Monday, April 19, 2010

Gay Egyptians: Finding a Place to Call Home in Cyberspace

"The punishments for being openly gay in Egypt mean that increasingly men are using the internet to meet up. As the gay community is forced underground, issues affecting it like the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases do not get openly discussed."

The BBC's Yolande Knell reports:
Laws on public morality are used to crack down on gay people and mean they live under continual threat of harassment and imprisonment.

"Tito" is a good-looking man in his late twenties with a successful career and an infectious laugh. Yet he tells me that most of the time he hides a secret: he is gay.

"As far as my family is concerned, this topic is completely out of bounds. It's a huge taboo," he explains. "In Egypt you still have these closed minds. I am only "out" to my friends."

When Tito first tried to meet other men as a teenager he found it difficult. He smiles as he recounts anecdotes of his failed attempts.

"Once I was out driving in Cairo and saw an attractive guy. I stopped because I wanted to talk to him but couldn't think of anything to say so I just asked: 'Where is the nearest petrol station?' He looked at me like I was crazy, then pointed out that I'd pulled up next to one!"

Like many other gay Egyptians he has also had his share of sinister experiences.
"After I had sex with one man he asked for a lift home but when we reached the area it was dark and deserted," Tito recalls. "He pulled out a knife and said: 'Hand over all your money and your mobile phone.' Without thinking I gave him everything I had and left."

As well as muggings and harassment gay men face the danger of prosecution under public morality laws.

"We still document cases where gay individuals, couples or groups are reported by their neighbours, arrested for public indecency or have gone to report crimes and found themselves turned into the accused," says Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

"In the majority we see the same pattern: arrests without probable cause, forced medical examinations and mandatory HIV tests, physical abuse and coercion to give confessions."

The most notorious crackdown was in 2001 when 52 men were detained on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub in central Cairo. Twenty-one of them were jailed for three years for "habitual debauchery." READ MORE