A year-long crackdown on Egypt’s gay community continued this week with the arrest of at least 25 men at a bathhouse in central Cairo in a sting operation apparently initiated by a television crew.
The men were dragged half-naked into police trucks in the late night raid, which was filmed by a private television crew headed by presenter Mona Iraqi.
Iraqi and her colleagues later claimed on Facebook and in a YouTube video that they had led the police to the bathhouse on the unsubstantiated suspicion that its customers were a potential source of Aids.
“Watch the bold Mona Iraqi reveal in a series of investigative episodes the secret behind the spreading of Aids in Egypt,” stated a trailer for their programme, which was presented as a journalistic scoop and a tie-in with World Aids Day.
“For the first time in the history of Egyptian and Arabic media, we lead the morality police to storm the biggest den for male group sex in the heart of Cairo.”
Iraqi posted pictures of the raid on her Facebook page, including one of herself filming the men on a smartphone. She accompanied the photos with a since-deleted blogpost, explaining that her crew had “managed to make a filmed investigation to prove incidents of group perversion and record the confessions of the owners of this den”.
Her words largely attracted condemnation. “You see the picture of you filming with your phone?” replied Hossam Bahgat, a journalist and former head of a prominent rights group. “Your picture will be spread for years to come with every article, investigation or book on the collapse of Egyptian media ethics.”
The raid was the latest example of a crackdown on homosexuality and of collaboration between Egypt’s media and government. In November,eight men were jailed after being accused of taking part in a marriage-like ceremony on the river Nile. This year, there have been a number ofraids on private properties, street arrests targeting Egypt’s LGBT community and a surge in homophobic media coverage of gay life in Egypt.
Scott Long, the author of widely cited research on earlier crackdowns, wrote on Monday: “I hadn’t believed tensions around sexuality and gender could rise higher in Egypt. But they have. A brutal campaign of arrests continues, and the media incitement steadily intensifies.”
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but it is a social taboo and allegedly gay men have historically often been arrested on charges of immorality. In the largest case,
52 allegedly gay men were seized from a floating disco on the Nile in 2001 and charged with immorality.
Activists speculate that the recent rise in arrests is linked to the government’s desire to prove that it can be as socially conservative as the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in July 2013.
Independent newspapers and channels have largely become cheerleaders for Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s administration, with the editors of some of Egypt’s leading publications joining forces last month to jointly reject criticism of the army, police and judiciary.
• Additional reporting by Manu Abdo