Conor Sheils delves into Egypt's gay community, and speaks frankly with an activist about the worsening problems facing homosexuals in the country.
Ahmed is an ordinary young Egyptian; he doesn't look out of place in any of the hustle and bustle of downtown Cairo. But Ahmed has a secret - he's gay. Despite the perceived secularism and relative liberalism, Egypt's gay community is suffering at the brutal hands of the security forces and religious zealots. Official figures are unsurprisingly unavailable in Egypt but some estimates claim that up to 10% of the population are homosexual. Despite this, homosexuality has long remained Mother Egypt's dirty little secret.
Ahmed has had to spend years of his life living in the shadows fearing attacks by police, religious groups, conservative Egyptians and even his own family and friends. The community has been ushered underground, with gay men and women forced to hang out in seedy backstreet saunas or haphazard informal gatherings. Ahmed highlights what he sees as a sickening homophobia among many Egyptians: "When I walk down the street with my partner the locals look at us like we are aliens. They turn their heads to each other and start to chat about what they see and clearly assume. People look at you like a monkey in a zoo, and you can see the hate in their eyes. That's what hurts the most."
For Ahmed and other members of the gay community, snide looks are only part of the problem. Last week, three men were arrested in the beach resort of Hurghada for allegedly "dancing provocatively" while dressed in female clothing at a nightclub at the resort. The trio now face court on indecency charges. "After the fall of Mubarak, police disappeared from the scene and there was a brief period of respite but since June 2013 things are as bad as ever. The situation has been particularly bad since October 2013. Police raided a hammam in October and a private party in around the same time. The security forces have even begun raiding hotel rooms in Cairo five-star hotels. They used to be a safe-haven but not anymore, we're back to the old days."
And Ahmed's theory appears true to many especially when one considers that this is just the latest in an ongoing crackdown by the country's security forces on Egypt's LGBT community. 14 men were arrested at a sauna in Cairo's El-Marg district in October and have since been charged with a variety of offences linked to so-called "indecent behaviour." Meanwhile, last November, nine men were arrested on similar at a private party in 6th October, as Ahmed mentions.
Of course, this trend dates back to the darkest days of the Mubarak regime. The infamous 'Cairo 52' case in 2001, when twenty-one men were handed three-year jail sentences after cops raided a party on the Queen Nile boat, is but one example. Ahmed, along with 30,000 others, also joined a Facebook group calling for Cairo's first 'Gay Pride' parade in the month's following the revolution. The page disappeared overnight - no explanation was given.
And now it looks like, despite numerous regime changes and revolutions, the story remains the same for Egypt's oppressed homosexual community. Ahmed also believes that Egyptian homophobia is often served with a side of downright hypocrisy."The people who judge you are the same people who hit on you. A religious man with a mark on his forehead is as likely to proposition you as anybody else. I have been offered sex more than 100 times by outwardly straight men, yet they feel disgusted with themselves. They are ashamed."
The situation in Egypt appearing to be worsening but what does the future hold for people like Ahmed and the millions of homosexuals living in constant fear?
"The future looks bleak right now. We don't know what is going to happen. But right now we're just back to square one."