Upcoming Egyptian Economic Conference Opportunity For Business Leaders to Champion LGBT Equality

Today the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, sent letters to prominent business leaders who are scheduled to speak at the upcoming Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC). HRC urged these high-level private sector speakers, many representing companies that have already demonstrated a deep-seated commitment to LGBT equality, to raise the issue of Egyptian human rights abuses in the context of foreign investment.

“The Egyptian government needs to understand that the violence and discrimination directed at LGBT people and civil society must end now,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global. “Many of these business leaders represent companies that have demonstrated a commitment to LGBT inclusion in the workplace. We hope they use this conference as an opportunity  to articulate the fact that systemically suppressing civil society and oppressing minorities is not only  wrong, it is bad for business.”

According to the EEDC website, the purpose of the conference is to “reposition Egypt on the global investment map and affirm its potential as a source of political and economic stability in the region and a trusted partner on the international stage.”

“As long as Egypt continues to harass and imprison people for who they are, it is not a winning investment,” said Cobb. “We urge speakers  at the conference to use their leverage to discuss the economic benefits that accrue from an inclusive and open political environment.”

Over the last year, Egyptian police forces have increased their crackdown against individuals suspected of being LGBT as part of what many are calling a political calculation by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. While same-sex relations between consenting adults are not explicitly illegal in Egypt, people suspected of being LGBT are arrested under the pretense of “debauchery.” Often, those arrested are subjected to harassment, rape, or tortuous anal exams. The arrests are often broadcast in order to shame the individuals arrested, and to alienate them from their families and communities.

Many of the companies represented at the conference participate in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees. In the coming year, HRC will be adding to the CEI principles by including global criteria that incorporate not just the treatment of U.S. based workers, but also those in multinational companies.

In the letter, which was sent to speakers from the U.S. as well as those representing multinational companies who have shown a commitment to equality, Cobb detailed the latest in a stream of oppressive crackdowns against LGBT Egyptians:

  • In November, eight men were sentenced to three years in prison after being spotted in a YouTube video that the authorities alleged depicted a same-sex wedding.
  • In December, in a widely publicized raid on a Cairo bathhouse, 26 men were arrested and charged with  “public debauchery” and “public indecency” because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. These men were acquitted of all charges in a surprise court ruling, a decision that was upheld by the Egyptian Supreme Court. Yet even those acquitted  face ongoing discrimination, harassment and persecution because of their arrests.
  • In January, a transgender woman was sentenced to six years for “debauchery” after police claimed that she posted inappropriate videos of her dancing on social media.
  • In February, seven people were arrested under allegations of “debauchery.” The arrest related to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. According to the initial reports, they were targeted using fake online pages set up by the Egyptian police.
  • In some of these cases, the police have worked in concert with journalists to ensure that the arrests are made highly visible to the public and broadcast widely in order to shame the individuals arrested and alienate them from their families and communities.

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