Dozens of men were arrested Dec 7 and publicly marched outside, naked, to police trucks in one of the biggest raids on a public bathhouse in Egypt.
This follows the arrest of eight men on a boat earlier this year, as targeted harassment of gay men escalates in Egypt.
The latest arrest, first reported by human rights activist Scott Long, allegedly began with a local journalist named Mona Iraqi, who produces and anchors an Egyptian TV show called El Mostakbai (The Hidden). According to Long, Iraqi attempted to film inside a hammam, or bathhouse, known as a gay cruising spot in Cairo. When the owner reportedly refused her request to film inside the bathhouse and kicked her out, Iraqi came back a couple of hours later with police forces, who arrested “40 men, and dragged them naked outside into the police truck.”
Mahmoud, a local gender and sexuality activist who asked that his name be changed to protect his identity, says there is a growing trend of reporters who “both use homosexuality as a way to get famous and who collaborate with police in inciting and covering raids.”
“It’s not the first time that Egypt tries to distract people’s attention from corrupt politics using the gay community as a scapegoat,” says Georges Azzi, director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality. “It’s not the first time that journalists in our region seek fame at the expense of the most vulnerable groups.”
Images from the raid have spread across Twitter: naked, handcuffed men pushed out of the bathhouse into a police truck while Iraqi stands in the background shooting videos on her mobile. The young men, horrified, crying and screaming, try to cover their faces while cameras flash in their eyes. Iraqi released the photos watermarked with her program slogan: “We will uncover all that is hidden.”
Two hours after posting the photos on her official Facebook page, she removed them. She also removed an earlier post, where she proudly called the raid a direct result of her work and referred to the bathhouse as a den for orgies and perversion.
“The cameras of El Mostakbai managed to do a filmed investigation to prove incidents of group perversion and record the confessions of the owners of this den,” she added.
After being attacked on social media by both Arabic and English speakers, she published a new post announcing that she would postpone the episode. “This [reportage that resulted in the raid] is part of our campaign celebrating the World AIDS Days,” the post reads. “We have worked with the highest degree of professionalism and accuracy, and we worked within the internationally-acknowledged human rights, professional and scientific rules.”
“She portrays the event in a stereotypical, homophobic way,” Mahmoud contends. “She considers her role in leading the police to arrest these poor people heroic. She violates all rights to safety and privacy. She exposes people, endangers their lives, scars them and their families forever.”
Xtra attempted to reach Iraqi and requested an interview, but has yet to receive a response.
A trailer for the upcoming episode, with an ominous-sounding narrator, shows the journalist claiming — again — that the episode was filmed entirely for World AIDS Day and urging parents to show it to their children. “Bring them to watch this episode with you,” she says. “Let them see it, discuss it with them. Protect them, as if you left them, others might poison them.”
The episode was filmed to “uncover the reasons why AIDS is spreading in Egypt,” the narrator says. “We lead the police of Egypt to one of the biggest male prostitution in the heart of Cairo.”
Meanwhile, the attack on Iraqi’s Facebook page continues. “You don’t even deserve a discussion with arguments and so on,” one commenter says. “You’re a disgusting human being,” another adds. “Do you enjoy destroying lives of sexual minorities?” a third asks.
One anonymous commenter explains that “for gay people, life is a living hell of loneliness, danger and constant fear and hiding,” adding that “Mona Iraqi makes her living by the misery and abuse of people like gay men. It’s her bread and butter.”
As the news broke, many gay men closed their online accounts and refused to speak to strangers. “Those are fearful times here,” said one man, who asked not to be identified. “Being a gay man in Egypt is life threatening.”
“This break from dating gives me time to study for my university mid-terms, anyway,” he added, before turning off his Facebook chat.