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The only recent blight on the Washington-Cairo love fest has been charges that Egypt is persecuting gay men.

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, and Saudi crown prince Abdullah met to discuss an Arab stance on Israeli policies. Sharm el-Sheik, May 11, 2002. Amr Nabil

Justice for Gays in Egypt:
Try, Try Again

by Toby Eglund

May 26, 2002. Few countries have reaped the benefits of the post-9/11 shifts in power as much as Egypt. Between the war on terrorism and the upheaval in the Middle East, Egypt has solidified its role as a key United States ally, and important pourer of oil on the troubled waters of the region.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, visiting Egypt this week, issued a special invitation to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to attend the June G8 economic summit for the world's eight richest nations. Meanwhile, Amr Soliman, the chief of intelligence for Egypt, was in the U.S. this week at the behest of CIA Director George Tenet, ostensibly so he could offer suggestions on improving security on the West Bank. Mubarak himself will be in Washington to visit Bush and company beginning June 8th for "detailed" discussions on the Middle East.

The only recent blight on the Washington-Cairo love fest, encouraged by $1.9 billion a year in U.S. aid, has been charges that Egypt is persecuting gay men. In March, 40 members of Congress sent the second of two letters to the Egyptian embassy calling on the government to end the continued mistreatment of gay men.

The most notorious case was the prosecution last November of 52 presumed gay men in Cairo's "Queen Boat Trial" before an Emergency State Security Court, established to deal with terrorists and threats to state security. Twenty-three were sentenced to one to five years of hard labor for "debauchery" and "sexual immorality." Two of them, perceived as the gay ringleaders, were also found guilty of "contempt for religion," a sentence later upheld by Mubarak himself. While awaiting trial, many of the men were reportedly abused or tortured.

Someone must have told Mubarak that he was going to look mighty silly if he arrived in Washington with the "gays are terrorists" albatross around his neck. In an attempt to make his stay there more pleasant, the Egyptian ruler has now ordered the cases of all the Queen Boat men, except for the two convicted of "contempt for religion," to be reconsidered by prosecutors, who may shelve the cases, but will probably retry them in an ordinary court.

The icing on the cake for Mubarak's charm offensive is the release on bail of the 21 men in prison, pending the prosecutors' decision. While new trials may bring relief to the convicted men, they are unwelcome for the 29 acquitted previously, who will also be retried, and could be nailed this time.

It's unclear whether Mubarak's move signals the permanent removal of "debauchery" (aka being gay) from the purview of Egypt's anti-terrorist courts. What's clear is that the wonderfully useful "contempt for religion" will remain firmly tethered to those courts, threatening anyone who not only presumably indulges in being homosexual, but thinks about what it means to be gay and Muslim in Egypt.

In the meantime, arrests of those suspected of being gay continue on a regular basis. According to a report published by the Associated Press, Internet-surfing Egyptian police have in recent months redoubled their efforts to entrap gay men online. They place ads seeking partners on sites for gay Egyptians, then arrest those who respond. General Abdel-Wahab el-Adly, the Egyptian police official in charge of the operation, proudly told AP, "We got 19 cases this way. It was great arresting them."

The ongoing harassment has inspired the UK site to warn readers, "Guess who's into your underwear? Egyptian State Security! When cruising try to avoid wearing fashionable briefs or thongs!"

Gay men are not the only ones harrassed by an Egytian justice system whose motto seems to be "try, try again." Egyptian-American sociologist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was found guilty of a variety of crimes against the state, then acquitted, is currently in court being tried yet again.

Related links:

For Mubarak scraps verdict jailing 21 Egyptians for gay sex in the Middle East Times.

For the U.S. Congressional Letter To Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

For Egypt uses cyber cops to arrest gay men in


For The trial of Egyptian sociologist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim found guilty, then acquitted, now being retried.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage Africa

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Puerto Rico to Taiwan and more.

Africa Emerging
News, opinion, politics from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Including homophobia in Southern Africa and the colonial legacy everywhere.

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