Egypt’s latest homosexual raid: AIDS and sensationalism

The Egyptian AIDS Society (EAS) announced its intention to file a lawsuit against TV anchor Mona Iraqi for a report she ran on her show “Al-Mistakhabi” (“The Concealed”) on a recent raid on homosexuals in a Cairo public bath, which she claimed was part of a campaign against AIDS.

“The channel where Iraqi works did contact us to take part in a special episode on the occasion of World AIDS Day,” the EAS said. “We agreed and the society’s director gave an interview answering several questions related to awareness.”

The society said it was surprised that the interview was used for “unethical purposes,” and was aired together with videos and other interviews that “are totally against the society’s codes.” The EAS added: “We did not know about the details that were later inserted and the channel manipulated the interview.”

The controversial episode included a report on 33 homosexuals arrested in a public bath in downtown Cairo, as well as a video from inside the bath where, according to the report, male orgies took place. Iraqi said a member of the show’s crew sneaked into the bath to take the video after the owner confirmed that “orgies are being held all day.”

The show played a recorded phone call between the crew member and the owner, in which the latter said: “People who frequent the bath can’t bring strangers to their houses for fear of being exposed, so they come to the bath to do that.”

Iraqi said she contacted one of the bath workers for more information: “He told me that the price of one night can amount to $100, and that businessmen come from abroad to have sex with men there.” She said she reported the issue to the Interior Ministry, and security forces subsequently raided the bath and arrested the customers.

“This place is a pigsty and it had to be closed,” she said, promising to dedicate the following episode to “more causes of AIDS.” Iraqi posted photos of the semi-naked customers on her Facebook account, which she deactivated following the heated debate caused by the report.


Rights groups across the Middle East and North Africa issued a joint statement condemning the raid and Iraqi’s role in it. “Iraqi did not only file a report with the police, but also accompanied security forces in the raid and took pictures of naked men trying to hide their faces,” said the statement.

According to the rights groups, Iraqi violated ethical codes of journalism, as well as articles 58 and 75 of the Criminal Procedures Law, which prohibit the disclosure of police procedures by unauthorized individuals or institutions. “Therefore, we ask that Iraqi be accordingly prosecuted.”

The signatories said Iraqi used AIDS as a facade for the report she ran on her show. “Such reports and raids will only lead to further stigmatization of AIDS patients and will, thus, discourage most of them from seeking advice or undergoing medical examination.”

Iraqi has denied all accusations leveled against her, saying she was only doing her job. “I am not a detective as people claim. I am working in investigative journalism and this necessitates reporting any crimes I come across to the police,” she said in a statement. “I did the same before the episodes on drug dealing and medical waste.”

Iraqi denied allegations that the episode and the police report constituted a violation of privacy. “I did not violate anybody’s personal privacy. I went to a public place where prostitution is openly practiced,” she said, adding that the customers were having unsafe sex, which is why the incident was relevant to the episode about AIDS.

Iraqi said even in countries where prostitution is legal, such places are constantly monitored, while this is not the case in Egypt, where those men’s families could easily contract AIDS. “I have done what my conscience dictated upon me on both the personal and professional levels,” she said.


Interior Ministry officials confirmed the legality of the raid and the charges. Ali al-Demerdash, director of the Cairo Security Bureau General, said the raid was “100% legal and arrest warrants were issued in advance.” District Prosecutor Mohamed Hetta said the owner of the bath would also be prosecuted for “turning a public bath into a homosexual brothel.”

Brian Whitaker of British newspaper The Guardian wonders why the customers in the bath, even if homosexuals, were arrested if there is no law in Egypt criminalizing homosexuality. He said defendants in such cases are charged with debauchery “under an old law originally intended to combat prostitution.”

Whitaker said the latest raid was conducted for the same reasons as one in 2001 known as the “Queen Boat Case,” in which 52 men were arrested for engaging in homosexual activities: diverting public attention.

The governments of former President Hosni Mubarak and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are acting in the same way, Whitaker wrote. “It seems very likely that the crackdown under President al-Sisi is occurring for similar reasons: to distract attention from bigger issues, to show that while suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood the regime is still capable of playing the ‘morality’ card, or a combination of both.”

Insulting Egypt’s revolutions: Criminalization vs. free speech

“The Jan. 25 revolution is a reality that no one can ever question,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told journalists, adding that a law to criminalize insulting the revolution would be issued shortly. The decision came in response to demands by activists and political factions following a rise in accusations that the Jan. 25 protests were a conspiracy, as was the acquittal of toppled President Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister.

“The law is the only way to show respect to Egyptians who sacrificed their lives for freedom and democracy,” said the joint statement issued by revolutionary and youth movements, including the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Revolutionary Powers Bloc, and the Egypt MPs Union. Sisi’s announcement has been warmly welcomed and heavily criticized.

Professor of political science Hazem Hosni says the law complements the constitution. “Even though the constitution mentions the Jan. 25 revolution, it doesn’t say anything about insulting it,” he said. “That’s why the law was much needed.”

Professor of political science Ahmed Darrag says the law is the only way to counter allegations that the revolution was a conspiracy plotted by external powers: “Through protecting the revolution from its enemies, the law would make it easier to fight corruption.”

Amr Hisham Rabei of Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies says the law is necessary to assuage fears that members of Mubarak’s regime might return to politics. “The acquittal of Mubarak and his top aides intensified doubts about the authenticity of the revolution, and raised concerns that the country might be heading back toward the pre-revolution era,” Rabei said. “This is a message to everyone that there’s no going back.”

Magdi Morshed, vice-chairman of the Congress Party, welcomed the decision, but said it should have been made much earlier. “Both revolutions have been severely reviled by supporters of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, referring to the protests of June 30 last year that led to the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, which will also be included in the law. “The trial and acquittal of Mubarak and his aides, and the fact that none of them was harmed, prove how civilized these revolutions are, so they deserve to be honored.”

Legal expert Essam al-Islambouli says journalists will not be jailed just for criticizing the revolution. “Article 71 of the constitution bans the imprisonment of journalists,” he said. “The law can be applied in case such anti-revolution statements by journalists are linked with the crime of inciting violence.”

Islambouli supports the inclusion of the June 30 protests in the law. “Those who call June 30 a coup should definitely be penalized,” he said, referring to the Brotherhood, whose members were the first to call the protests a “military coup.”


Lawyer Samir Sabry said the law “violates the constitution, which gives every citizen the right to freedom of expression. Therefore, everyone has the right to criticize the revolution.” Sabry said if such a law is passed, it should also apply to the July 1952 revolution that toppled the monarchy.

Similarly, Refaat al-Said, former head of the Cairo Court of Appeals, asked: “Why should we single out the January revolution? The law should then apply to all revolutions that took place in Egypt, starting with the First Cairo Revolution.” He was referring to the 1798 revolution against the French invasion of Egypt.

“This is all so childish,” he said, adding that every revolution has positive and negative sides. “Even the French revolution that changed the world had many unacceptable downsides, despite the principles of democracy and freedom it called for,” he said. “The same applies to the Egyptian revolution. Let history decide this, not the law.”

Pro-government journalist and TV anchor Ibrahim Eissa slammed the law. “Is the revolution like the Quran now? Nobody is allowed to question it?” he asked on his show. “We’re dealing with double standards here. How can we be calling for freedom while telling people what to say and what not to say?” Eissa said everyone should have the right to criticize the revolution, and even question whether it was a revolution to start with. “This law will be a huge mistake,” he added.

There are also objections from activists and revolutionary movements. Haitham Mohamadeen, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists movement, wrote: “The only purpose of this law is to legitimize the June military coup. The January 25 Revolution does not need a law since it acquired its legitimacy from the masses that took to the streets and the martyrs that sacrificed their lives.”

Human rights activist and lawyer Khaled Ali wrote that the revolution “cannot be protected through laws but only through policies and legislations that achieve its goals and principles.”

Activist Ahmed Hassan says June 30, rather than Jan. 25, is the reason behind the law. “The main purpose of this law is to clamp down on those who oppose June 30 and refuse to call it a revolution,” he wrote. Hassan added that those who call Jan. 25 a conspiracy will stop doing so on Sisi’s orders, while those who call June 30 a military coup will not follow suit. “Therefore, only the latter would be penalized under this law.”

Journalist Abdel Qader Shoeib says the law may backfire. “We have enough laws and enough penalties for those who violate them,” he wrote. “We don’t want more laws to monitor what we say. If this happens, we will all end up behind bars just for having different opinions.”

So who killed the protesters?

So Who Killed the Protesters?

Who killed the protesters? This question was the headline of almost every major Egyptian newspaper, after charges against former president Hosni Mubarak were dropped, and his interior minister Habib al-Adly, and six ministry aides were cleared of charges in what was known as “the trial of the century.” In addition to corruption charges, Mubarak was on trial for his role in the death of hundreds of civilians during the January 2011 uprising. The question is asked at times seriously, and at others mockingly. It’s asked by those who believe the verdict is fair and those who question the judiciary’s independence.

Blaming the Brotherhood
Blaming the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to be the easiest way to pacify public opinion, while not holding the former regime accountable. In his article ‘Who killed the protesters?’ journalist Abdel Rahim Ali cites the testimony of late state security officer Mohamed Mabrouk, given during the trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. According to Mabrouk, who was assassinated on November 17, 2013 reportedly by Islamist jihadists, a meeting was held in Damascus in November 2010 under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood. This meeting included chairman of the Center for Strategic Research at Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council Ali Akbar Velayati, senior commander at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Ali Fadavi, and head of the Hamas’ politburo Khaled Maashal. “It was in this meeting that the deal was struck,” Ali said, quoting Mabrouk.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard was to train militants that would be later taken to Egypt through Gaza.” The plan, according to Mabrouk’s investigations, was to attack detention facilities and police stations in order to deal a fatal blow to the Egyptian police, as well as to shoot at civilian protesters to implicate Mubarak’s regime. “Colonel Mabrouk detailed in the testimony for which he paid with his life how this plan was carried out on January 28, 2011,” added Ali, one of the bloodiest of the eighteen days before Mubarak stepped down. For Ali, Mabrouk’s findings offer definitive proof that the police was not the real culprit. Ali also cited the testimonies of former Mubarak-era officials, Intelligence Chief General Murad Mowafi and former Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, both denying the police’s responsibility for the death of protesters.

A Transparent Argument

While they are among the staunchest critics of Brotherhood rule, secular activists and movements refused the offering of scapegoats to absolve Mubarak’s security forces. The April 6 Youth Movement, also opponents of the current regime, objected to pressing criminal charges against Mubarak and his interior minister from the outset. They argued that all the defendants should have been tried for their political responsibility. “In the absence of clear penalties for such crimes in the Egyptian penal code, a criminal trial was of course expected to yield such results,” said Mohamed Salah, member of the movement’s politburo. Salah added that evidence that criminally implicated the police had been destroyed.

Activist and filmmaker Khaled Youssef, who campaigned for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, wrote an open letter to the prosecutor general in which he, as an eyewitness to the violations of the police on January 28, vehemently objected to the verdict. Youssef refuted allegations that Brotherhood snipers were responsible for all the killings. “Although I admit that, given Muslim Brotherhood’s history of violence, this scenario is not unlikely, there has been no proof so far,” he wrote. “Even if the Brotherhood had snipers, what about other protesters who died under the wheels of armored vehicles in front of us, or were shot by police officers also in front of us? Those are incidents that were recorded and shown on TV.” The interior minister and his aides, Youssef added, should also be tried for more general crimes like the abuses citizens were exposed to at police stations.

The Court’s Culpability 

Journalist Sahar Talaat argues in her article ’Who Killed the protesters?’ that the judiciary only focused on the acquittal of the former interior minister and his aides, while totally ignoring the necessity of revealing who is responsible. For Talaat, accusations leveled against the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or any other external parties are not confirmed, thus leaving the question unanswered. “The court only focused on acquitting the defendants while the families of dead protesters are still suffering as they wonder, ‘Who killed our children?’ Is it the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas or foreign powers that wanted to undermine the Egyptian state,” she wrote. “The end result is that those martyrs are not avenged.”

Legal expert Tarek Negeda explained a point that appears to have been lost in translation in the local media circus: that the verdict does not mean the protesters were killed by another party. “The verdict is not proof that Mubarak and his aides did not kill the protesters,” he said in a press statement. “It only proves that there was a legal mistake on the part of the prosecution.” Negeda explained that the defendants were not acquitted, but the charges against them were dropped owing to the absence of criminal evidence and the court ruled accordingly. Negeda refused to question the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and advised families of dead protesters to focus on reopening the case inside Egypt rather than through international courts. Families of the victims announced their intention to submit an official request to the Egyptian president to facilitate the release of videos that show the shootings whether taken by state institutions like State Security, intelligence agencies, and state TV or by foreign satellites belonging to the US, Russia, and the European Union.

In the midst of this heated debate and the different versions of the story that accompany it, one group seems to be certain of what really happened. Protesters who were there on January 28, 2011 say, without a doubt that, after failing to disperse the growing crowds with tear gas, they started using rubber bullets followed by live ammunition. Those who witnessed the day first-hand are not willing to accept the verdict, whether it is the result of intentional destruction of evidence or a coincidental procedural error. It is hard for many not to perceive how flawed the course of the trial has been from the beginning with senior officials being held accountable criminally rather than politically. The January 28 protesters who survived, stand by their narrative: in a regime as centralized as Mubarak’s, it is extremely unlikely for security forces to embark on a violent clampdown without being instructed, if not by the president then at least by the minister of interior.

The verdict leaves Egypt in a state of intense polarization once more, and introduces another wave of division. On the one hand, there is the camp that has, for a while, been willing to trust state institutions and accept regime policies in return for a much awaited return to normalcy. On the other, are those who prioritize the goals of the revolution and see a grassroots restructuring of executive and judiciary authorities as inevitable.  It is worth noting, however, that members of the second camp, though indignant, made it clear that the verdict came as no surprise and was, in fact, quite expected. The earlier acquittal of all police officers tried for killing protesters already casted doubts on the entire process. Nevertheless, the shock prevails maybe not because of the outcome of the trial, but rather for what is seen by many as the final nail in the revolution’s coffin.