A recent government crackdown targeting same-sex behavior in Egypt is cause for concern for human rights defenders all over the world.
On Friday September 22nd, two individuals were photographed holding a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo for the Lebanese indie-rock band Machrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay. The photo sparked a media firestorm in the country and the two individuals depicted were arrested for “promoting deviance.”
Since the concert, 62 people have been arrested across the country in an aggressive crackdown on anyone perceived to be a member of the LGBTQI community. According to human rights activists in Egypt, people are being detained, abused, and tortured without trial. Reports indicate that the police are sweeping the streets and monitoring neighborhoods and establishments known to be safe spaces for LGBTQI people. Reports have also emerged of the police using dating apps and other social media tools to entrap LGBTQI individuals.
On Wednesday, October 25th, the crackdown became even more severe after an Egyptian online portal published an anti-LGBTQI draft bill that was submitted by an Egyptian Member of Parliament (MP) Riad Abdel Sattar. The bill was sponsored by at least 13 other MPs and reads as follows:
Article One: In this Act, homosexuals shall refer to any sexual relationship between the same sex, either two or more males or two or more females.
Article Two: Any two or more persons, either male or female, who engage in perverted sexual relations between themselves in any public or private place shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and not more than three years. In the case of a repeat offense, the penalty shall be imprisonment for five years.
Article Three: Any person who incites homosexual relations by any means, whether by instigating, facilitating, or preparing a place to practice them or encouraging others to engage in them, even if he is not practicing them, shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and not more than three years. In the case of a repeat offense, the penalty shall be imprisonment for five years.
Article Four: It is strictly prohibited to advertise or publicize any homosexual gathering by any means of advertising, whether audible or visible, or through social media. In such a case, the advertiser and promoter shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of three years. If such an event takes place, the organizer or organizers and whoever participated through any form of participation shall be punished. If natural persons, they shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of three years. If a legal person is responsible, their legal representative shall be punishable with imprisonment, and both the entity and venue will be closed.
Article Five: It is prohibited to carry any symbol or code for homosexuals, or to manufacture, sell, market, or advertise it. Anyone who violates this shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and not more than three years.
Article Six: The penalties contained in the preceding articles shall be followed by a period of probation equal to the duration of the sentence.
Article Seven: The penalties in the preceding articles will be accompanied by their publication in two widely-published daily newspapers.
Not only would this proposed bill greatly infringe upon the basic human rights of LGBTIQ people, it would also seriously undermine the HIV response for the country. Criminalization and punitive approaches to populations greatly defer individuals from seeking services and treatment for HIV related health needs.
Anti-LGBTQI sentiment and persecution of LGBTQI people in Egypt is not new. In 2001, “homosexuality” was a huge point of contention in the Egyptian media after some three dozen men were arrested on a cruise in the Nile. They were accused of “devil worshipping” and engaging in “perverted activities” while taking “pornographic photographs” and celebrating the marriage of two men. Known as the “Queen Boat” story, this incident unfolded over 6 months involving public trials and negative media coverage. It continues to inform the public discourse around the lives and rights of LGBTQI people in Egypt (such as this story from 2015).
The Daily News Egypt has reported that a delegation headed by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal travelled on Friday, October 27th to the United States to meet members of Congress during a six-day visit. According to MP Tarek El-Khouly, human rights conditions will certainly be among the topics discussed in the meetings.
MSMGF is currently collaborating with partners in the region and US-based partners to monitor the deteriorating situation and communicate with the US Department of State and global AIDS and human rights governance institutions. Since issues of sexual orientation and gender identity have been uncertain in the current US presidential administration, we hope this meeting will show a renewed commitment from the State Department to the human rights of LGBTQI people.
Stay tuned as MSMGF continues to monitor this ongoing story.