It’s one thing to be gay in Egypt, where police, state-aligned media, and the religious establishment all see it as a public duty to combat the spread of homosexuality. However, a recent crackdown on the practice is leading to jail sentences for those who publicly support the LGBTQ community.
Egypt, a key Western ally in the Middle East, has come under fire for its human rights record. In order to make a point, the United States has withheld some of its $1.3 billion in annual military aid. However, this didn’t stop the government from arresting 57 people in the past few weeks in a zero-tolerance response to a rare show of public support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights during a recent concert.
On Sep. 22, 30,000 people attended a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band whose lead singer is openly gay. During the show, a small group of concert-goers raised a rainbow flag, and the image quickly went viral.
Public prosecutor Nabil Sadek ordered the State Security Prosecution, which normally investigates terrorism and other national security threats, to investigate the flag incident. This resulted in at least four arrests for “promoting sexual deviancy,” according to a report published by Reuters on Thursday.
Egyptian authorities do not deny going after gays, and an investigation report provided to Reuters by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) openly refers to the police’s campaign on homosexuals. Just after the flag incident, local media, dominated by state-aligned television personalities, began a campaign against homosexuals, claiming that they were receiving foreign funding.
Egypt’s media regulator then banned homosexuals from appearing in the news unless they were “repenting” and calling homosexuality a “shame and a disease that should be kept under wraps, not promoted.”
Egyptian men suspected of being gay are arrested and subjected to forced anal exams to determine if they have had homosexual sex, a procedure human rights groups say amounts to torture. Amnesty International reported that at least five such examinations have taken place, and Egyptian judges claim that they were legally carried out and not abusive.
Ten men have already gone on trial during the recent crackdown and received jail sentences from one to six years.
Police in Egypt use a variety of methods to catch homosexuals: They raid peoples’ homes, parties, and even use online dating apps to lure gay men.
Egypt was one of 13 countries to vote last week against a U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for having gay sex. The Muslim-majority country also led a dozen states in boycotting a session in January with the first U.N. expert on anti-gay violence and discrimination. It sent a letter last year on behalf of Muslim countries to the secretary-general that led to the exclusion of 22 gay and transgender rights groups from the U.N. General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.
Gay rights activists say the crackdown against members of the LGBT community began in 2013, when Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi was ousted by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as military chief.
Sisi has been criticized by the Brotherhood as being anti-Islam, and rights groups explain that by cracking down on the LGBT community, Sisi is trying to divert everyone’s attention from poor economic conditions in Egypt.
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