Harrowing new BBC documentary Queer Egypt Under Attack uncovers how violent criminal gangs and corrupt Egyptian police officers use online dating sites to target the LGBTQ+ community.
Journalist and presenter Ahmed Shihab-Eldin undertook a two year long investigation for BBC News to uncover the tactics used to lure, and eventually prosecute, LGBTQ+ people in Egypt.
Although Egypt does not currently have specific legislation banning homosexuality, this has not stopped the queer community from being repeatedly targeted with abuse and exortion.
As Shihab-Eldin discovered, police initiate text conversations on dating apps such as WhosHere and Grindr, encouraging people to meet up with them. They then charge them under a “debauchery” law, often fabricating evidence against LGBTQ+ people who are simply looking for love and friendship.
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The law targets sex work and is a key way LGBTQ+ people are persecuted in Egypt, and the documentary meets real people who have fallen prey to these manipulation tactics, for which the punishment can be a hefty fine and even imprisonment.
Gangs are also targeting vulnerable people on dating apps by filming violent humiliation videos which they send to the victims’ friends and family.
In one clip, Shihab-Eldin meets with an anonymous victim who was featured in a viral video of this nature, and uncovered the chain of blackmail associated with this gang violence.
Another victim, Laith, described how he was simply meeting an acquaintance for a date when police seized him and threatened to fabricate evidence unless he agreed to be an informant.
After Laith refused to cooperate he was charged with “habitual debauchery”, which criminalises regular same-sex practices between men.
The documentary also explores how foreigners are also at risk, with one person, called Matt, lured by police via Grindr, arrested and eventually deported.
Although dating apps are cracking down on these tactics by issuing warnings about potential police presence, the LGBTQ+ community still remains under attack.
Queer Egypt Under Attack is available now on BBC iPlayer.