What ensued from the Queen Boat arrests was a show trial -- forced confessions, some extracted under torture and a media circus designed to amplify public fear and maximize the government's political gain from the arrest. Though Egypt claims to have no law against homosexuality, it routinely criminalizes and prosecutes gay men under a law prohibiting "juhur," or debauchery, a charge originally levied for prostitution.
In the heat of the case, one article in the state-owned Al-Gomhoureya newspaper gave full names and identifying details of the accused, depicting the arrested homosexuals as part of an underground religious cult. The paper ran one headline, "Satanist Pervert Surprises: They Called Themselves God's Soldiers and Practice Group Sex in Private and Public … Meetings Every Thursday at Queen Boat," cited in the Human Rights Watch report.
Analysts point out a number of ways the Egyptian government gains from crackdowns like the Queen Boat raid. News pages full of homophobic rants are a useful distraction from issues like a faltering economy and rampant corruption, which erode government support. In the same stroke, the state gains ground against its Islamist opponents by attacking homosexuals -- trumped-up offenders against Muslim values.
"They want to reassert their relevance and position themselves as defenders of morality is one way to do it," said Scott Long, an expert who helped produce the Human Rights Watch report.
"One of the ways [Arab authorities] prove they're bona fide is by cracking down on people that everyone hates. Hardly anyone is going to stand up and stick up for homosexuals," he said.
Long applies his analysis to other governments in the region. In 2005, authorities in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, arrested more than two dozen men in the desert town of Ghantout at an event state officials characterized as a mass gay wedding. The UAE announced the men would receive lashings, jail time and forced hormone and psychological treatment. The case was eventually overturned on appeal, after news of the trial drew criticism from human rights activists and the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. government has been comparatively quiet, though, through a more recent and more deadly crackdown in Iraq. In attacks that accelerated last February, Shiite militiamen have carried out a series of beatings and assassinations of gay men, occasionally with the help of the Interior Ministry, according to Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. Al Qaeda in Iraq, a rival Islamist group, has also reportedly attacked gay men in Iraq, in what human rights activists call a clear moral cleansing campaign.
"The easiest group to attack are gay people, both politically and in regards to the militias' Islamist aims. … They can't stop women from going to work, they can't stop couples from being together in public, but they can attack gay men," said Michael Luongo, a gay rights expert and author of the book "Gay Travels in the Muslim World."
"If you want religious credibility you attack gay people," he said of the Islamist brigades. The recent spate of attacks followed a succession of sermons in Iraqi mosques, attacking the scourge of homosexuality. As in the case of Egyptian arrests, suspected homosexuals were detained, tortured, and forced to give names of other gay men for authorities to pursue.