Egypt gay entrapment via app a sign of authorities' desperation

Cairo: Egyptian authorities are luring gay men to hotel rooms using dating app Grindr and then arresting them, as an obsession with "penetration" and a violent crackdown on sexual minorities continues.

Dozens of police reports unearthed by Dalia Abdel-Hameed, a gender rights researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, outline a "cultivation" technique where potential targets are seduced through dating apps to come to places such as hotel rooms, and then immediately arrested.

"It's related to the fact that men are using apps more than women and an obsession of who is being penetrated," Ms Abdel-Hameed said.

"There is this penetration mania in Egypt due to religious reasons, mostly."

More than 57 people - most of them gay men - have been arrested in recent weeks on charges of debauchery and spreading pornographic material, several after being lured through popular social dating apps by the morality police, part of the state security apparatus.

The latest crackdown on LGBTIQ citizens has come after activists waved a rainbow flag at a rock concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila last month.

Flag whips up moral panic

When photos of the flag raised by Ahmed Alaa, a 22-year-old Egyptian law student, and his friends went viral, the expression of LGBTIQ solidarity quickly turned into a repressive campaign that has accelerated Egypt's attack on human rights under president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A vicious social media campaign, aided by traditional loyalist mass media, has whipped up a moral panic about sexual mores.

"I was actually at the Mashrou' Leila concert that sparked the whole issue. I was standing in the back and I saw the raising of the rainbow flag happen from a distance," said Mariam, who preferred to use a pseudonym for her safety.

"I was a bit nervous even when buying the tickets. I knew that there could be a security risk even if that band had performed in Egypt many times before," she told Fairfax Media.

One man arrested in the latest wave was sentenced to six years in jail on the charge of practicing debauchery on his way home from the concert.

"People are living in fear and persecution," Ms Abdel-Hameed says. "This is really the biggest crackdown we've witnessed ??? We have seen this pattern before but it is far more vicious this time."

Caution online

Transgender woman Jasmine, 25, says the public discourse on loyalist media has been the latest in a series of debilitating incidents that haunt her.

"Every day just leaving home is an unpleasant experience. From the stares of disgust to the swearing, people treat me as if I am an alien from another planet. I am estranged from society at large," she told Fairfax Media, preferring to use a pseudonym for fear of repercussions amid a climate of transphobia as well as homophobia.

She shuddered when she heard news of the initial arrests at the concert of Mashrou' Leila, a band fronted by openly gay singer Hamed Sinno who are known for their subversively sexual and political songs.

"It was just a concert. It wasn't even a pride parade and we weren't even calling for our rights. This action was so over the top and I was so shocked," she added.

Egypt does not specifically outlaw homosexuality, but in a society rife with gender discrimination and violence, legal vagueness around the term "debauchery" is enough to arrest those suspected of lewd acts.

Mariam, 30, and Jasmine, 25, are more cautious in their online behaviour as a result, preferring not to send pictures and being careful who they chat with.

"I try to use only secure chat applications for communicating with queer friends. I also use VPN in certain situations to hide my IP address," Mariam explains.

Gay men have been targeted in large raids in recent years. In December 2014, 33 men were arrested at a bath-house in a television sting operation coordinated with authorities for holding "orgies". Pictures of men being dragged out by the police were broadcast nationally.

During ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak's reign, authorities arrested 52 men attending a floating disco in what was later dubbed the Queen Boat incident.

Prison terms

Of those most recently arrested, four were sentenced to three years in prison last week for debauchery and moral obscenity. Six others were forced to undergo invasive anal exams, according to Amnesty International.

Lawmakers have sought to capitalise on the notion of sexual deviancy. A draft law presented to parliament this week seeks to jail any homosexual person for up to three years.

Dr Shadia Thabet, an MP seen as close to Sisi, is also preparing a draft law to criminalise homosexual acts.

"They [LGBTIQ Egyptians] are not equal to humans," she told Fairfax Media. "This is a matter of national security and their personal freedoms should not impinge on our society and the future generations."

When pressed on the need for the law she said that as a medical practitioner, she believed homosexuality must be stamped out.

"We are dealing with a den of diseases. We are combating Hepatitis C on a national scale and now we have to put up with those spreading HIV. This is an abomination," she said.

Jasmine, who unlike many transgender Egyptians came out to her family more than a decade ago, is adamant that things must change for her community.

She says her days are punctuated by threats to her physical safety, especially in public spaces, and that she has broken down psychologically several times.

In a Reuters poll released this week, Cairo was ranked the most dangerous city for women worldwide, where 99 per cent of them have reported facing some form of sexual harassment.

"I thought that things might change after the revolution, that maybe people would be more open minded. But the mentality hasn't shifted," Jasmine says.

"Being transgender in Egypt is pretty much a life-or-death matter."

This story Egypt gay entrapment via app a sign of authorities' desperation first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.