As people the world over enjoy a romantic evening or night out with friends for Valentine’s Day, nine men — eight Egyptians and one Saudi — are trying to avoid prison. Their Valentine’s Day festivities, celebrated in early November in Egypt, started with drinks and dancing at a private party and ended with a raid and what became 10 days in detention.
That was just the beginning.
Almost two months after their arrest, the men were convicted of prostitution and sentenced to between three and nine years in prison. After prison, the men will enter a three-year probation period for rewiring. In this final stage of humiliation, they will check into mental institutions so that health care professionals can effectively address their deviant tendencies.
Under the din of Egypt’s oftentimes-violent crackdown on any type of dissent, the saga of the nine generally apolitical men has gone under the radar. But their plight is no less related to the ruling military regime’s consolidation of power.
“It’s not a criminal case as much as it is a political case,” said Mohamed Bakier, a lawyer defending one of the men. “It is about the state trying to deliver a message that the society is still conservative.”
The police report, party pictures and the results of anal examinations do not connect the partying men to prostitution. But in Egypt’s current political climate, polarized since the ouster of Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the arrest and prosecution of men who don’t fit acceptable standards of masculinity reassures Egyptians that the ruling military regime is as conservative as any Islamist party. Egypt score of 3% was near the bottom of a 2013 Pew Research poll on countries’ acceptance of homosexuality.
The Valentine’s Day raid was actually the second raid of a gathering of gay men since the Egyptian military took the reigns of power on July 3. There were no such raids during Morsi’s year-long rule.
Bakier said that the Valentine’s Day arrests were made in time to boost support for the military regime’s new constitution.
“With the referendum, people were fearful that it would affect Islamic traditions.” He said Egyptians were concerned that the new supreme law of the land would weaken “Islamic rules,” forever altering Egyptian society.
It is impossible to gauge the extent to which the publicized arrest of gays and non-gender conforming men reduced Egyptians’ doubts about the moral character of their military government. Nonetheless, the new constitution passed with over 98% approval.