A major campaign against the LGBTI community in Egypt appears to be under way, with at least 77 people arrested on charges of homosexuality in just the last eight months.
The arrests, documented by the group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights since October last year, include a number of individuals arrested for wearing women’s clothing as well students and other individuals arrested in the privacy of their homes, at parties and at bathhouses.
Those convicted so far have received sentences including three to nine years in jail while others remain in prison awaiting trial.
“The concern here is not motivated only by the abuses arrested persons may face in police stations or the length of their detention — which is not inconsiderable — but also the possible increased level of social hostility against them, the threats they may receive from their families, and the possible loss of their jobs and places of residence,” commented EIPR.
According to American activist Scott Long, the rate of arrests has increased dramatically of late. “…the arrests have come in an accelerating rush, till now a new raid happens virtually every week,” he wrote on his blog.
He also accused the Egyptian media’s sensationalistic reporting of fuelling the arrests by generating “a full-fledged, classic moral panic.”
He said that many media reports” dehumanise the arrested ‘deviants,’ portraying them as both pathological and irrefragably criminal.”
Long added: “The crackdown mainly targets the people in Egypt’s diffuse and fragile LGBT communities who are most vulnerable and visible, those who defy gender norms. … in many of these cases people were convicted of homosexual acts with no evidence but their looks (or the clothes or makeup in their handbags) alone.”
Long also warned LGBTI Egyptians of the dangers of dating and social media sites, which can be used to identify and arrest individuals, with profiles or messages being used against them in court. “A few strategically placed informers, and these people — thousands of them — could wind up in prison,” he said.
While homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, gay people can be targeted through immorality or public indecency laws.
Men suspected of homosexuality in Egypt are often forced to undergo forensic anal exams, a practice described by human rights groups as torture and as being medically inconclusive.
Egypt has repeatedly rejected efforts by the United Nations to support the right to equality of LGBTI people.
In June 2012, an Egyptian delegation told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that sexual orientation “is not part of the universally recognised human rights.”
Egyptian activists have urged the international community to react cautiously, warning that public protests may inflame the situation. Instead, they have called on governments to address the issue with the Egyptian authorities in private.