear in Egyptian gay community

Source : The Washington Post

CAIRO — Egypt’s government has aggressively cracked down on Islamist and liberal opponents over the past year. Now officials are increasingly targeting another group: gay people. Police raided a public bathhouse in Cairo this month and arrested at least two dozen men, parading them half-naked in front of television cameras before hauling them off to prison. It was the latest in a series of police busts at suspected meeting places of homosexuals across the country. Arrests of gay people have been on the rise since President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi seized power in a military coup in 2013, but in recent months the arrests have escalated, rights groups say. “It’s a full-on crackdown on all sorts of freedoms,” said a prominent gay rights activist in Egypt, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing crackdown. “There is a lot of fear in Egypt’s gay community,” he said. “Many people want to leave the country.” As a fiercely conservative, largely Muslim society, Egypt has never openly accepted gay or transgender people. In the early 2000s, the government of then-president Hosni Mubarak staged similar raids on gay-friendly hangouts and jailed dozens of people.

Gay activists are comparing the current campaign to the darkest days under the Mubarak government. Homosexuality is not illegal per se under Egyptian law.

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But prosecutors charge defendants under a section of the penal code that criminalizes prostitution and debauchery. In April, four men were sentenced to between eight and 12 years in prison each for debauchery after a raid on an all-male party they attended at a villa in a Cairo suburb.

About 150 people have been arrested in such raids since 2013, rights groups say. Egypt’s Interior Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the detentions at the bathhouse, and it was not clear what charges the men might face.

When protesters rose up to oust the long-ruling Mubarak in 2011, many gay, lesbian and transgender Egyptians had hoped they would finally be able to secure their place in a new, democratic system.

“After the revolution, there was this intense feeling of euphoria,” said another Egyptian gay rights activist. He, too, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fears for his safety. He is working outside the country. “People began to embrace each other and began to feel at least partially accepted,” he said. “The community was more visible, and the public became more aware that we exist.”

But now many gay Egyptians are living in fear. Activists say the current persecution of homosexuals is part of a broader state clampdown on dissidents. Since the coup, the government has jailed tens of thousands of Islamists, liberal activists and anti-government students. But the gay community is not being targeted for its members’ political activism. Rather, in an era of fervent nationalism and pro-military sentiment, homosexuals are seen as failing to uphold traditional standards of manhood, activists say.

The government is pumping out nationalist rhetoric and xenophobic speech all the time. They want to enforce a stereotypical vision of masculinity,” said the first gay activist. “But of course that vision sees homosexuality as a weakness and as against nationalist values.” TV station’s role in raid The bathhouse raid, on Dec. 7, was particularly troubling for the gay community, activists here say.

Not only was a television crew from a popular satellite channel on hand to document the operation, but the channel’s own journalists also had prompted the arrests by informing police that gay men went to the location to have sex. The channel, Al Kahera Wal Nas, had planned to feature the bathhouse, or hammam, in a special report on AIDS in Egypt, calling it a “den of sin” but offering no proof that any illegal activity had taken place there. Bathhouses are popular in the Arab world, with men and often women visiting them to relax in hot baths or steam rooms.

Original story posted beginning December:

Source: abcnews.go.com

Egyptian security forces raided a bath house and arrested 25 men suspected of homosexuality, dragging them naked out of the building in downtown Cairo, an official said Monday.

The raid is part of an ongoing crackdown on gay men and comes after an Egyptian court last month convicted eight men on charges of “inciting debauchery” following their appearance in an alleged same-sex wedding party on a Nile boat, sentencing each to three years imprisonment. Egyptian law does not explicitly prohibit consensual same-sex relations but prosecutes and imprisons gay men on charges such as “debauchery” and “shameless public acts.”

The raid on the bath house, or hammam, took place on Sunday in the city’s Ramses neighborhood, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. He said the bath house owner, an unidentified 60-year-old man, was suspected of renting the place out specifically to homosexuals.

The crackdown on homosexuals, and also on atheists, goes hand in hand with a wider campaign against all forms of dissent, both by liberal and Islamist political groups. In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison each for “debauchery” after allegedly holding parties that involved homosexual acts and where women’s clothing and makeup were found. In 2001, Egypt made headlines around the world when 52 men were arrested in a police raid on a Nile boat restaurant and accused of taking part in a gay sex party. After a highly publicized trial in an emergency state security court, 23 of the men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of one to five years for immoral behavior and contempt of religion.

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