LGBT People are Egypt’s Scapegoats

Egypt does not explicitly criminalize same-sex activity, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s morality police from arresting, nor the Egyptian courts from convicting, men they believe to be homosexual on homophobic charges.

A new victim of this war on Egypt’s LGBT community, a doctor from Cairo, will spend the next year of his life in prison after being convicted of “inciting debauchery.” It is the most common charge the police and prosecution use against LGBT Egyptians.

A special section of Egyptian law enforcement monitors so-called “moral crimes” in the country. Typically targeting homosexual men and transgender people, this police unit increasingly monitors social media platforms to secure arrests. The doctor, whose name remains confidential, allegedly used the mobile messaging application WhatsApp to “practice immorality” and “debauchery.” Law enforcement have used Facebook, Twitter, and Grindr to target and entrap gay men, effectively taking away the ability of LGBT Egyptians to acknowledge their sexual orientation and gender identity in both the real and virtual world.

Such cases have been on the rise since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Morsi, who was a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, represented a traditional adherence to political Islam. So when Egypt’s military staged a coup, new leadership needed to signal that conservative Muslim values would be respected in the new regime. The result? Immorality arrests became more frequent and more public.

Leaders in many parts of the world increasingly use vulnerable communities as scapegoats to appease conservative elements and drum up popular support for their regimes. From Uganda to Russia and the Dominican Republic to Kyrgyzstan, public persecution of LGBT people provides cover for rampant corruption, weakening economies, and collapse of the rule of law. What is happening in Egypt should be shocking, of course, but not nearly as shocking as how often such obvious tactics actually work.

One of the true barometers of a successful democracy is how well the government respects the human rights of minority groups. As the United States continues engaging with Egyptian leadership, human rights must remain at the heart of all dialogue, including the human rights of LGBT Egyptians.

For more information on how to protect LGBT persons around the world from violence and to address the enduring human rights crisis in Egypt, please visit


Published on March 3, 2016


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