2023 Digital Video Storytelling, Long Form, Large Newsroom finalist

Queer Egypt Under Attack

About the Project

This BBC News investigation reveals how violent criminal gangs are finding, abusing and extorting people from the LGBTQ community they meet online in Egypt. And with extraordinary access to police transcripts the BBC shows how police are using the same dating and social apps to find and arrest people, creating a hostile environment where Egyptian LGBTQ people have nowhere to hide. Using innovative masking technology to hide the identities of the people he meets, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin navigates the complex online and real-life world of two people who identify as queer who have been repeatedly targeted by a gang with violent viral video humiliations and police arrests. Forced to choose between sex work and asylum, Jamal chooses to stay and Laila chooses to go.

While homosexuality isn’t technically illegal in Egypt, our BBC investigation showed how the country’s security forces are using laws designed to protect against “debauchery” – originally a sex work charge – to criminalise LGBTQ+ people for their sexuality.

Just being on the apps looking for a date can be grounds for arrest based on the incitement of debauchery or public morality laws in Egypt.

The key differentiator for us was access to police transcripts documenting conversations between police officers and people they then went on to arrest. In them we saw that some of those targeted by the police on apps were only looking for love, dates, and even new friendships, online. The transcripts reveal that police try to push their victims to agree to having sex for money, as legal experts say this can help secure a charge of indiscriminate sex which is one of the main indicators of debauchery. But there are also police transcripts where there is no mention of any financial transactions.

We also use Freedom of Information requests and parliamentary questions to find out that UK businesses are the largest investors in Egypt. Police forces in Egypt received training from the UK, via the UN as recently as 2019. It was released as a one hour film on iplayer and also in shorter formats for YouTube and social media, with an accompanying text piece. It was released on flagship shows across the BBC network and translated into many different languages.