Egypt escalates homophobic purge as 33 people ‘arrested for being gay’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Fears of a homophobic purge have been confirmed in Egypt after dozens of arrests targeting the LGBT community.

A number of arrests were made in Egypt last month after a rainbow flag was waved at a concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay.

However the incident has sparked a wider crackdown – and there have been reports that Egyptian authorities have begun actively targeting the gay community, implementing a harsh crackdown.

Mashrou' Leila
A picture taken of the band on the night of the gig (Photo by مشروع ليلى Mashrou’ Leila/Facebook)

Amnesty International said today that Egyptian authorities have arrested 22 people over the past three days alone, stepping up a campaign of persecution.

The total number of arrests based on perceived sexual orientation now stands at 33 (32 men and one woman) over the past week.

The Forensic Medical Authority has carried out anal examinations on at least five of those arrested.

Though the crackdown has largely targeted gay men, one woman was detained by authorities on suspicion of “promoting sexual deviancy” and “habitual debauchery” for waving the rainbow flag.

It is believed to be the first such incident involving a woman in several years.

Egyptian-born gay activist Omar Sharif Jr., the grandson of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, spoke to PinkNews about the purge.

He told PinkNews: “I am angry and disheartened by the arrests of fellow Egyptians over the past few days.

“The action of authorities are an affront to basic human rights and dignity. No one should be arrested for proudly expressing their authentic selves; they should be celebrated.Forcing people to undergo invasive medical examinations is tantamount to torture.

“Let’s be clear, Egyptian authorities are not protecting morality; they are spitting in the face of it.”

Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International, said: “In a matter of days the Egyptian security forces have rounded up dozens of people and carried out five anal examinations signalling a sharp escalation in the authorities’ efforts to persecute and intimidate members of the LGBTI community following the rainbow flag incident.

“Forced anal examinations are tantamount to torture – there is no scientific basis for such tests and they cannot be justified under any circumstances.

“The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country. Instead of stepping up arrests and carrying out anal examinations, the authorities must urgently halt this ruthless crackdown and release all those arrested immediately and unconditionally.”

Najia Bounaim added: “The Egyptian authorities’ announcement that they are investigating the rainbow flag incident as a criminal act is utterly absurd. No one should be punished for expressing solidarity with LGBTI individuals or based on their perceived sexual orientation.

“This is the worst crackdown against people based on their perceived sexual orientation since the mass arrests of 52 people following a raid on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub on the Nile, in 2001.”

Human Rights Watch has also condemned the examinations.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released.

“The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights.

“Egypt should stop dedicating state resources to hunting people down for what they allegedly do in their bedrooms, or for expressing themselves at a rock concert, and should instead focus energy on improving its dire human rights record.”

Homosexuality is not directly prohibited by law in the country.

However authorities are able to secure convictions under broad laws that criminalise“immorality” and “debauchery”, which are also used to target sex workers.

Related: Where is it illegal to be gay? A look at all the countries where homosexuality is against the law

Mashrou Leila had been playing at the Cairo city festival and had obtained all of the required permits to do so.

But they have been banned from performing in the country ever again.

In a statement, the band said:”Over the course of the last 10 days, we had opted to remain relatively silent on the situation in Egypt, after consulting with various Egyptian activists, and human rights organizations, for fear that a statement from us would risk further inflaming the situation, and the brutal trespasses on concert goers, activists, and the LGBTQ+ community. It

“has however become rather apparent in the last 48 hours that the state apparatus is hell-bent on executing the most atrocious of human rights violations.

“We cannot begin to explain how saddened we are to see yet another era of backwards tyranny creep over one of our most beloved countries and audiences.

“This crackdown is by no means separable from the suffocating atmosphere of fear and abuse experienced by all Egyptians on a daily basis, regardless of their sexual orientations.

“We denounce the demonization and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults.

“It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love.

“The amount of boastful ignorance, hate speech, and lies that have emerged in the press is unthinkable. We urge the Egyptian press to wake up to the catastrophe that they’ve generated and take responsibility for the inflammatory lies that they’ve published over the last 10 days.

“We denounce the hate speech that has been adopted by both the state and the media.

“We denounce the apathy that we’ve witnessed from various civil society organizations. The state is currently rounding up kids and violating their bodies. This is not a time for silence, nor is it a time for condescendingly discussing identity politics. Silence is consent.”

The band added: “We call on cultural producers, musicians, and activists, inside and outside Egypt, to express their solidarity with the Egyptian community during this horrible time. This is no longer something any of us can afford to ignore.

“We need an internationalist solidarity movement bent on pressuring the Egyptian regime to immediately halt its ongoing witch-hunt and release all detainees.

“We call on the Egyptian state and security apparatus to remember that they are part of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, and the UN Convention against torture which classifies anal examinations as a form of torture.

“We reiterate our unwavering support to the Egyptian people in this horrible time. We’re heartbroken that the band’s work has been used to scapegoat yet another crackdown by the government.

“Human rights are not privileges to be given and taken away. Human rights just are.

“We apologize to our fans for having to endure yet another attack.”

In 2001, controversy arose in the country when 52 men were arrested on a floating boat nightclub on the Nile on suspicion of attending a ‘gay’ party.

A trial was then launched, drawing global attention.

Half of the men were sentenced to prison time, a move widely criticised by human rights groups.

There were also mass arrests in 2014 over a reported same-sex commitment ceremony.