LGBT rights in Egypt
|Status||Illegal since 2000.|
|Penalty||Under morality laws punishment up to 170 years with hard labor, fines, and deportation. Torture, beatings, and executions are also tolerated with police being complicit, joining in or turning a blind eye.|
|Recognition of relationships||No recognition of same-sex relationships|
LGBT persons in Egypt face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.
The prevailing public opposition to homosexuality is especially relevant to how the Egyptian legal system deals with sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Egyptian law does not explicitly criminalize homosexuality or cross-dressing, but it does have several provisions that criminalize any behavior or the expression of any idea that is deemed to be immoral, scandalous or offensive to the teachings of a recognized religious leader.
In light of public opinion, shaped by cultural and religious traditions, these public morality and public order-based laws have been used against LGBT people as well as anyone who supports these attitudes.
History of homosexuality and legality of same-sex sexual activity
History of homosexuality in ancient Egypt
According to common interpretations of the Torah, Leviticus 18:3 alludes to the practice that ancient Egypt permitted two women or two men to marry each other. The best known case of possible homosexuality in ancient Egypt (مصر) is that of the two high officials Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep. Both men lived and served under pharaoh Niuserre during the 5th Dynasty (c. 2494–2345 BC). Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep each had families of their own with children and wives, but when they died their families apparently decided to bury them together in one and the same mastaba tomb. In this mastaba, several paintings depict both men embracing each other and touching their faces nose-on-nose. These depictions leave plenty of room for speculation, because in ancient Egypt the nose-on-nose touching normally represented a kiss.
Egyptologists and historians disagree about how to interpret the paintings of Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep. Some scholars believe that the paintings reflect an example of homosexuality between two married men and prove that the ancient Egyptians accepted same-sex relationships. Other scholars disagree and interpret the scenes as an evidence that Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep were twins, even possibly conjoined twins. No matter what interpretation is correct, the paintings show at the very least that Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep must have been very close to each other in life as in death.
It remains unclear, what exact view the ancient Egyptians fostered about homosexuality. Any document and literature that actually contains sexual orientated stories, never name the nature of the sexual deeds, but instead uses stilted and flowery paraphrases. While the stories about Seth and his sexual behavior may reveal rather negative thoughts and views, the tomb inscription of Nyankh-khnum and Khnum-hotep may instead suggest that homosexuality was likewise accepted. Ancient Egyptian documents never clearly say that same-sex relationships were seen as reprehensible or despicable. No ancient Egyptian document mentions that homosexual acts were set under penalty. Thus, a straight evaluation remains problematic.
During most of the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government did not support LGBT-rights legislation at home and objected to attempts, starting in the 1990s, to have the United Nations include LGBT-rights within its human rights mission. While the Mubarak regime did not support LGBT rights, it did not enact an obvious ban on homosexuality or cross-dressing in the criminal code.
Criminal sanctions against gay and bisexual men tended to arise not from the penal code itself, but from a supplemental law, enacted in 1961, to combat prostitution.
The law against prostitution also bans "debauchery", even if the act did not involve trafficking or prostitution.
Egyptian courts interpreted the ban on debauchery to criminalize homosexual relations between consenting adults. Repeat offenders of the law can face even harsher punishment for what the law views as "habitual debauchery".
In addition to the law on prostitution, other public morality or order-based laws gave the police and judges significant leeway to jail or fine gay and bisexual men. While arrests had been periodically occurring under these laws for decades, a more systematic crackdown appeared to have begun in the early part of the twenty-first century.
Beginning in 2000, under Hosni Mubarak, these laws were used to engage in a more sophisticated and systematic crackdown on gay or bisexual men, or indeed anyone deemed by the government to be supportive of LGBT rights.
In 2000, police arrested an Egyptian gay couple and charged them with, "violation of honor by threat" and "practising immoral and indecent behavior". Their lawyer asked that the charges be dropped because homosexuality was not a crime, but the judge refused on the grounds that two men had in fact "offended" religious and moral standards. The incident became a media sensation, promoting various public figures to view homosexuality as a product of Western decadence and demand that the government execute homosexuals or send them to mental institutions to be reformed.
Within a year, the Egyptian government began a public crackdown on Egyptian gay men by raiding private parties, arresting the guests and charging them under the Prostitution and Debauchery law. This crackdown also saw the "Public Order and Public Morals" code being increasingly used to criminalize the sexuality of gay and bisexual men. The code, originally enacted in the 1990s to punish westernized students and liberal intellectuals, was now being used to punish gay and bisexual men.
The first of these raids was at a Cairo boat party, where all the Egyptian gay men, fifty-two, were arrested and charged with violating these vague public morality laws. The "Cairo 52" were arrested and tried on the original Prostitution and Debauchery law, as well as the newer Public Order and Public Morality code.
The impact of these laws on gay and bisexual men were brought to the world's attention by the Human Rights Watch.
It was during this time that the Human Rights Watch published a report on the laws used by the Egyptian government to criminalize homosexuality, the history of the laws, use of torture against gay and bisexual men by the police, and how such laws violate international human rights standards.
The Cairo 52 were defended by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. However, they had no organized internal support, pleaded innocent, and were tried under the state security courts. Members of the German parliament and the French President called upon the Egyptian government to respect the human rights of its LGBT citizens. Twenty-three of the defendants were sentenced to prison with hard labor, while the others were acquitted. More men have been arrested in various raids on homosexuals, although foreigners tend to be released quickly.
In many recent situations, the men are being arrested for meeting or attempting to meet other adult men through various Internet chatrooms and message boards. This was the case on 20 June 2003, when an Israeli tourist in Egypt was jailed for homosexuality for about fifteen days before he was eventually released and allowed to return to Israel. On 24 September 2003, police set up checkpoints at both sides of the Qasr al-Nil Bridge, which spans the Nile in downtown Cairo and is a popular place for adult men to meet other men for sex, arrested 62 men for homosexuality.
In 2004, a seventeen-year-old private university student received a 17 years sentence in prison including 2 years hard labor, for posting a personal profile on a gay dating site.
The Egyptian government's response to the international criticism was either to deny that they were persecuting LGBT people or to defend their policies by stating that homosexuality is a moral perversion.
In 2009, Al Balagh Al Gadid, a weekly Egyptian newspaper was banned, and two of its reporters were jailed for printing a news article that accused high-profile Egyptian actors Nour El Sherif, Khaled Aboul Naga and Hamdi El Wazir of being involved in a homosexual prostitution sex ring and in bribing government agents to cover up their involvement.
LGBT-rights issues were not among the reforms demanded by any of the protesters or other dissidents during the 2011 revolution. The provisional constitution, approved by voters in 2011, does not specifically address LGBT-rights and the Egyptian government continued to oppose to join the United Nations' "Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity", which called for an end to "acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity".
In 2013, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef said on The Daily Show, in an interview with Jon Stewart, that he had been charged with "propagating and promoting homosexuality and obscenity" by the Morsi government.
In November 2014, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison for charges of spreading indecent images, following the circulation of a video of a gay marriage ceremony.
In December 2014, around 26 men were arrested in a public bathhouse (Hammam) after a TV presenter, Mona Iraqi, collaborated with the Egyptian police. The court acquitted them.
The Revolution of 25 January 2011 and LGBT rights in Egypt
The Egyptian revolution of 25 January 2011 provided a political momentum and space for LGBT organizing in Egypt that were exceptionally productive in terms of movement building. In the aftermath of the revolution, Egyptian LGBT individuals, activists and organizations started becoming more visible and more eager to be part of the changing political and social landscapes that seemed promising and empowering. Many of the emerging LGBT activists, back then, started mobilizing not only LGBT rights but other intersecting rights as well. Women's rights, Gender and sexuality rights, Indigenous people's rights, and civic rights were among the main intersecting struggles that shaped the LGBT activism in the post-revolution years. By 2013, a number of Online campaigns to fight against homophobia and Transphobia started going viral on a number of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. No one can claim that such mobilization resulted in successes that a normative legal perspective could translate into legal reforms; however, it was because of such mobilization and the advocacy that resulted from it that defending the rights of people targeted based on their sexuality by the Egyptian state became more of a collective demand within Human Rights groups and organizations in Egypt. Also, thanks to the revolution, the Egyptian public sphere provided a space for the LGBT community, that even at the toughest moments of state sponsored crackdown, they still managed to claim it.
The Rainbow Flags' incident
On the 22 September 2017, a number of Egyptian youth raised rainbow flags as a way to advocate LGBT rights in Egypt, during a concert for the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila that took place in Cairo. Shortly after the concert the pictures and videos of those young people went viral on social media and then on a number of Egyptian news websites. Starting from 23 September and for a number of days, Egyptian TV hosts such as Ahmed Moussa and Mohamed Al Gheity kept inciting against Egyptian LGBT communities generally and against those who raised the flags in specific; moreover, they urged the Egyptian state to take immediate actions against anyone who was involved in the incident of raising the rainbow flags during the concert.
The opinions produced by such TV hosts did not stop there. For example, during his show, Ahmed Moussa shared personal information of some of the young people who raised the flags. As a consequence of this religious campaign by the Egyptian media, the Egyptian state started to arrest a number of individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientations/ gender identities, whether from the streets, or dating applications, or even from their homes. Between 25 September and end of November 2017, at least 84 people were arrested and many of them were subjected to humiliating forced anal tests. Two of the people arrested were accused of halting the rule of the constitution and disrupting the security of the state and society, a charge that would have had them imprisoned for 15 years. The two individuals (a guy and a girl) were detained for three months before being released on bail in January 2018.
The consequences of the rainbow flags' incident and the backlash that followed were as severe as those of Cairo 52, if not worse. In addition to the numerous arrests, the crackdown by the Egyptian state, together with the Egyptian media, resulted in a state of trauma and despair among young Egyptian LGBT individuals, resulting in at least one suicide and many attempted suicides by a number of Egyptian LGBT youths. Egyptian LGBT individuals and activists are still recovering from the trauma of that severe backlash. Other Egyptian LGBTs had to leave the country because of the social and political threats. In January 2019, host Mohamed El Gheity was jailed one year for hosting a gay man on his TV show.
According to The New York Times, on 13 June 2020 an Egyptian gay woman Sarah Hegazi, who waived the rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in 2017 has committed suicide. She was detained by the Egypt's authority and tortured with electric shocks. She has been charged with “inciting debauchery,” and in the custody she was molested by female cellmates on police order. She was then transferred to a solitary confinement. After 3 months of confinement she was bailed upon pressure from Western and South American diplomats. Sarah then fled to Canada, fearing prosecution, and was granted political asylum. The reason of her suicide was notified as severe depression due to her past life trauma.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
Personal and family law in Egypt (e.g. the laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritance) are governed by the religious law of the person or persons in question. As the religious law of all officially recognized religions in Egypt (chief among them Islam and Coptic Orthodox Christianity) do not recognize homosexual relationships as legitimate, Egyptian law only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman. Reports suggest that if such a relationship becomes public, the police may use it as evidence in a criminal indictment for the various laws against Satanism, prostitution and public immorality.
Until 2001, the Egyptian government refused to recognize that homosexuality was the sexual identity for some of its residents, and after 2001, it only did so to brush off criticism from human rights organizations and foreign politicians.
Culturally, most Egyptian citizens are Muslim, which impacts prevailing social biases and attitudes. Traditional Islamic morality does not condone homosexuality. According to Pew Research Center 95% Egyptians believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
Vigilante torture, beatings and executions are tolerated with police being complicit, joining in or turning a blind eye.
Support for LGBT rights
Polling data suggests that only a minority of Egyptians support LGBT rights. This is why Egyptian political parties, human rights NGOs do not express public support for LGBT rights.
One of the few Egyptians to publicly support LGBT-rights has been Maher Sabry. Along with his human rights efforts on behalf of the Cairo 52, he also wrote a play on homophobia in Egypt and later directed the Egyptian film All My Life.
Technically, LGBT-themes are not prohibited per se, in the press, artwork or other of forms of communicative media.
However, most media depictions of cross-dressing or homosexuality have been negative in keeping with the traditional cultural and religious values of most Egyptians. In 2017, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council issued an order preventing "the appearance of the homosexuals" or "promoting their slogans" on media.
More liberal depictions of LGBT issues in films and other forms of media tend to be subjected to government censorship or criticism from social conservatives.
In 1999, the public performance of a play by Maher Sabry, which explored homophobia, was shut down by the government after a few performances. In 2008, Sabry directed an award-winning independent film about an Egyptian gay man, which provoked protests from clerics and government officials who wanted the film banned, if not destroyed.
A weekly newspaper called the Al Balagh Al Gadid was shut down, two reporters jailed, for printing a story that accused Egyptian actors Nour El Sherif, Khaled Aboul Naga and Hamdi El Wazir of bribing police officers in order to cover up their involvement with homosexual prostitution.
Likewise, when an Egyptian film or television program does deal with LGBT-themes it tends to do so in a negative fashion, but even a negative depiction still produces controversy from social conservatives. Recent films such as "Uncensored" (2009), "Out of Control" (2009), "A Plastic Plate" (2007) and The Yacoubian Building (2006) all depict many different taboos within Egyptian society, including homosexuality, which promoted public calls from social conservatives to censor or ban the film's exhibition.
In 2013, Family Secrets premiered in Egypt and was billed as the first Egyptian and Arab movie about the life of an eighteen-year-old man struggling with his sexual orientation, and the social stigma surrounding homosexuality. The director made international headlines when he refused the Egyptian censorship board request that he delete certain scenes in the film.
In August 2018, Al Sisi's government introduced legislation bringing any social network service user with more than 5,000 followers or subscribers under increased scrutiny, as part of a crackdown on "terrorism and political activity".
The pandemic first reached Egypt in the 1980s, although public health effort were left to NGO's until the 1990s, when the government began to initiate policies and programs in response to the pandemic.
In 1996, the Health Ministry set up a national AIDS hotline. A 1999 "Egypt Today" cover story dealt with the AIDS-HIV pandemic in Egypt and the fact that it commonly seen as something caused by foreigners, homosexuals, or drug users. The article also mentioned that there was talk of a LGBT organization being created to target the Egyptian LGBT community, and while a same-sex safer sex brochure was published, the organization was never created and ignorance about the pandemic is common.
In 2005, the Egyptian government started to allow for confidential HIV testing, although most people fear that being tested positive will result in being labelled as a homosexual and thus a de facto criminal. Some Egyptians have access to home test kits brought back from the United States, but most Egyptians lack accurate information about the pandemic and quality care if they do become infected.
In 2007, the Egyptian government aired an educational film about HIV/AIDS in Egypt, with interviews from members of Health Ministry, doctors and nurses.
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||Under morality laws punishment up to 17 years with hard labor, fines, and deportation. Torture, beatings, and executions are also tolerated with police being complicit, joining in or turning a blind eye.|
|Equal age of consent|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment only|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in gender identity|
|Recognition of same-sex couples|
|Step-child adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples||(Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)|
|Commercial surrogacy for lesbian female couples||(Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)|
|Automatic parenthood on birth certificates for children of same-sex couples|
|Conversion therapy banned for minors|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood|
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