How safe is it to be gay in Egypt? What should gay tourists expect? Hint: Stay off Grindr.
Let’s face it. Egypt doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to gay rights. Homosexuality isn’t technically illegal in Egypt, but it’s still a conservative Muslim country, and gays are discriminated against and routinely rounded up by the police.
Arrests. Who’d have thought that a young man waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in 2017 would spark a major crackdown on gays? Within a single month, 76 people had been arrested, detained and possibly even tortured. (There’s a humiliating “test” some prisoners are said to undergo to see if they’ve been penetrated anally.)
Because homosexuality isn’t an official crime, laws combatting prostitution and “habitual debauchery” are used to justify the imprisonment of gay men and lesbians for six months to six years.
Cruising apps. A favorite tactic of the Egyptian police is to entrap gay men, luring them to hotels, where they are arrested, by using apps like Grindr.
But it’s not just the police you have to worry about when using these apps, warns an anonymous source in an NBC News article: “You could be robbed or assaulted when meeting people from apps,” he says.
Don’t think that just because you’re a traveler you’ll be exempt. “Even foreigners are being targeted: Cases have been reported where tourists were arrested for ‘debauchery’ and deported from the country,” says Mathias Wasik, senior campaign manager at All Out, a human rights organization. “The hunt has never stopped, and the arrest and intimidations continue.”
Gay Travel Tips in Egypt
Now that you’re good and scared, it’s time to say, don’t let that stop you from visiting a country that’s insanely rich in amazing temples and tombs of the ancient world.
As long as you don’t do anything overly gay — I’m sure you can resist kissing in public during your travels in Egypt — you should pass through unmolested.
Handholding. There’s no real concept of lesbianism, and, as such, females couples can even hold hands, Frommer’s claims, since that’s what women friends do there. But I have to wonder, is it worth the risk?
You’ll hear a lot about how hetero Muslim men walk arm in arm and kiss each other hello. And while we did see evidence of this in Morocco, it was only the young men along the Corniche in Cairo we saw do this in Egypt.
Gay bars and cafés. Don’t count on any gay scene in Egypt. Even if there were a gay bar, I wouldn’t take any chances going to it. You don’t have to be gay to be arrested — just being seen as a supporter of the LGBTQ community is enough.
“There are spots that are, to some extent, gay friendly, but even these places declined after 2011” with the Egyptian Revolution, the source told NBC. “The Islamic Brotherhood coming to power meant that there was a lot of fear from the owners of these places. They didn’t want to look like they were that friendly towards gay people, so they closed their bars and cafés and left.”
Our Experience as a Gay Couple in Egypt
Duke and I didn’t feel uncomfortable being gay in Egypt at all. We don’t publicize our sexuality, and we have the added bonus of looking enough alike that people often assume we’re related. When they ask if we’re brothers (or sometimes even twins!), we now just nod and say yes. It’s actually pretty amusing and is easier that way.
During our visit to Egypt, we stayed at European-run hotels in Cairo (the Kempinski) and Aswan (Sofitel’s Old Cataract), which tend to have more open-minded staffs who don’t make a fuss when two dudes want to share a bed.
That being said, when we checked into our hotel in Cairo, the man at the front desk said, “We have a Nile view room ready. The only thing is that it only has one bed.”
“That’s OK,” I told him.
“We can bring in a cot,” he added, trying to be helpful.
“That won’t be necessary,” I said.
In Luxor, we stayed at a gorgeous resort on the West Bank (Al Moudira), run by a wonderful Lebanese woman who has surely seen all sorts of travelers stay there — most of our fellow guests were British or French — and was nothing but delightful to us. –Wally