Last week, HRC Global Fellow and Egyptian human rights activist Ahmed Hafez spoke on a panel about the widespread violation of human rights in his country since a military coup overthrew an elected Islamist government in 2013.
Then-army chief and now president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since the coup. Police have engaged in a brutal and widespread crackdown throughout the country and LGBT people, especially gender non-conforming gay men and transgender people, are major victims.
Hafez was a panelist at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) alongside Scott Long, a well-known American LGBT rights activist. Long founded Human Rights Watch’s LGBT rights program and spent the past three years working in Cairo. The panel, “Egypt: Sex, Rights, Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy,” sought to highlight a climate of increasing homophobia and transphobia under the Sisi regime.
According to Long, Egypt imprisons more people for same-sex conduct or gender expression than any other country in the world.
Being lesbian, gay or transgender is widely perceived in Egypt as a mental disorder. The imposition of a British protectorate in the late 19th century led to the introduction of anti-LGBT laws and attitudes that persist widely to this day, according to Hafez.
Long described the “sustained despair” and “trauma” that have set in among Egyptians as the government intrudes ever deeper into people’s personal lives and freedoms. Disappearances and other repressive tactics are being used to silence civil society activists. Debauchery and prostitution laws have been frequently abused to arrest gay men at bathhouses and other venues where they may congregate. Long urged the U.S. government to do more to assist LGBT Egyptians.
Despite the ongoing crackdown on LGBT communities in Egypt, Hafez noted that educated urban activists have become less fearful and willing to stand up for their rights since the revolution of 2011. This could be a hopeful sign for the country as it suffers under an illiberal military regime where freedom of speech and expression are heavily curtailed.
HRC Global has been keeping close tabs on these developments in Egypt. This included hosting a briefing in Capitol Hill in July about human rights concerns in the country. Speaking at the briefing, HRC Global Director Ty Cobb called on Congress to keep human rights abuses by the state in mind as they formulate U.S. policy towards Egypt.
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