The arrest of four gay men in Cairo is the mark of a new Egyptian regime asserting its power, says Rob Buchanan.
Egyptian authorities have begun a steep escalation of raids on gay homes and clubs. The Guardian reported that four men were arrested in their Cairo apartment just hours after signing the lease. They faced speedy trials and where given jail terms, the longest of which is eight years. There is confusion as to how these raids and arrests can be legal, since technically homosexuality is not a crime in Egypt. However gay me are often detained and imprisoned under the pretext of “debauchery or insulting public morals”.
It seems, as in other Muslim majority countries experiencing social instability, that LGBT people in Egypt are becoming easy targets for hardliners. The Egyptian human rights activist Dalia Alfarghal said: “We have a lot of crazy things going on in the country – and they’re detaining these guys instead of catching terrorists”.
But I think the point is this escalation of persecution by the government is not “in spite of terrorists” but “because of”. Chaotic conditions and public uncertainty are hotbeds for finding scapegoats. Whether it be blacks, Jews or homosexuals, a whipping boy is always found. An enemy within can be a fantastic distraction for tyrants and a focus for the aggression and frustration of a repressed majority underclass. The previous regime of Hosni Mubarak successfully used this tactic in 2001 when 52 gay men were arrested at the Queen Boat nightclub in Cairo. The media storm surround was a successful smokescreen for a government on the verge of a breakdown.
Another motivation for this gay crackdown in Egypt is so the new regime can assert its conservative credentials by flexing its muscles against those on the fringes of society. The new powers that be are eager to prove to the masses that although they are not explicitly Islamist, they are no less right wing. Targeted crackdowns like these send a strong message to the whole spectrum of Egyptian society. They repress and manipulate not only LGBT people, but everyone living under the fear and uncertainty crackdowns nurture.
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