Political tactics underlie Egypt’s ‘gay wedding’ arrests

Activist and commentator Scott Long describes the latest homosexuality-related arrests in Egypt and the country’s “moral panic” about a video of an alleged “gay wedding.” The following excerpts, but not the subheads, are from Long’s blog, “A Paper Bird.”

The video that triggered outrage and arrests

Image of cake, along with celebrating men, appears in the video  from APril 2014 that has been dubbed "Egypt’s First ‘Gay Wedding."
This fuzzy image of a cake, along with images of men celebrating, appears in the video that has been inaccurately dubbed “Egypt’s First ‘Gay Wedding.”

It lasts little more than a minute; it shows some kind of party on one of the boats that cruise the Cairo Nile. (You can buy a ride individually or rent the felucca for a group.) The cameraphone tilts and pans past some celebrating people; there’s a cake, and two seem to exchange rings. When it went viral, it was instantly dubbed “Egypt’s First Gay Wedding.”

Some of the men I talked to asserted the whole thing was a joke. One of the alleged grooms called the popular talk-show of Tamer Amin to say as much — that he had a girlfriend and was just “playing around with rings.” If it was a marriage between men, then in a sense it was intrinsically unserious, since the law doesn’t recognize that.

[The date of the original video is variously described as April 2014 or October 2013.]

The response from the media and politicians

Homophobic Egyptian talk-show host Tamer Amin. (Photo courtesy of Voz Ciudadana Chile)
Homophobic Egyptian talk-show host Tamer Amin. (Photo courtesy of Voz Ciudadana Chile)

Amin, on his show, called for retribution. (Tamer Amin is eager to anathematize people he thinks are gay, but equally happy to excuse rape. When a Cairo University student was sexually assaulted earlier this year, Amin told viewers that “She was dressed like a prostitute … The sexually repressed boys couldn’t control themselves … I blame her for dressing like this, and her parents for letting her leave the house in that dress.”)  Mohamed Sobhi, an actor notorious for his paranoid rants against Jews, demanded the State “respond’ to the “the spread of the phenomenon of gay marriage.”

And the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the dictator’s most feared opposition, berated the regime that overthrew it for going soft on perversion.

The crackdown

The supposed ceremony thus became a political crime. The State started arresting people.

[On Sept. 3], police picked up at least 13 people in the streets around Ramsis Station, and interrogated them about the video. The next night, they seized an unknown number as they were leaving a club downtown — I’ve heard figures as high as 26. Most were released, but somebody pointed an incriminating finger. On Saturday, the media announced that men from the film had been arrested. …

[The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights says that eight defendants have been arrested. The news site] Youm7 showed grainy video of people being hauled to jail. The full names of nine victims, some presumably still at large, appeared in the press.

Hurried action in court

Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat (Photo courtesy of Onaeg.com)
Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat (Photo courtesy of Onaeg.com)

The charges against the men aren’t clear, but they reportedly included incitement to “debuachery” (fugur, the legal term in Egyptian law for homosexual acts), and “publication of indecent photographs.” The images showed “the purpose was the celebration of attachment to one another, in scenes deemed shameful to the maximum degree.” Egypt’s Prosecutor General, Hisham Barakat, personally intervened in the case to show its seriousness, ordering quick action.

Anal examinations (both useless and abusive)

Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority conducted anal examinations on the arrested men — an intrusive, abusive, torturous and medically worthless procedure. They found no evidence of homosexual conduct. That didn’t stop a court, on September 9, from ordering the men jailed for another 15 days so the furor can continue.

Political motives are clear

[In an interview with Long, one of the people arrested described the police sweep and interrogation of about 13 people]:

[During the interrogation, the police supervisor] said we have a new president [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi], and Sisi is determined not to let this kind of thing happen, and will not let the Muslim Brotherhood get any benefit from it.

Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former military commander-in-chief. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I told him I didn’t know anything about the people in the video. All the same, they took our phones and made backups of all the information on them.

We were kept there for six hours, till after 10 AM. After the boss left the other policemen came back and made fun of us, calling us female names and asking if we were carrying condoms. My friend and I were set free; they held on to the third guy who was with us, because they said there was a theft charge against him. I don’t know what happened to the others.

The context — ongoing LGBTI arrests

The video leaked amid a months-long campaign of arrests and vilification of people accused of homosexual conduct or of dissident gender expression. Transgender people in particular have been rounded up in clubs and on the streets, and seized in private homes.

These arrests continue. In early August, police arrested a woman and two men in Rehab City, a gated community on Cairo’s outskirts, and charged the latter with homosexual conduct. I’m reliably told the cops stopped one of the men at a checkpoint, on his motorcycle; finding him suspicious, they went to his home, and found the conclusive evidence — condoms. (So much for the officers’ concern for public health.)

Later that month, “security forces” arrested ten people in what they called a “prostitution ring” in Giza, in western Cairo. They included, it appears, a trans woman, whose photo was singled out to appear in El-Watan.

The context — widespread repression to display police power

It’s not just alleged gays and trans people who are victims of the atmosphere of repression. The police presence in downtown Cairo is formidable now. Just under three weeks ago ago, cops raided a host of sidewalk cafes, forcing them to shutter because they had tables on, well, the sidewalk.  …

The next day, they cracked down on street vendors. Grim, barred trucks from Central Security palisaded the avenues, filling up with hapless men whose crime was hawking scarves and jeans in the passageways off Qasr el-Nil.

There is a general campaign of social control going on, and a general rehabilitation of the reputation — and power — of the police. Homosexuality is simply another convenient bogeyman.

Its particular convenience, though, is that it unites several things Sisi despises: “Western” influence (as in those marriages), abnormal gender roles, and the youth culture and revolutionary decadence symbolized by the downtown world. Attacking “debauchery” allows him to set the State firmly against all those debilitating forces.

For more information and analysis, including possible answers to the question “Why now?”, see the full article: “Egypt’s “gay wedding” furor: A ship of fools.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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