Dramatic music, unrecognizable faces, distorted voices, a serious-looking reporter: Investigative journalism as we know it from many countries. However, in this episode of the Egyptian documentary series "The Hidden" of the Egyptian journalist Mona Iraqi there is a crucial difference: At the end the police come to arrest dozens of allegedly gay men in front of the camera. The journalist herself dialed the number of the security forces.
In her three-parts-documentary "gays and AIDS in Egypt" the journalist Mona Iraqi investigates the hot topic of "kinky gays" and "criminal prostitutes" in the heart of Cairo. In her documentary Iraqi speaks of "human trafficking" and "the danger for the family values in Egypt". For her piece she hired an actor who entered undercover to the hammam "gateway to the sea". In the central Cairo district of Ramses the bath was always also considered as a gay meeting point, where it may be also possible to have sex. The documentary unleashed in Egypt a controversial discussion about morality and journalistic ethics.
The main scene of the original Arabic version of the documentary shows Mona Iraqi filming police officers with her smartphone. In her show, she explained herself why she had called the police: "These practices are dangerous for our society and I have the duty to protect Egypt against the spread of AIDS", Iraqi said. Then images of the "guilty men" are shown, dozens of naked bodies are passing in front of the camera: "caught in the act", says the reporter voice. Undressed and with hands in front of their faces, the men were arrested by the police. This case is part of a big crackdown on gays in Egypt since last year.
Above all, the first of three parts of the documentary has a main message: homosexuality is abnormal, dangerous and criminal. In the Arabic version (without English subtitles) a sentence appears at the top of the picture during the whole documentary: "Sex between men leads to AIDS." In Egypt, a country with a lack of sexual education, this information reaches millions of people, who take it for granted.
A hammam as many others
Munir* from Cairo was himself several times in the hammam "gateway to the sea". He knows some of the arrested men who are waiting for their conviction facing accusations such as "unnatural sexual practices, prostitution and human trafficking".
"No one has done anything illegal in this hammam" Munir says. The place were not a brothel as shown in the documentary. Most customers would actually go to the bath to simply wash themselves. Especially poor people frequented the hammam, among them gays with lower income. Such bath houses can be found very often in Cairo.
Munir is gay and says that the hammam was known among gays in the city. There are private corners where one could have sex. But the hammam was never a brothel, the student insists. Who gets an appointment to meet in a hammam for sex, is even in the dark corners always cautious. The police arrested all the men in the historical building of the bath. The main evidence: All of them were naked or wore just a towel.
On the Internet, many Egyptians discuss about the incident. While a majority in many forums and on social media agree with arresting the men, human rights activists try to oppose as loud as possible "the invasion of privacy". In Egypt, privacy is after all guaranteed by the Constitution, writes the human rights organisation EIPR.
Up to 12 years in prison
Scott Long is an US-American blogger and human rights activist. He is specialized in LGBTQ-rights in the Middle East. Scott Long lives in Cairo and was on Sunday at the first trial against the arrested men. "They were beaten up in a cage in the courtroom", Long reports. The trial was adjourned until early January 2015. Although the indictment is not clear, the outlook for the defendants seems to be very negative. The 21 visitors of the bath could face up to three years, the five employees of the hammam even up to 12 years in prison.
Munir cares mainly about the staff of the hamam. They are accused of "systematic human trafficking". According to Munir they are "the most innocent" in the whole story. Although he is fed up by the actions of the journalist, as the whole gay community in the Middle East seemed to be shocked. Mona Iraqi would not go for the first time beyond journalistic research efforts. On the Internet, some commentators report that she made recently a documentary about drug addicts in Egypt. At the end of this research too she called the police, users accuse her.
Mona Iraqi works for the TV channel "Al-Qahira wa Nas" and additionally for the International Short Film Festival "Shnit". The Swiss Festival organizes regular screenings for intercultural exchange, in Cairo too. The festival is known internationally for its diversity. It tries to show films and filmmakers also from the LGBTQ-community. Initially, some employees of the festival, for example from Russia, had shown solidarity with Iraqi. However a press release from the management in Bern is not in favor of Iraqi's work: "At present we are closely following the course of the legal procedures in Cairo, while gathering as much trustworthy information as possible on the situation." The festival-board fired Iraqi, as it was known from another press release.
On her Youtube channel Iraqi released a version of her documentary with English subtitles, where she did not include the scene with the police and her moral comments. Mona Iraqi was on Monday not available for a statement.
* Name changed