In a new BBC documentary, journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin goes undercover to speak with members of Egypt’s highly persecuted LGBTQ+ community.
Egypt has a history of punishing its LGBTQ+ citizens and now the are using more sinister methods to target this marginalized community. Shihab-Eldin spoke to queer individuals who were targeted using Egypt’s debauchery laws. There are no explicit laws against homosexuality in Egypt, but police and other private investigators have been using this loophole to target queer men and women.
Police use apps like WhosHere, Grindr, and WhatsApp to find and fabricate evidence against queer individuals. Transcripts are collected, and sometimes fabricated, to coerce individuals into divulging private information and providing authorities with information to persecute others.
The police use these apps not only to target Egyptian citizens but tourists as well. One tourist, who used the alias Matt*, was the subject of one of these sting operations. Matt matched with an undercover officer on the app Grindr, where after a brief conversation, sent photos of himself and admitted to acts of “debauchery.” Matt was then arrested and deported.
In the confiscated transcripts, police are on record pressuring people into agreeing to sex for money, giving them a viable reason to prosecute. This is what happened to Laith*, a contemporary dancer from Egypt.
According to Laith, he was contacted by someone through a friend’s phone number and asked to meet for drinks. But when Laith arrived, he was instead approached by police and thrown into the back of a police vehicle. They verbally harassed him and snuffed a cigarette into his arm. They then created a fake profile on WhosHere, editing his photos into more explicit images and fabricated messages that showed Laith offering to perform sexual acts for money.
Laith was jailed for three months for “habitual debauchery,” but the sentence was reduced to a month on appeal. Laith also testified that the police attempted to coerce him into sharing the names of other gay people he knew.
The Egyptian government has spoken publically about its use of social media to target members of the LGBTQ+ community. In 2020, the former assistant to the Minister of Interior for Internet Crimes and Human Trafficking, Ahmed Taher, spoke to the Egyptian newspaper Ahl Masr. He was quoted saying “we recruited police in the virtual world to uncover the masses of group sex parties, homosexual gatherings.”
Egypt is a strategically important location to both the United States and Europe and receives funding from the US and EU annually. However, the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office has told the BBC that no foreign aid has gone towards Egypt’s attacks on the queer community. Alicia Kearns, chair of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee, tells the BBC that she wants warnings in place for LGBTQ travelers for the risks in countries like Egypt, “where their sexuality might be weaponized against them”.
Criminal gangs also utilize tactics similar to the police, using online chatrooms to hunt down LGBTQ individuals. One of the most notorious duos, Bakar and Yahia, are well known in the LGBTQ community for using blackmail and humiliation to extort and alienate queer individuals from their families and social circles.
In 2017, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation in Egypt imposed a blackout on coverage for LGBTQ issues except if the coverage “acknowledges the fact that their conduct is inappropriate.”
The full documentary, Queer Egypt Under Attack, can be streamed for free on YouTube.