Egyptian police arrested a 25-year-old trans woman and her roommate on Sunday, the latest to be targeted in a crackdown on LGBT rights that human rights activists say has lead to the arrest of well over 100 people since October of last year.
The police told Egyptian media that the woman arrested, who goes by the name Malooka Aldlouah, came to their attention because of videos she posted to YouTube, which they say were "hardcore" and intended to advertise sexual services including "sadistic sex." It is not entirely clear why police chose this moment to go after Aldlouah. While she does have many videos on YouTube and Facebook accounts — which don't appear to be explicitly sexual but show her dancing fully clothed or in lingerie — none of her accounts show any new videos posted within the past year.
Aldlouah's arrest falls into a larger trend of Egyptian police targeting LGBT people online. Egyptian law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News in September that they were monitoring LGBT Facebook groups, and the gay hookup app Grindr sent a message to Egyptian users in September warning users of reports that police may be trying to entrap LGBT people through social media. YouTube became a very sensitive site for Egyptian officials in August when a video appearing to show the marriage of two men on a Nile River party boat blew up on social media throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Eight men captured in the film were originally sentenced to three years in prison (an appeals court reduced their sentences to one year during a hearing on Saturday).
Egyptian news outlets have hyped Aldlouah's arrest. One of Egypt's most popular newspapers called Aldlouah "The Most Dangerous Shemale in Egypt." Reports said that she called herself "the King of Homosexuality" and was the ringleader of a "covert sexual network" that recruited men into prostitution. Police reportedly seized condoms, sex toys, and women's underwear as evidence when she was arrested at an apartment in the Cairo suburb called October 6.
The arrest has struck deep fear in the community of trans women in the neighborhood, where Aldlouah was well-known. A friend and former roommate told BuzzFeed News that she fears police will come after people whose numbers appear in Aldlouah's cell phone. She asked not to be identified out of concern for her safety and said she is planning on leaving the country at least until the situation cools off. BuzzFeed News tried to contact four others close to Aldlouah, but their cell phones were turned off.
"The problem is that the police took their cell phones, which carry our numbers — this is an easy way to arrest us," Aldlouah's former roommate said.
The former roommate said that she believes Aldlouah might not have run afoul of police if she had stuck to using only the gay social network Manjam — the most popular in Egypt — instead of YouTube and Facebook. Though it could potentially be infiltrated by police, it requires a membership and can't be casually accessed by the general public.
"She went out of the protected zone of Manjam and onto the street of Facebook," the friend said.
Now, she said, she and their other friends are at risk.
"Arresting Malooka makes the situation very very dangerous," the former roommate said. "I will leave Egypt soon… Hard days are definitely coming."
The tone of the reporting of Aldlouah's arrest also reflects how some news outlets are amplifying the regime's anti-LGBT drumbeat. These reports come as 26 men are due to go before a judge next week who were arrested in a November raid on a bathhouse that television reporter Mona Iraqi claims to have reported to police for hosting "gay sex parties." A program Iraqi did about the bathhouse — which was purportedly about the spread of HIV in Egypt — aired at least three times on Egyptian television in the days after the raid.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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