Protest Anti-Gay Persecution in Egypt!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 801, 11 April 2003.

On March 15, a Cairo appeals court sentenced 21 men charged with “habitual debauchery,” “obscene behavior” and “contempt of religion” to three years imprisonment and forced labor. The men were part of the so-called “Queen Boat defendants,” a group of 52 arrested in May 2001 in a police raid on a Cairo night club of the same name, and charged with the “crime of homosexual activity.” During their pre-trial detention they had been beaten and tortured until they confessed to being gay. The men were further humiliated by being subjected to forced medical examinations in order to determine whether they had engaged in anal intercourse. Their names, photographs, addresses and workplaces were front-page news in the state-owned newspapers. They were accused of being agents of Israel and of being funded by foreign agencies to spread the “Western disease” of homosexuality. As a result, in addition to the victimization and suffering of the men themselves, many of their relatives lost their jobs.

In November 2001, the 52 men were tried by a State Security Court, a legal arm established under the emergency laws by which President Hosni Mubarak has kept the country under the boot since 1981. Twenty-two of them were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years. One man was sentenced to five years imprisonment and 29 were acquitted. Not satisfied with the sentences, Mubarak ordered a retrial of all the men, “innocent” and “guilty” alike, before an appeals court which duly obliged by handing down harsher sentences.

Since the raid on the Queen Boat two years ago, the regime has escalated its campaign of repression against homosexuals. Hundreds of gay men have been arrested in raids on their homes and through Internet entrapments, put on trial before star-chamber courts and sentenced to prison terms of up to three years. According to the New York Times the police have made an average of one arrest a week since the beginning of 2003. Neither the self-proclaimed leftists in the country nor bourgeois liberals have protested the witchhunt. The working class in Egypt and around the world must protest these heinous acts of persecution!

Egypt is not alone when it comes to the persecution of homosexuals. Across the Islamic crescent, from Morocco to Malaysia, homosexuality is a crime under Sharia (Islamic law), punishable by death in Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and “liberated” Afghanistan, among others. It is a measure of the pervasiveness of anti-gay bigotry in these societies that there is no word in Arabic, Urdu or Farsi for homosexual that is not demeaning or derogatory.

Nor is the industrially advanced Christian West a safe haven for gays and lesbians. The murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998 is a chilling reminder of the fragility of democratic rights for the oppressed. In the U.S., 13 states have so-called sodomy laws, with homosexuality punishable by up to life imprisonment in states like Idaho and Oklahoma. Upholding Georgia’s “sodomy” law in 1986 the Supreme Court declared that “consenting adults have no constitutional rights to private homosexual sex.” Now the court has agreed to hear Lawrence v. Texas, a case in which two men were convicted for private consensual sex. Chief Justice William Rehnquist made his bigoted views clear when he likened a university’s refusal to recognize a gay student group to “measures necessary to prevent the spread of measles.”

In Britain, the Victorian-era laws of “buggery” and “solicitation for immoral purpose,” used to prosecute Oscar Wilde over a century ago, still await the Blair government’s years-old promise of a “historic sweep.” In 1998 the laws were used to prosecute and convict the “Bolton Seven” for having consensual sex. In the face of massive public outrage the government was forced to set them free, but in the last couple of years there have been massive roundups under the guise of “protecting” children from “pedophiles.”

In capitalist society, the persecution of homosexuals is linked to the subjugation of women and is used to buttress the institution of the family. The family, the main source of women’s oppression, serves as a vehicle through which private property is passed down from one generation to the next and to provide the means by which future generations of workers are raised. Through the institution of the family the ruling classes instill bourgeois codes of “morality,” subservience and obedience to authority, and reinforce religious obscurantism, thus serving the ultimate goal of regimenting society. Those who deviate from these set restrictions ultimately become the subjects of persecution.

Immediately upon their accession to power, the Bolsheviks swept away all laws discriminating against homosexuals. Describing the measures taken by the revolutionary government that took power after the Russian Revolution in 1917, Dr. Grigorii Batkis, the director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, wrote:

“It [the new Soviet legislation] declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as no body is injured and no one’s interests are encroached upon....

“Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality, Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters.”

— quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement, 1974

The International Communist League, in the tradition of Bolshevism, is irreconcilably opposed to each and every manifestation of sexual discrimination. We stand firmly for the absolute non-interference of the state into consensual sexual relations. We call for full democratic rights for homosexuals. We demand the immediate release of all the gay men jailed in Egypt and the abolition of all legislation that discriminates against homosexuals.

It was no coincidence that the court handed down its sentences on the eve of the American colonial assault on Iraq. In bed with the American imperialists and contributing to their war effort by facilitating the passage of warships through the Suez canal, Mubarak’s regime sought to head off potential protests against the war by appeasing the Islamic fundamentalists. But unlike the protests against the war in Afghanistan which were overwhelmingly dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, the current antiwar protests in Egypt have had a large component of leftist youth and Arab nationalists who look back to the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and ’60s.

For more than ten hours, tens of thousands of protesters filled Tahrir (Liberation) Square in central Cairo on March 20, the first day of the U.S. attack on Iraq, venting their anger against the regime and chanting songs by the poets Ahmed Negm and Sheik Imam. The duo was famous in the 1960s and 1970s for representing the militant fervor of students and workers during strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations. “It took 31 years and an American-led war on Iraq for the rare occurrence to be reenacted,” wrote Al-Ahram Weekly (27 March-2 April), referring to the left-wing led student movement that shook the country in 1972. The protesters at Tahrir Square last month were met by the regime’s terror machine of police dogs, armored police cars and fire engines. Thousands were arrested and beaten, among them Nasserist member of parliament Hamdeen Sabahi.

Marxists seek to win these leftist youth to a revolutionary program, including defense of the rights of homosexuals, women and religious minorities. Acting as the tribune of the people, a revolutionary Leninist party must lead the working class in defense of all the oppressed as an integral part of its struggle against the capitalist system. Only the overthrow of the capitalist order internationally through proletarian revolution can lay the material foundations for a new world in which the oppressive institution of the family will be replaced with collective childcare and housework. Only then can all human relations be truly based on the free choice of individuals. The International Communist League is committed to championing these liberating goals of communism and the necessarily global struggle for a classless society. Stop the persecution of homosexuals now!

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