Egypt continues to arrest gay men
Seif Bedour is a 21-year-old man. He’d been studying abroad for a number of years, but in 2020 he returned home to see his family.
While in Egypt, Bedour was arrested.
Human Rights Watch reports that police arrested Bedour in late August, when he accompanied a friend who had been arrested by the police as part of their investigation into a party in 2014 at Cairo’s Fairmont Hotel. A woman at that party recently reported she was drugged and raped by several men in a hotel room on the same night.
Bedour, who was only 14 and not present when the Fairmont incident took place, had voluntarily accompanied a witness, a woman friend, to the police station after police arrested her from her home at dawn. “He didn’t want her to be alone in a difficult situation,” according to his family.
Also at the police station was Ahmed al-Ganzoury, 40, who was initially summoned by police because he was an organiser of the Fairmont party.
At the station, police unlawfully searched Bedour’s and al-Ganzoury’s phones and, based on private photos they found, detained them for allegedly engaging in same-sex conduct.
Bedour and al-Ganzoury are still being held in custody. Judges renewed their pretrial detention three times in hearings they were not allowed to attend.
Authorities kept them for several weeks in a police station in east Cairo, permitting only one family visit. On 14 October, they were transferred to al-Nahda prison.
According to the men’s families, prison guards forcibly shaved their heads, and prosecutors ordered them to undergo drug testing and forced anal exams, a form of torture and sexual assault under international human rights law, which Egyptian authorities routinely carry out to seek ‘proof’ of same-sex conduct.
Government-affiliated media appear to have reframed the alleged gang rape as a group sex party and claimed that security forces had broken up a homosexual network.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Egypt?
While there’s so specific law in Egypt that criminalises homosexuality, the country does have several provisions that criminalise any behaviour or the expression of any idea that is deemed to be immoral, scandalous, or offensive to the teachings of a recognised religious leader.
Egypt is a socially conservative country, and these public morality and public order-based laws are being used against LGBTQ people as well as anyone who supports more liberal attitudes.
In an increasingly hostile environment, it’s being reported by Human Rights Watch that police in Egypt are using dating apps to identify and persecute gay men.
Men interviewed by Human Rights Watch all told similar stories of being arrested on charges of debauchery, prostitution, selling alcohol, or joining a terrorist group. Once in custody, they were subjected to days and sometimes months of abuse such as anal examinations, beatings, rape, and sexual assault.
How did we get here?
The public decency laws that are used to persecute queer people began to emerge in the early 1960s. The laws were initially intended to tackle prostitution – they refer to ‘debauchery’ and authorities have interpreted that to include a prohibition on homosexuality.
The systematic crackdown on LGBTQ people appears to have begun around 2000, continuing unabated after the revolution in 2011.
The queer history of Ancient Egypt
Obviously, the existence of queer men and women is nothing new in any part of the world. In Egypt, our recorded history can be traced back to ancient times.
One of the most prominent same-sex relationships of Ancient Egypt is that of Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep.
Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep lived and served under pharaoh Niuserre during the 5th Dynasty (c. 2494–2345 BC). Both men had families of their own with children and wives, but when Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep died, they were buried together in the same tomb. In the tomb, several paintings depict both men embracing each other and touching their faces nose-on-nose – in Ancient Egypt, this gesture represented a kiss.
There is little evidence surviving that gives any great insight into LGBTQ life in Ancient Egypt. Any sexually orientated stories recorded in documents or literature are never explicit but use abstract references. No record has been found that indicates any negative views towards homosexuality, or any punishments for same-sex encounters.