The trial of 52 suspected gay men on charges of immorality, which opened in Cairo on July 18, signaled an end to long years of discreet and quietly tolerated public activity by the Egyptian gay community.Standing in a cage in a small, crowded courtroom, the defendants were testament to a deep political crisis faced by an insecure regime, a threatened gay community, a mediocre press and a shattered rights movement.But in May, official, opposition and independent newspapers published the names and professions of the 55 Queen Boat defendants; some front pages carried their pictures with the eyes crossed over in black.
Last year, poor Egyptians watched their purchasing power sink due to devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
The huge media frenzy over the Queen Boat case has distracted people while the government introduces additional sales taxes, despite private sector complaints about a severe drop in sales.
After the July 18 court session, a beleaguered mother screamed: "He went out to buy me medicine when [the police] arrested him." This would explain the almost identical news reports published in the two weeks that followed the raid.
The reports, probably issued by state security sources, described rituals of a Satan-worshipping cult and public orgies allegedly taking place on the Queen Boat every Thursday night.
Later, the Egyptian delegation to the UN succeeded in deleting a sentence from the final declaration of the session, which mentioned gay men and lesbians as a vulnerable population at high risk for HIV infection.
These "Islamic" positions raised the eyebrows of Egyptians accustomed to a foreign policy which had only stressed "Islamic values" at the low-profile, and mostly meaningless, meetings of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.Shortly afterwards, a banned videotape that shows a former Coptic priest having sex with women who came to his monastery to seek healing was leaked, many think by state security, to the press, leading to Coptic demonstrations, clashes with security forces and a series of newspaper articles and state security trials.According to lawyers for the 52 detainees, state security arbitrarily arrested many men who were not on the Queen Boat on May 11, to inflate the numbers arrested for the press.Two other sensational cases have also crowded out economic issues.Days after the Queen Boat raid, a businessman was referred to the criminal court for having been married to 17 women.The regime seems to have realized that suppression and persecution of Islamists will not uproot the Islamist threat unless it is combined with actions that bolster the state's religious legitimacy.