Gay and Transgender Egyptians, Harassed and Entrapped, Are Driven Underground

On Aug 10, 2016 The New York Times reported: CAIRO — The last days of the government of Hosni Mubarak and the turbulent revolution that followed were tense, occasionally gut-wrenching times for many in Egypt. But for gay and transgender Egyptians, it was also a period of unaccustomed freedom.

They socialized in bars and sidewalk cafes and met partners over cellphone dating apps with a greater degree of openness and comfort than they had known.

But that era came to an abrupt end with the return of military rule.

Since the 2013 military intervention that established former Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the country’s ruler, at least 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been arrested in a quiet crackdown that has shattered what had been an increasingly vibrant and visible community. Through a campaign of online surveillance and entrapment, arrests and the closing of gay-friendly businesses, the police have driven gay and transgender people back underground and, in many cases, out of the country.

Before the crackdown, “there was no deliberate campaign of arrest and monitoring,” said Dalia Abdel Hameed, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “But now the police are going out of their way to arrest gay men and trans women.”

Between the unraveling of the Mubarak government and the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people faced little threat from the police, who were focused on other matters and largely ignored what happened at house parties or bars in Cairo’s crumbling, bohemian downtown.

The crackdown began in earnest when a military curfew imposed after the removal of Mr. Morsi ended in fall 2013, said Scott Long, a human rights activist who lived in Egypt for many years and wrote a landmark report for Human Rights Watch on the last major crackdown.

At the time, control of Egypt’s streets was passing from the army, a relatively trusted institution, to the police, a hated symbol of the Mubarak government.

“Somebody in the Ministry of Interior realized this was a way to get good publicity for the police,” Mr. Long said.

The arrests signaled the return of an aggressive approach by the morality police division, which has participated in a larger crackdown that has jailed tens of thousands of people since 2013. Using tools last deployed in a campaign against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people over 10 years ago, the division has reasserted the authority lost by the police before and during the revolution.

Other branches of the security forces have also flexed their muscles since the return of military rule, arresting protesters or clamping down on unlicensed street vendors, activists said.

“The police want to show they have a strong grip on society,” Ms. Abdel Hameed said. “So this is the morality police having their own campaign to arrest L.G.B.T. people.”

There is no law in Egypt specifically banning homosexual acts, so gay and transgender people are charged with “habitual debauchery” under a 1961 law that is used to prosecute men for homosexuality and women for prostitution, Ms. Abdel Hameed said. So far, the sentences have ranged from two to 12 years.

Read more at Gay and Transgender Egyptians, Harassed and Entrapped, Are Driven Underground – The New York Times

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