Some good news from the Middle East. An Egyptian court just acquitted 26 men on charges of “debauchery” which really means homosexuality. While this is good news, the reality is that the men endured weeks in jail, apparent sexual assault while in custody and public humiliation. There is an increasingly hostile climate towards gay people under the authoritarian Egyptian government, but it is not technically illegal. Dozens upon dozens, however, have been prosecuted in recent months for acts like public lewdness or habitual indecency. They treat homosexuality like it is an isolated criminal offense rather than a culture or identity. The way that the men got arrested, which is the most disturbing aspect, is through a reporter for a pro-government television channel. The reporter, Mona Iraqi, informed authorities that gay orgies were happening at a Cairo bathhouse. She was actually there with a camera crew when the raid took place and she even provided what seemed to be joyous commentary as the men were being dragged away. They were half-naked and trying to hide their faces as she claimed to be investigating the root of AIDS.
While the men were in jail, they were subjected to intrusive and medically illegitimate anal tests meant to see if they had engaged in anal intercourse. The tests are well known to violate basic rights and have no real basis in scientific evidence to prove homosexual acts. While the court ruled correctly in the name of justice, the damage is probably irrevocable. Three of the men showed signs of having been sexually assaulted while in jail. They were among the general prison population after they were arrested and there is speculation that the other inmates abused them. The stigma of a highly publicized arrest such as this one will inevitably lead to ruined family relations, no access to jobs and other personal problems. The men were weeping in the caged defendant’s dock used for criminals in the Arab world. The problem is that while these men are free, their problems are far from over.