Egypt Ratchets Up Its Morality War Against Gays And Lesbians

To appease conservatives, Egypt's government is again targeting the LGBT community, arbitrarily arresting them, conducting anal examinations and jailing them for "debauchery."

"Gay wedding" under arrest in a Cairo jail on Nov. 1.
"Gay wedding" under arrest in a Cairo jail on Nov. 1.
Pesha Magid

CAIRO — The video showed a gathering of men on a felucca, with two of them seemingly exchanging kisses and wedding rings. The makers of the video have since claimed it was joke, and that the gathering was nothing more than a birthday party. One of the men in question called a TV show to say that the ring was a birthday gift, that he had a girlfriend, and that this video has turned his life upside down.

A misdemeanor court has just sentenced eight of the people in the video to three years in prison, in addition to probation for another three years after the sentence is completed.

The law used to convict them, which criminalizes "debauchery," carries a maximum sentence of three years. But, according to Scott Long, a gay rights activist and author of the Paper Bird blog, they may also have been charged with anti-pornography provisions that criminalize the possession of materials "violating public morals."

Using such charges against LGBT defendants is common, Long argues. And as with many other cases, particularly political ones, justice is seldom served. Opponents claim the police and courts tend to support projections of conservatism by the ruling regime.

In this particular case, Long points to the fact that the video clip, which went viral, isn't remotely pornographic and that there was no evidence that the men were gay, even after the Forensic Medical Authority conducted "abusive and intrusive anal examinations."

"The entire case lacks basis," he wrote on his blog. "The police did not arrest them red-handed, and the video doesn't prove anything."

Long tells Madr Masr that the debauchery law originated as a prostitution law. "There are punishments for providing a house for debauchery, which is patterned on laws against brothels, so they charge whoever's name is actually on the lease with this. The charges can add up,” he says. In one case, an individual was sentenced to 12 years because he was the main tenant of the apartment.

Adding insult to injury

Once they are arrested, gay men are often subjected to "forensic anal exams," which are meant to determine whether they have had sexual activity. The practice continues despite heavy criticism from human rights organizations that claim such examinations are inconclusive.

Furthermore, Long says, testimony from LGBT individuals who have been to jail shows that they are often subjected to sexual harassment from guards and fellow inmates.

Crackdowns on LGBT people by previous regimes have been framed by the state's battle with Islamist powerhouses over who can be more conservative. The belief is that if the ruling regime wants to keep Islamists out of power, it needs to showcase enough conservative tendencies to appease the larger public.

Long agrees, saying of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, "He still feels he has to do something to appease the Brotherhood's constituency. It's really telling that in the wedding video case, the government made this a security issue around the time when the Brotherhood started criticizing the video."

The "gay wedding" video — Source: othmaneottoman expand=1]

Last April, four men were sentenced to between three and eight years in prison on charges of debauchery after being arrested in an apartment dressed in women's clothing.

Ramy Youssef, an Egyptian gay rights activist, says the recent crackdown is coordinated and that the government is doing it to gain good publicity for the regime.

After the revolution and the 2013 ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, "the military institution wants credit and validation from the people," he says, adding that the public defense of morals is the best way for the government to get this validation.

Youssef also believes that the crackdown may be a way for the state to distract people from the significant political and economic issues Egypt continues to face.

"Part of me says it's to distract the people from all the corruption that's happening," he says. "The former president and his people are getting out of prison, and things are getting worse with the electricity cuts," he says.

History repeating itself

There were also crackdowns on the LGBT community in 2001, 2004 and 2007. The high-profile "Queen Boat raid" in 2001 ended with 23 people being sentenced to prison, an episode that remains firmly etched in the memory of many LGBT people.

"It's a seasonal crackdown," Youssef says. "It happens every three or four years. The authorities decide we need more morals and they go for gay people, as we are the easiest targets."

Society is also encouraged to play a role, particularly through media smear campaigns. The result, Long says, is that homes are raided, neighbors inform on neighbors, and many people wind up in jail.

They may also be tracked through the Internet. Grindr, a dating application many LGBT people use, recently released a warning urging its users to hide their identities, as the Egyptian government might be posting undercover.

The warning followed a report from BuzzFeed that Egypt has stepped up surveillance of Facebook, Twitter and Skype, along with other forms of social media. According to the report, technology is being used from "See Egypt," a sister company of the American cyber-security firm Blue Coat.

Although the government denies this, Long believes that either the technology from Blue Coat is already in place, or it's just a matter of time until it is.

Taking a big risk

Youssef freely admits that at some point he expects to end up in jail, as he is a public activist who talks to the media using his real name.

Nevertheless, he chooses to remain in Egypt. "I really want to do this, I really want to do something for the community." Leaving, he says, "would make me a huge hypocrite. There is something that I need to do here. Something very unique that I am doing."

He has published a guide on his Facebook page with advice for LGBT people if they are arrested, and he and three of his friends are currently working on a project where they collect the voices and stories of LGBT individuals in a booklet they plan to publish in November.

He also dreams of someday establishing a safe house in Egypt for LGBT people who may have been thrown out of their homes or feel endangered, which currently doesn't exist.

This kind of activism is more personal than organized public activism, but Youssef believes it is just as important. The very fact that some LGBT people are willing to express themselves publicly through their clothes and makeup is a form of activism, he says. Even if they never come out publicly and hide their sexuality from their families, the fact that they express themselves at all is a form of activism, he adds.

There are other, more public, types of LGBT activism happening in Egypt. A group called "Solidarity with Egypt LGBT," whose members are Egyptian but wish to remain anonymous, organized a global protest recently. Because of safety concerns, the protest was virtual, with people expressing support through the hashtag "solidaritywithEgyptLGBT."

Globally there were also protests in front of Egyptian embassies in support of the rights of LGBT individuals.

Members of Solidarity with Egypt LGBT explain that global pressure is crucial to influencing the Egyptian government. "The existence of a peaceful, vocal opposition provokes a situation in which the government will have to change its oppressive policies."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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