On Dec 30, 2014 The Daily Beast reported: The military government in Cairo is trying to prove it’s more “Islamic” than the Islamists it ousted in 2013. So it’s hunting down easy targets: LGBT Egyptians.
CAIRO — Mohamed was sitting in the steam room nursing his bad back when dozens of Egypt’s black-clad police officers burst into the downtown Cairo bathhouse with a TV crew in tow and started to arrest everyone. A few days before, friends of the married father-of-three had recommended the Turkish spa as treatment for his long-term joint and muscles troubles. The nighttime visit had proved to be a disastrous mistake.
Heavily armed riot police herded dozens of terrified men dressed in just the spa’s checkered towels through the changing rooms into waiting trucks. Some who were wearing clothes were forced to strip half-naked in front of the TV crew that kept filming, even as the prisoners tried to cover their faces.
Mohamed found himself swept along with others in the chaos. In the corner, Egyptian TV presenter Mona Iraqi quietly recorded the horrific raid on her iPhone, photos she gleefully posted on her public Facebook page later that evening.
The December 7 raid, in which 26 men were detained, was the single largest mass arrest of alleged gays the country has seen in decades. The last time there was a raid of this scale was in 2001 when 52 men were arrested on Queen Boat, a floating disco on the Nile. The resulting trial in that case sparked an international uproar and marred Egypt’s human rights records forever.
“I’m not gay, I’m married with kids. I wasn’t doing anything illegal in that bathhouse, I was just sitting there,” Mohamed told his lawyer from his prison cell. But now his life is in tatters—he is facing prison time, he could lose his job, his reputation is in ruins and his family has been publicly humiliated.
All 26 men were in court last week charged with “debauchery,” all of them were subjected to humiliating forensic “anal checks” to determine their sexuality.
Since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the authorities have launched the harshest crackdown on the LGBT community since the days of toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, as the country’s “morality police” look to boost their popularity ratings with the conservative Egyptian public.
There have been at least 50 cases similar to the bathhouse raid in the last 18 months, human rights groups estimate. This means over 150 gay and transgender people currently are languishing in the country’s jail cells despite the fact that, technically, homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt.
The televised raids—broadcast on national television to dramatic cop-show music—are driving the terrified community further underground.
These days the Egyptian pro-regime media are increasingly colluding with the security forces who invite them to broadcast the raids—even thought that’s illegal. In Mohamed’s case, TV host Iraqi instigated the bust: she had sent undercover camera crews to the bathhouse weeks before to spy on the men and reportedly alerted the police to what she claimed was a “den of inequity.”
“She worked together with the police, it was a publicity stunt and without her the arrests simply wouldn’t have happened,” said Scott Long, a rights activists closely following the cases.
The only repercussions Iraqi has faced are outside of Egypt, as she lost her place in an upcoming Swiss Film Festival, he added.
“Internationally there has been a lot of horror and contempt for her actions, domestically very little,” he said.
The 26 were beaten by the bailiffs as they filed into a caged dock, sobbing, on December 21. Through the chaos, as police tried to drown out the screams of the distraught families, one of the defendants said they had been badly beaten in detention and forced to sleep on their stomachs.