The Administrative Court granted the Ministry of Interior the right to deport and ban “homosexual foreigners” from entering the country, privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The court’s ruling upheld an Interior Ministry decision to ban a Libyan citizen from re-entering Egypt. The defendant had been arrested in October 2008 for alleged “homosexual practices” inside his place of residence in Giza, and was deported afterward in coordination with the Libyan consulate in Cairo, the newspaper reported. He was also blacklisted and banned from re-entering the country.
The defendant, who had resided in Egypt on a tourist visa since 2006, had contested the deportation order before the Administrative Court, arguing that the decision was hindering his academic endeavours as a graduate student at the Arab Academy for Maritime Transport in Cairo.
However, the court upheld the ministry’s decision, claiming that the order falls within the ministry’s jurisdiction, and that it is a fair use of their authority to protect public interest, religious and social values and prevent the spread of immorality in society. The court also said that the decision falls within the boundaries of the law.
Lately, the crackdown on members of the LGBT community in Egypt has intensified. One of the most recent and widely publicized cases took place in December and involved TV presenter Mona al-Iraqi, who aired footage of several men getting arrested in a Ramses bathhouse, after she had reported them to the police, allegedly for “practicing homosexuality.” In the past few months, security forces arrested over 150 people on different occasions on charges of “practicing homosexuality,” “debauchery,” and “violating public morals,” among other accusations, all of whom underwent compulsory medical examinations. Many were sentenced to prison for up to eight years.
Gender and women’s rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Dalia Abdel Hameed told Mada Masr that she finds Tuesday’s verdict “atrocious” since “nothing in the law says that sexuality is grounds for deporting people out of the country.”
According to Abdel Hameed, the law only criminalizes “debauchery,” which is legally translated into male prostitution, meaning that financial transactions have to be involved to make personal sexual relations illegal.
She believes the situation is rendered “even more miserable” because it fuels the xenophobic tendencies already present within Egyptian society, which she says now are being encouraged by the state.
“People now have a license to report others, and the state keeps issuing laws that continue transforming us into a McCarthian society through encouraging citizens to spy on and turn each other in to the authorities,” she added. “Tracking people’s practices inside their own bedrooms is a violent breach of privacy.”
Abdel Hameed asserted that Tuesday’s verdict falls in line with the state’s fierce campaign against the LGBT community since 2013. “They resort to violent propaganda using media organizations to serve their purposes.”
Within a broader context, Abdel Hameed speculated that the verdict might be yet another way of broadening the circles for potential targets among the politically active. “In the past, foreigners could be protected by their embassies, but now anything is possible,” she added.
Rights activist Scott Long shared Abdel Hameed’s views that this might be new means of limiting foreigners’ mobility. He cited recent incidents where senior associate in Carnegie’s Middle East Program Michele Dunne was banned from entering the country, as well as the banning of two senior Human Rights Watch executives in December 2014.
“It is very possible that they’re issuing sentences that make it easier for the state to deport people out of Egypt,” he added. “This is part of the pattern of using homosexuality as a way to restrict other freedoms of movement and expression.”
He also told Mada Masr that he found the verdict “very strange and disturbing,” especially when viewed in the context of recurrent arrests of members of the LGBT community that have been happening in the past year and half. Long also referenced recent news of the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s investigations into an NGO after receiving a complaint that it is involved in promoting safe sex among same-sex partners and raising awareness about sexually transmitted diseases.
What Long found peculiar is that, while he only knows of one incident where a foreigner was deported out of Egypt for being involved in same-sex relations in 2007, “in general these matters are dealt with in a discreet way.”
“I’m interested to see how they’re going to use this new power. How can they tell if someone is a homosexual before banning them from entering the country? Is there going to be a form to fill with a box to check confessing whether you’re an ‘immoral’ person or not?” he asked.
In his opinion, enforcing such rules “can only be met with severe ridicule from foreign governments as well, similar to how they received recent rumors that the state was imposing gender testing on the borders.”
Moreover, he believes that the government’s targeting of certain groups is “a bad, self-destructive policy” that negatively affects the already dwindling tourism industry.
Both Long and Abdel Hameed shared pessimistic views regarding the future of LGBT communities in Egypt in regards to personal freedoms.
“This is one side of the oppression practiced internally by the state, and the current imposed political climate doesn’t reflect any inclination to liberalize the political and human rights sphere,” Long remarked.
When asked whether filing a counter lawsuit can help alter the situation, Abdel Hameed said, “We haven’t been able to change any aspects of the situation for a few years now, we’re definitely not at the top of our game. Judging from past experience, I don’t think fighting such battles legally will lead to anything.”