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NYT Criticizes Obama Administration, Lawmakers Amidst Egyptian Persecution of Gays

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As we reported yesterday, the trial of the 26 men arrested last month in a raid of a gay bathhouse in Cairo is now underway and already proving both ludicrous and tragic. In an Op-Ed piece published today, The New York Times criticized the Obama administration and congressional leaders for continuing to provide financial assistance to Egypt amidst the country's "crackdown" on gays and for failing to condemn the country's egregious actions:

Egypt’s treatment of gays is part of a dismal human rights record that has only gotten worse in recent months. The Obama administration and American lawmakers have not done enough to denounce the abuses of an increasingly authoritarian Egyptian government, which is one of the largest recipients of American military aid. As Congress convenes this week, influential lawmakers should take a fresh look at the plight of vulnerable Egyptians and speak out on their behalf. Among them are Representative Kay Granger, a Texas Republican who has fought efforts to pare back Egypt’s military package, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The 26 men on trial now may never be able to shed the stigma this prosecution has inflicted on them, their careers and their families. But strong international condemnation may keep authorities in Egypt from victimizing more men.

in 2014, the U.S. gave $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, "with the majority of it going to the country’s military," according to The Washington Blade

The raid on the Cairo bathhouse was documented and orchestrated by journalist Mona Iraqi who aimed to expose "the biggest den of group perversion in the heart of Cairo." While Egyptian law does not strictly ban homosexuality it does criminalize debauchery and perversion, both of which being charges that have been leveled against the 26 men who were arrested on December 7th. 


From Will and Grace to Modern Family: The Global Effect of Gay Characters on American TV - VIDEO

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In a new video for BBC News, Tom Brook reports on the ubiquity of gay characters in American TV shows and the effect these characters have worldwide.

The short video segment profiles two men: one with a more optimistic outlook on the issue, and one who is more pessimistic.

WillandgraceThe former is activist Omar Sharif Jr.,  who spent his youth in Egypt. He didn't know any gay people growing up, but he was familiar with characters like Jack from "Will and Grace." Said Sharif:

By seeing these characters on TV, youth across the world — myself included — learned that we weren't alone, that different isn't bad. That there's a community out there (even if it's across vast oceans sometimes) that supports them and loves them for who they are.

Russian-born pianist and journalist Oleg Dusaev has a different take. He now lives in New York, but he has experienced homophobia in Russia. Dusaev says he once "had hope these shows and films could change society in a more tolerant way."

Unfortunately, he worries that shows like "Modern Family" could make people "resistant" to new attitudes; he believes homophobic people "hate gays" point blank, and that these shows "could increase the hatred." 

Sharif makes a similar point, noting that gay characters are sometimes used "as a tool to propagate hate," but that in terms of net effect, these shows are doing much more good than bad to change the cultural tenor.

Head to BBC, or check the video out embedded AFTER THE JUMP...

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Trial Begins for Egyptian Men Arrested in Gay Bathhouse Raid

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The trial has begun for the men arrested in early December's Egyptian bathhouse raid, Buzzfeed reports.

This story is the latest in the ongoing crackdown on gays by the Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Activists suspect this is a response to criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood that "a non-Islamist government can’t be a conservative, moral authority in Egypt."

Egyptian activist May Wasan said of the raid: "It is a spectacle...“[the government] is trying to make a show and treat these men like they are not human.”

A lawyer for the defense, Tarek Awady, expressed a similar sentiment, saying:

This case was created by Egyptian authorities to get people talking...It was made to divert our attention to something else so that we don’t focus on the real problems in Egypt.”

The AP adds:

One lawyer representing 14 of the men, Islam Khalifa, told the court Sunday that the defendants suffered "psychological duress" from the publicized arrests, which defamed and endangered both them and their families in conservative Egypt. He said having the television crew there violated the men's right to privacy and Egypt's constitution.

Of the 26 men, 21 have undergone medical examinations to see if they had had anal sex. Three of men had trauma that required further examination, defense lawyer Tarek al-Awadi said.

While Egypt has no explicit laws against homosexuality, in cases like these the government targets gays citing "perversion" and "debauchery," which are illegal under Egyptian law.

Last week, a group of eight men arrested in Egypt for appearing in a "gay wedding" video back in September were sentenced to one year each in jail. 


Egyptian Men Involved in 'Gay Wedding' Video Receive One Year Prison Sentence Each

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The group of eight men arrested in Egypt for appearing in a video back in September purportedly featuring a gay marriage have had their jail sentences reduced from 3 years each to one year each by an Egyptian appeals court.

The men were originally convicted in November of broadcasting images that "violated public decency" after video surfaced of what prosecutors said was a gay wedding ceremony aboard a Nile riverboat. 

AFP reports:

The defendants' families, who were expecting their acquittal, screamed and wept on hearing the new sentences, according to an AFP reporter.

Homosexuality is not specifically banned under Egyptian law and the men were initially accused of debauchery.

That charge was dropped after an invasive anal exam of the men showed that they did not have receptive anal sex.

The defence repeatedly denied that the men were gay, and insisted that the lower court had caved in to popular pressure.

One of the defendants told a television talk show prior to their arrest that the video was recorded during a birthday party.

Earlier this month, Egyptian police raided a bathhouse in Cairo and arrested a large group of men on charges of "perversion".


Swiss Film Festival Defends Homophobic Egyptian Reporter Involved in Gay Bathhouse Raid

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Mona Iraqi, an Egyptian reporter for the pro-government Al-Qahira wal Nas channel, is a homophobe. We reported on her the other day for leading Egypt's morality police in a raid on a gay bathhouse earlier this month. It turns out that she is also the Egyptian representative for Shnit, an International Short Film Festival based in Switzerland, directed by Olivier van der Hoeven. One would think that an organization from the relatively liberal Switzerland would distance themselves from someone who would engage in outright discrimination against LGBT people, but instead the organization is doubling down on defending her.

IraqiShnit insists that Iraqi was investigating sex trafficking and prostitution in Cairo, although that doesn't jibe with the statement of her segment claiming to expose "the secret behind the spreading of AIDS in Egypt." Shnit staffer, researcher and project coordinator Ekaterina Tarasova, jumped in by tweeting in Mona Iraqi’s defense, starting with a blasé-sounding dismissal of "It's her work, I guess" before going fully tone-deaf with "Looks like you miss the point of Mona's research. It was about prostitution" and "And yes, I will defend Mona's position, because I believe she did right things."

Tarasova shortly found herself on the receiving end of some backlash from Middle Eastern GLBT activists, which she tired to smooth over by claiming to be a "tolerant and gay friendly person" in a tweet with a rainbow flag. Because, as A Paper Bird author Scott Long snarked, "The rainbow flag always makes everything better."

Trials for the 26 arrested men are scheduled to begin Sunday.


Egyptian TV Reporter Broke Law In Filming Raid Of Gay Bathhouse, Activist Groups Say: VIDEO

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An Egyptian TV reporter broke the law when she disseminated information about some of the more than two dozen men arrested in a raid of a gay bathhouse on Dec. 7, according to a statement from activist groups

Mona Iraqi, a reporter for the pro-government Al-Qahira wal Nas channel, can be seen filming the arrests on her mobile phone above. Iraqi had tipped off Egypt's morality police about the bathhouse and accompanied them on the raid, according to reports. 

Iraqi“With pictures, we reveal the biggest den of group perversion in the heart of Cairo,” Iraqi (right) later wrote on Facebook, where she posted photos from the raid. The Facebook post has since been removed.

A trailer promoting Iraqi's investigative report said it would reveal "the secret behind the spreading of AIDS in Egypt,” and she defended the three-part series an interview with Voice of America.  

But 10 activist groups from the Middle East and North Africa have issued a statement accusing Iraqi of criminal conduct. The statement was published by Cairo gay activist Scott Long's A Paper Bird:

"Besides prying into people’s intentions and their private, consensual practices, this presenter clearly violated articles 75 and 58 of the law of criminal procedures: these prohibit anyone from disseminating information about persons arrested by the police to others who do not have standing in the case. We demand that the presenter, Mona Iraqi, be held accountable before the law for misusing her profession to violate the privacy of others and slander and misrepresent them, and for pursuing professional benefit regardless of consequences."

The raid was part of a horrific, unprecedented crackdown on LGBT people by the Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who seized power last year. According to the activist groups, more than 150 people have been arrested on the assumption that they are gay or transgender — even though homosexuality is not technically illegal — since June 30, 2013: 

"In some cases prison sentences of eight or nine years have been imposed, on legal grounds that are incorrect or fabricated. The arrests have been accompanied by a still more monstrous media crusade, publicizing the personal information of those arrested, publishing their pictures, even posting filmed interviews with them. The media present homosexuals as a group of 'sick' individuals and criminals in need of therapy — or paints them as a deviant community that spread after the revolution."

In September, Grindr sent a message to all Egyptian users warning that police officers may be “posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you.” And on Nov. 1, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison after taking part in an alleged same-sex wedding which was recorded and posted to YouTube.

Following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, LGBT people in Egypt hoped for freedom under a new democracy, The Washington Post reports. But those hopes have been dashed as as-Sissi aims to distract people from Egypt's economic woes and appear as socially conservative as the Muslim Brotherhood from which he seized power.  

Once in police custody, LGBT prisoners are often subject to anal examinations, beaten and threatened with rape, The WaPo reports. They are reluctant to contact their families due to the social stigma of homosexuality, and few attorneys will represent them.  

Sadly, al-Sissi's government is funded in part by the US. The Washington Blade reports that the State Department issued a statement in response to the bathhouse raid, but officials have not said whether the US will cut funding to Egypt, as it did in response to Uganda's anti-homosexuality law. From The Blade:  

The U.S. during the 2014 fiscal year gave $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, with the majority of it going to the country’s military. The State Department said more than $7 million of this allotment went to “other security assistance programs.” 

Watch the first part of Iraqi's report, for which she is getting hammered on her Facebook page, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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