Egyptian authorities have launched a major crackdown on the LGBTQ community after rainbow pride flags were raised at a Cairo music concert. Thirty-three people have been arrested by police, with reports that at least five have been subjected to forced anal examinations—a tactic condemned by human rights groups as torture.
According to Amnesty International, the arrests are Egypt's biggest clampdown on LGBTQ people in over a decade and a half. A day after the September 22 concert, police entrapped a man on a dating app and arrested him over claims that he waved one of the flags at the gig. He sentenced him to six years in prison and a further six on probation for "debauchery." (He will be appealing his case.)
Two days later, seven people were also arrested on the basis of alleged video footage from the concert. And on September 27, another six men were arrested and charged with "debauchery," based on allegations of involvement with the flag incident. Thirty-two men and one woman are now in custody.
Amnesty International says that at least five of the men were forced to undergo brutal and degrading anal examinations by Egypt's Forensic Medical Authority. These exams are commonly used in countries with repressive anti-LGBTQ laws, and involve doctors or medical professionals forcing fingers or objects into the anus to find evidence of homosexuality. They claim that this allows them to determine whether anal sex has taken place. In reality, there is no medical credibility to the procedure, and it has been condemned by UN bodies and other human rights groups as a form of torture.
The rainbow flags were waved at a concert by Mashrou' Leila, a Lebanese band which plays songs about same-sex relationships and is fronted by an openly gay lead singer. Conservative religious leaders and pro-government media called for government action after images of the flags appeared on social media.
The only woman to be arrested was detained on allegations that she also raised the rainbow flag at the gig, and has since been charged with promoting "deviancy" and "habitual debauchery."
Egypt is a dangerous place to be out, especially if you're brave enough to engage in any form of activism. Between 2013 and 2016, 274 LGBTQ people were the subject of criminal investigations by the authorities, often over their use of social media.
Even though Egyptian authorities have escalated their harassment of the LGBTQ community since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014, the recent crackdown is considered especially alarming by human rights groups.
"The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country," says Najia Bounaim of Amnesty International. "The Egyptian authorities' announcement that they are investigating the rainbow flag incident as a criminal act is utterly absurd. No one should be punished for expressing solidarity with LGBTI individuals or based on their perceived sexual orientation."
In a statement posted to Facebook, Mashrou' Leila said: "We cannot begin to explain how saddened we are to see yet another era of backwards tyranny creep over one of our most beloved countries and audiences. This crackdown is by no means separable from the suffocating atmosphere of fear and abuse experienced by all Egyptians on a daily basis, regardless of their sexual orientations. We denounce the demonization and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults.
"It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love."