- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

'Intriguing' invitation

Rep. Barney Frank angrily rejected a dinner invitation from the Egyptian Embassy, citing Egypt's "harsh" laws against homosexuals.

The Massachusetts Democrat, Congress' most visible homosexual, this week released a letter he wrote to an Egyptian diplomat, who sent an invitation to him and his "spouse" for a Jan. 30 dinner that featured a noted writer on Islamic culture.

Mr. Frank called the invitation "particularly intriguing" because the closest he has to a spouse is "the man with whom I have been sharing my life" for more than three years.

However, the faux pas in the salutation was not the reason Mr. Frank turned down the invitation. He was angered by the arrest last year of 52 men suspected of homosexuality in Egypt. Twenty-three were sentenced to prison terms of up to five years, while the others were acquitted.

The Egyptian Embassy yesterday said homosexuality is not a crime in Egypt. The men were charged with contempt of religion for public lewdness, according to a diplomat who asked not to be identified because he did not want to engage in a public dispute with Mr. Frank.

Mr. Frank, in his Jan. 18 letter, said he declined the invitation "because given the harsh attitude evinced by your government and several other Arab governments toward gay men, I would not feel comfortable in such a gathering."

"Indeed," he added, "I would feel it a betrayal of men very much like me who have recently been brutally arrested and imprisoned by your government for no reason other than the way in which they chose to express affection to other human beings in a mutually consenting relationship."

Mr. Frank also complained that the Egyptian government ignored an earlier letter signed by 35 members of the House, including Mr. Frank, objecting to the arrests.

The Egyptian diplomat said Ambassador Nabil Fahmy did reply to that letter, but he suspected it was lost because of the anthrax scare that disrupted congressional mail.

Mr. Fahmy explained the Egyptian legal code and said that the public-lewdness law applied equally to homosexual and heterosexual behavior. The ambassador also noted that Egypt, as a signatory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, does not discriminate against homosexuals.

Ulster office

Northern Ireland yesterday opened a separate Washington office to help the British province achieve political, social and economic goals in the United States and at home.

"The Northern Ireland Bureau will deal with economic issues and U.S. trade and investment in Ireland," David Trimble, first minister of the Northern Irish assembly, told our correspondent John Sheridan.

"Everybody knows about the extent of investment and commercial contact between Northern Ireland and the United States. So for that reason alone, there is a need to have it."

The bureau, at 601 13th St. NW, is located two blocks from the White House. The bureau previously had been located in the British Embassy. The move is considered significant because it gives the Protestant majority a direct voice to the American people, said some Northern Ireland analysts. But they might not hold that advantage for long. Analysts predict Catholics will be in the majority in the next 10 to 20 years.

After the announcement, Mr. Trimble focused on continuing peace efforts, especially putting an end to street-level violence between Protestants, who favor the union with Britain, and Catholics, who want to join the Irish Republic.

"Those who are involved in this kind of paramilitary gangsterism and extortionism, they are on notice," Mr. Trimble said of recent rioting that is threatening the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.

Mr. Trimble, accompanied by Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan, said the Northern Irish government is trying to deal with the root causes of violence instead of just reacting to it. Mr. Durkan said a specific measure that is being taken is hiring more Catholics for the police force.

"There is a sense that exists within those communities that they are marginalized," Mr. Trimble said of those in the capital, Belfast. "They feel neglected. That is one thing we can change by listening."

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