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Egypt Court Acquits 26 Men in Debauchery Trial

Some of 26 men, who were arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, react after an Egyptian court acquitted them in Cairo, Jan. 12, 2015.

An Egyptian court has acquitted 26 men accused of "debauchery," after they were arrested last month at a Cairo bathhouse. Homosexuality is not officially illegal in Egypt, but men are often prosecuted under the more vague charge of "debauchery."

The decision Monday by a Cairo misdemeanor court to acquit 26 men accused of “debauchery” was met with applause inside the court room, as onlookers cheered and the defendants chanted.

Much of the Egyptian press has been referring to the case as the “trial of the gay bath house orgy participants.” The defendants were arrested in early December after police raided a Turkish bath facility in the center of Cairo. TV cameras showed the men being paraded out of the facility with only towels to cover themselves.

Prosecutors accused the bath house owner of using the facility to “aid and abet debauchery” and the defendants with “debauchery” and violating public decency. Homosexuality is not officially a crime in Egypt.

The case gained notoriety after a well-known Egyptian journalist profiled the alleged indecent activities at the Turkish bath in the center of Cairo. Several Western journalists tweeted pictures of the female journalist taking photos of the men as they were being arrested by police.

Several Western media organizations had likened the case to the notorious prosecution in 2001 of 52 men arrested at a floating disco on the Nile known as the “Queen Boat.” Human rights activists have repeatedly pointed to the case in recent years as an example of injustice by the Egyptian judiciary.

American University of Beirut political science professor Hilal Khashan told VOA that sex in general remained taboo in the Arab world and homosexuality was even more of a taboo, although it was frequently tolerated behind closed doors. “Homosexuals in the region,” he said, “are still in the closet.”

Khashan noted the Islamic State group in Iraq has reportedly been throwing those "convicted" of homosexuality “from the tallest building in the city.”

Khashan said Egypt under King Farouq, who was deposed by the military in 1952, was regarded as the “citadel of Arab liberalism,” mostly due to the cosmopolitan nature of its two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria.

But Khashan stresses that given the pressure Egypt is now under from the outside world for alleged human rights abuses, “it is easier to make a concession on homosexuality than on political protests or the [Muslim] Brotherhood.”