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March 06, 2015

Egypt's LGBT Crackdown Continues

Last week police arrested seven "transsexuals," as termed in official statements, at a nightclub in a popular tourist area of central Cairo. The arrestees will be charged under the country's debauchery law, the government’s favorite tool for persecuting gay and transgender Egyptians.  

The arrests were, government officials say, part of a broad effort to target a "network for practicing debauchery.” Key to this effort is entrapment: the government creates fake online profiles that draw gay men or transgender people to public meetings. The arrests were only the latest in Egypt’s crackdown on the human rights of LGBT Egyptians.

Recently, 26 men were acquitted of debauchery charges by an Egyptian court. The acquittal followed a public outcry in response to a journalist’s collaboration with Cairo's morality police. Mona Iraqi—working with a pro-government television channel—tipped off police to the presence of the men in an area bathhouse. Iraqi filmed the men's arrest as they were dragged from the site by police, in total disregard of the possible violence such footage could incite against them. Fortunately, the court freed the men and denied an appeal from prosecutors. 

Others have not been as fortunate. Late last year eight men were convicted under the debauchery statute and sentenced to three years imprisonment, simply for appearing in an alleged gay wedding ceremony video posted on YouTube. The men were subjected to abusive examinations to determine whether the men had engaged in anal sex. Such tests have long been decried as physically cruel, psychologically damaging, and scientifically spurious.  

Military-backed dictator Abdel Fatah el Sisi, like Hosni Mubarak before him, claims persecution of LGBT people is in line with “traditional” Egyptian values. Sisi reinforces the popular myth that homosexuality is a Western import. Thus the leader who receives hundreds of millions in arms from the West persecutes LGBT Egyptians in the name of opposing imperialism.

Last week, the State Department announced the appointment of the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, Randy Berry. As Mr. Berry takes his post later this month, he should work within the State Department to promote a change in the bilateral relationship with Egypt to promote respect for human rights. Our blueprint, “How to Prevent Egypt from Slipping into a Deepening Crisis,” has concrete recommendations for the U.S. government.