TV presenter Mona Iraqi defended her role in a police raid of an alleged gay bathhouse near Ramses on Sunday night, according to her official Facebook page
For her program “Al-Mostakhbai,” an undercover TV show on the channel Alqahira wal Nas, Iraqi entered the bathhouse with a cameraman and her cellphone camera and filmed men unclothed as they were being escorted by police to jail. In pictures posted on her Facebook page, Iraqi can be seen holding her cell phone in the background as exposed men hide their faces in front of her, standing huddled together.
A security source, speaking to Reuters, said that 26 men were arrested in the raid, making it the largest since 2001, when police arrested 52 gay men on the Queen Boat, a night club on the Nile.
Iraqi defended the segment, which will air 10 December, citing humanitarian, moral and security reasons.
Iraqi's main defense for her role in the bathhouse raid, however, centers around her show being part of a larger campaign to punish deviant sexual behavior as a way to reduce the threat of HIV in Egypt. She invites her Facebook fans to see her special report, referring to the bathhouse, where men allegedly engage in gay sex, as a “den for spreading AIDS in Egypt.”
The episode, she says, was part of a series in conjunction with World AIDS Day to highlight those “categories most vulnerable to HIV infection,” but the date was pushed back.
A nearby resident claims to have seen a female journalist, presumably Iraqi, first attempt to enter the bathhouse with a cameraman, only to be kicked out by the owner, the website Paper Bird
reported. The woman then allegedly reported the incident to police, causing the raid and then proceeded to film it with both cameras.
“With pictures, we reveal the biggest den of group perversion in the heart of Cairo,” she wrote. “The cameras of al-Mostakhbai has a filmed investigation to prove incidents of group perversion and record the confessions of the owners of this den.”
Journalist Hossam Bahgat from independent news site MadaMasr
, criticized Iraqi on her page: “You see the picture of you filming with your phone? Your picture will be spread for years to come with every article, investigation or book on the collapse of Egyptian media ethics.”
“Well Mona, you should know that ignorance and persecution increases the spread of HIV!” another commenter wrote. “The society for which you are reenforcing and spreading ignorance will take you in its loop... because we persecute sex instead of teaching people how to do it safely.”
Though Egypt does not have specific laws banning homosexuality, authorities have used laws against “debauchery” and “prostitution” as a means to arrest what is seen as deviant sexual behavior in this socially conservative country.
Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy, the country has stepped up its crackdown on homosexual activity.
In November, eight men were sentenced to three years for “inciting debauchery and offending public morality” over a YouTube video where they were allegedly shown on a Nile sailboat performing a gay marriage.
After the video went viral on social media, the men were arrested and subject to anal examinations by forensic authorities in an attempt to prove their sexuality. Though the forensic team said the examinations showed the men had not engaged in homosexual behavior, they were sentenced nonetheless.
“The entire case is made up and lacks basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything,” Hesham Abdel Hameed, spokesman for the Justice Ministry's forensics department,
Egypt last saw a large bathhouse raid
in the poor neighborhood of al-Marg, north-east of Cairo in October 2013. Egyptian prosecution ordered the arrest of 14 suspects after being caught “in the act of homosexuality.”
Speaking to Egypt Independent, Adel Ramdan, a lawyer with Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said Egypt’s social taboo against homosexuality has driven gays to seek sex in underground bathhouses or saunas where they engage in risky public sex with strangers. “If Egyptians in general practiced sex normally, they would rarely go to brothels,” he said.
Update*: The story was updated at 9:25 pm to include the Reuters report.