A new investigation has revealed that Egyptian police are using dating apps such as Grindr and WhosHere to meet LGTBQ+ people and then arbitrarily arresting them. Police then conduct an unauthorized search on their phones and use the information on their phones to maintain their custody and file charges against them.
The taboo around homosexuality is quite strong in Egypt. Although there isn't specific legislation against homosexuality, the study revealed that the LGBT population is being criminalized under the sex work law known as "debauchery" in the country.
Transcripts obtained by the study demonstrated how cops pose online to look for LGBT persons looking for dates. In one text exchange with a user of the social networking and dating app WhosHere, an undercover police officer pressured the individual to meet up in person; the app user in question was eventually detained.
Dating apps are a common technique for LGBT people to meet possible mates because it is quite difficult for them to do so openly in public in Egypt. However, using the apps alone might lead to prosecution under Egypt's laws against inciting public immorality or debauchery, regardless of your sexual orientation.
Dating apps in Egypt, such as WhosHere, are not secure. Practically every police transcript that the BBC has access to mentions the WhosHere app. According to cyber privacy experts, WhosHere appears to have particular flaws that make it possible for hackers to gather extensive amounts of user data, including location.
Not only Egyptians are the target of this persecution; foreigners in the country are being monitored as well. In one transcript, police talk about finding a foreigner on the well-known gay dating app Grindr. In a subsequent chat with an undercover police informant, one foreigner unknowingly exposed himself. After sending his pictures, he was taken into custody, accused of "debauchery," and ultimately deported.
According to some transcripts, the cops seem to be pressuring individuals who only seem to be looking for dates or new friendships into consenting to have sex in exchange for money. According to legal experts in Egypt, demonstrating that money has been exchanged or offered can give the authorities the justification they need to file a lawsuit.
The Egyptian government has made public statements about how it monitors "gay gatherings" online. In 2020, Ahmed Taher, a former assistant to the interior minister, stated that "We recruited police in the virtual world to unearth the masses of group sex parties and homosexual gatherings."
The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee for the UK, MP Alicia Kearns, told the BBC that she wants more to be done to alert LGBT tourists about the dangers in places like Egypt, "where their sexuality might be weaponized against them." "I would strongly urge the Egyptian government to stop any actions that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation." She added.
Strategically, Egypt is one of the most crucial Western allies in the Middle East. The North African country receives yearly funding in the billions of dollars from the US and EU. Every year, about 500,000 Britons travel there, and through the UN, the UK also provides police training to Egypt.
However, the BBC was informed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office that no UK funds had been used to provide Egyptian police training in matters related to the claims made in the inquiry.