Though homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, police have been using social media and smartphone applications to hunt down and arrest gays and lesbians. Two gay Egyptians, who hide their sexuality and live in fear of being arrested, tell us their story.
A week ago, seven men were arrested after they appeared in a video showing a marriage ceremony between two men. The footage showed a gay couple exchanging vows and rings under a traditional canopy on a boat on the Nile, in the presence of a small group of friends. The footage was shared across social media and was picked up by the local press, who condemned this ceremony.
At the beginning of the week, the public prosecutor’s office ordered the two men featured in the ceremony to undergo “medical tests” that were supposed to be able to determine if they were homosexual. However, after the men were “tested,” the authorities admitted that the results showed that they had not engaged in homosexual relations.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt. Despite this, numerous people have been arrested while taking part in festivities celebrating gay unions and accused of “debauchery.” In May, for example, four men were arrested during a party organised in Nasr City, located east of Cairo. One of them was sentenced to 12 years of prison, the heaviest sentence ever given to an LGBT person in Egypt.
According to accounts given by numerous witnesses, police are using gay online dating sites, such as Grindr, to hunt down LGBT people. Egyptian gay rights activists have published numerous messages warning members of the community to refrain from using these applications.
According to several gay rights activists, at least 77 LGBT people have been arrested since October 2013.
"I was chased out of a cafe in Cairo because I was with an effeminate friend"
I’m lucky because my parents and my older brother know and accept that I am gay. At first, when I told my father, he was very angry and kicked me out of the house. But he let me return soon after because he realised that it wasn’t my fault. But outside of this small family circle and a few gay friends, no one knows. I am very careful not to let my secret out because it could get me in big trouble.
In Egypt, there is a kind of religious fascism. People think that gays are perverts, that they have no morals and that they only think about sex all the time. I’m lucky because I don’t look effeminate and so I go unnoticed. But when I am with a friend that does look effeminate, people always insult us.
A few days ago, we were sitting in a cafe. When we called the waiter over, he came to our table and asked us to leave the restaurant. We were furious. We asked to see the manager and he said: "Get out of here! I don’t want problems in my café ". That hurt me deeply.
In the current climate, I no longer dare to use applications to meet people. Undercover police agents use the applications to set up meetings with gays in cafes. It’s a trap. About a week ago, a friend of mine was arrested in this way in Cairo. I still haven’t heard from him. When I tried to call his parents, they claimed he was visiting family in another city. I’m scared he’ll be tortured or raped. Moreover, he’s a fragile person and the police could force him to name other gays… like me, for example.
"The police aren’t just targeting well-known gay hangouts, they are increasingly raiding homes when they think there is a LGBT party going on"
Since October 2013, there has been a real manhunt for gay people in Egypt. The police aren’t just targeting well-known gay hangouts; they are increasingly raiding homes when they think there is an LGBT party going on.
I think the new intensity of this repression is tied to the political situation in Egypt. Since President Sisi came to power, he has wanted to show Egyptians that he is as conservative as the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.
I am part of an underground group that helps LGBT people in need. When an LGBT person is arrested, we try to get in touch discreetly with their close friends and family to offer them support. We also reach out to lawyers who specialise in human rights to defend them. Gay people who are arrested are often given heavy sentences after expedited trials [Editor’s note: The four people arrested in Nasr City in May were sentenced only four days after their arrest].
On social media, we try to alert people about places that are under police surveillance and let them know that they should avoid these places. We also tell them to be careful, to not give out personal information online and to avoid any applications that use geolocalisation like Grindr, Hornit, Scruff, Gay Dating, etc.
Every once in a while, we organise gatherings between trustworthy members of the LGBT community in secret locations in Cairo so that we can give out practical advice and information. We hope that those who attend, in turn, will share this information with the gay people they know. We also try to provide counseling services so that they realise that they don’t need to feel guilty and that their homosexuality is neither an illness nor a form of sexual perversion.
The most at-risk people in the LGBT community are the transsexuals because they have to buy hormone injections on the black market, which means that they are not at all regulated. What’s more, these injections are expensive, costing about 150 Lires [the equivalent of 16 euros], and you need to take them several times a week. They often become sex workers to pay for these treatments.
As part of our Facebook campaign, we are asking people who identify with our cause to send us photos of themselves holding a sign with a message of support for people in the LGBT community. We hope that a large number of people join our cause — and not just from Arabic countries, but from all over the world, in order to increase pressure on the Egyptian authorities so that they’ll stop persecuting the LGBT community. I’m hoping for the support of international NGOs. All we’re asking is to live with dignity.