A TV presenter working for Egyptian pro-government TV program Al-Qahira wal Nas (Cairo and the people) appears to have initiated a police raid on a bath house leading to the arrest and public shaming of dozens of men who now stand accused of engaging in homosexual acts.
CONFUSION OVER NUMBERS
One witness put the number arrested at around forty while an official informed a Reuters correspondent that twenty six men were being held in detention and General Ali al-Demerdash, head of the Cairo security directorate, told AFP that thirty three men had been detained.
Whether the original witness overestimated their number or whether some men have been “disappeared” is not clear. What is almost certain is that they all face the prospect of forced medical examinations and beatings in custody followed by lengthy prison sentences from which they will be lucky to survive.
MEN DRAGGED AWAY WEARING ONLY THEIR UNDERWEAR
The raid took place at 10pm on Sunday in the Ramses District of Downtown Cairo. Iraqi was present alongside police and leather jacketed State Security officials as around twenty six or more gay men were rounded up and led to police trucks.
The photos appear to show that the arrests took place at hammam bab el bahr which is just a short walk from Ramses Square and dates back to the Ottoman period. Quite how the police were able to see what was happening through all the vapor and steam is an interesting question, but one that state appointed lawyers are unlikely to ask.
Neither are they likely to point out that in a recent academic article the authors were seemingly surprised to discover that at bab el bahr the management encouraged modesty by handing out pairs of shorts along with the towels (HBRC jounral “Survival of the Mediterranean Hammam in Contemporary Societies”).
Nevertheless TV presenter Mona Iraqi published photos on her Facebook page of the hammam’s customers claiming she was filming a program to highlight the dangers of HIV and called the bathhouse “a den for spreading AIDS in Egypt” saying that those detained had been taken to the prosecution without any clothes “since these were needed as evidence.”
Some photos however indicated that the men might have been allowed to wear their underwear as they were herded into police vans. However even this would have been a shameful humiliation on a bitterly cold winter’s night in Cairo. And if they were taken semi naked to police cells directly, as is likely, they would have met a very hostile reception from other inmates.
ORDERS FOR RAID CAME FROM HIGH UP
It’s unlikely that Iraqi was the author of this witch hunt. A decision for such a highly publicized event would have had to have obtained very high clearance from the Ministry of Interior and possibly even from the office of the president.
The government has to meet head on any criticism that they are less conservative on social issues than the Muslim Brotherhood and at the same time the publicity afforded to any trial will help to focus media attention away from the government’s failure to tackle poverty, inequality and corruption.
The police have been aware for years of what was going on in Cairo’s few remaining bathhouses but until October 2013 they choose to look away. That month there was a police raid on a bathhouse in Marg, a poor neighbourhood in north east Cairo, during which 14 men were arrested. However this latest round up is considerably larger and the first ever to be accompanied by a television journalist.
It is ironic that Iraqi claimed she had instigated the raid in order to bring about greater awareness of HIV and AIDS. What is now certain is that the gay community will be driven underground.
FIGHT BACK BY MAKING YOUR OPINION KNOWN.
Please post what you feel on her Facebook page. Don’t forget to log into Facebook first.
EGYPTIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SPEAKS OUT
Hossam Bahgat, founder and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, has already risked local public outrage, by bravely criticizing Mona Iraqi’s action on her Facebook page. He needs the support of Egyptians and people worldwide. And more to the point the thirty three men arrested need your support.
Fortunately there is already a torrent of condemnation online for Iraqi’s gutter journalism with Peter Rullez commenting on her Facebook page – “This photo [of Iraqi filming the men entering the police van] will haunt you your entire life. May you be happy and proud as you photograph inside a men’s bathhouse and ruin men’s reputations for a scoop” Let’s make that torrent a tidal wave !
Meanwhile in Britain Labour politician and lgbt activist Michael Cashman CBE tweeted for people to contact the Egyptian Embassy in London to complain (tel 020 7235 9777 daily 9am to 3pm ).
SHAME ON THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT AND MEDIA
What a shame on Egypt ! What happened to the revolution when Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Suez and Alexandria inspired the world ? The very first slogan of 25 January called for “freedom and human dignity” but these arrests prove the current regime no longer cares. And why should they when the Western governments and corporations continue to back them.
Sisi’s government has turned the clock back to the age of Mubarak and to the time of the Queen Boat arrests in 2001 when 52 gay men were detained during a raid on a floating discotheque on the Nile.
These latest arrests follow several other high profile raids including the detention two months ago of seven Egyptians accused of debauchery after a video was posted online showing a marriage between two men on a Nile riverboat.
Please also make your views clear below Monica Iraq’s homophobic program on Youtube.
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