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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 13:44 GMT
Egyptian rights group 'cannot protect gays'
Homosexual defendants on their way to court
Last year 52 men were tried in Cairo for having gay sex
Homosexuality is so detested in Egypt that the country's largest rights group says it cannot campaign against persecution of gay men despite international concern.

On Saturday, French President Jacques Chirac said he was concerned about a court's jailing in November of 23 men for having gay sex.


If we were to uphold this issue, this would be the end of what remains of the concept of human rights in Egypt

Hisham Kassem,
Organisation for Human Rights
And last week, US lawmaker Barney Frank, who is openly gay, condemned Egypt's treatment of homosexuals.

Islam prohibits homosexuality and, though not referred to explicitly in the Egyptian penal code, a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and debauchery are applied to homosexuals.

This zero tolerance has influenced human rights organisations in Egypt, which defend the rights of women, minority Coptic Christians and prisoners, but say Egyptians will not stand for gay rights.

"What could we do? Nothing. If we were to uphold this issue, this would be the end of what remains of the concept of human rights in Egypt," said Hisham Kassem, director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.

"We let them [homosexuals] down, but I don't have a mandate from the people, and I don't want the West to set the pace for the human rights movement in Egypt," Mr Kassem said.

Global criticism

International human rights groups have accused the Egyptian Government of trying to silence local groups by limiting their foreign funding - their only real source of revenue - and arresting rights activists.

Last year in Cairo, 52 men were tried on charges of immoral behaviour and contempt of religion after police raided a boat restaurant on the Nile and accused them of taking part in a gay sex party.

French President Jacques Chirac
French President Jacques Chirac wants convictions reviewed
The hearing came before an Emergency State Security Court, convened under 1981 laws designed to protect national security, and 23 men were convicted and jailed for one to five years.

At least eight more men were arrested in January on suspicion of homosexual behaviour, in what the press called a crackdown on a "network of perverts".

Their detention was extended for 45 days last week pending investigation. No trial date has been set.

Hossam Bahgat, who is founding a new human rights group, said he aimed to protect personal rights and as such would help a gay person.

"People have the right to reject homosexuality, but we believe that any moral conviction shouldn't be the basis and shouldn't take the form of discrimination or persecution," Mr Bahgat told The Associated Press news agency.

'Homosexual campaign'

His would be the first rights group in Egypt to consider discrimination on the basis of sexuality among its issues of concern.

The international attention - heightened by President Chirac telling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak he hoped last year's convictions would be overturned - has not gone unnoticed in the Egyptian media, which tends to share the view that attitudes toward homosexuality amount to a cultural difference between East and West.

In its latest issue, the pro-government Rose El-Youssef weekly described the complaints of the global political and human rights community as "an international homosexual campaign against Egypt".

Hussein Derar, deputy-assistant foreign minister for human rights, also described attitudes toward homosexuality as a difference between Middle Eastern and Western culture.

'Cover-up'

"They have their Western culture and we have our Islamic culture," he said.

"We are a religious society... Homosexuality is rejected by all people."

However, Egyptian film director Yussef Shahin told the French news agency AFP that the "scandal" was designed to cover up economic troubles.

"Every time there is an economic problem here, they try to hide it by creating another scandal," he said.

See also:

09 Feb 02 | Middle East
Fate of Egyptian gays worries Chirac
14 Nov 01 | Middle East
Egypt jails men in gay sex trial
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
Anger over Egypt gay trial
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Egypt jails gay youth
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
'Extremist' gay trial resumes in Egypt
18 Jul 01 | Middle East
'Extremist' gay trial opens in Egypt
24 Jun 01 | Americas
Muslims step out at Gay Pride
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
Protest at Egypt 'gay detentions'
01 Apr 01 | Middle East
Dubai closes club after gay night
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