updated 11/26/2005 8:33:43 PM ET 2005-11-27T01:33:43

More than two dozen gay Arab men — arrested at what police called a mass homosexual wedding — could face government-ordered hormone treatments, five years in jail and a lashing, authorities said Saturday.

The Interior Ministry said police raided a hotel chalet earlier this month and arrested 22 men from the Emirates as they celebrated the wedding ceremony, one of a string of recent group arrests of homosexuals here.

The men are likely to be tried under Muslim law on charges related to adultery and prostitution, said Interior Ministry spokesman Issam Azouri.

Outward homosexual behavior is banned in the United Arab Emirates, and the gay group wedding has alarmed leaders of this once-isolated Muslim country as it grapples with a sweeping influx of Western residents and culture.

The Arabian peninsula, nevertheless, has a long tradition of openly homosexual wedding singers and dancers.

“Lately people have been talking about (homosexuality), but it has been here for a long time,” said Nadia Buhannad, a Dubai psychologist. “It becomes shocking only when it is your own son.”

Raid on wedding party
Police acting on a tip raided the hotel in Ghantout, a desert region on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway, and found a dozen men dressed as female brides and a dozen others in male Arab dress, apparently preparing for a ceremony that would join them as husbands and wives, Azouri said.

“It was a real party with balloons and champagne,” he said.

The 26 men arrested include those from the Emirates as well as an Indian disc jockey and three men from neighboring Arab states. One of the arrested was to perform the wedding ceremony. Azouri said some of the group told police they worked as prostitutes. Others had been arrested before.

Last year, police made mass arrests at an apparent gay wedding in the conservative emirate of Sharjah and at the Khor Fakkan beach resort in Fujairah emirate, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Two dozen men arrested in Sharjah were given symbolic lashings — meant to humiliate, not inflict pain — and then released from jail, said prominent Emirati lawyer Abdul Hamid al-Kumaiti.

“There are so many others like these guys,” al-Kumaiti said. “The police and rulers need to do more than just lash them and let them go.”

Azouri described the arrests in Ghantout as a “delicate” matter made public for the first time — more than a week after the event — because the country’s tribal leadership wants to demonstrate it will not tolerate open homosexuality.

Officials take hard line
On Friday, as newspapers reported the arrests, the minister of justice and Islamic affairs, Mohammed bin Nukhaira Al Dhahiri, called on parents to be vigilant for “deviant” behavior in their children.

“There will be no room for homosexual ... acts in the UAE,” Al Dhahiri was quoted as saying in the Dubai-based Khaleej Times newspaper.

The arrested men have been questioned by police and were undergoing psychological evaluations Saturday. Azouri said the Interior Ministry’s department of social support would try to direct the men away from homosexual behavior — using methods including male hormone treatments, if the men are found to be deficient.

“Because they’ve put society at risk they will be given the necessary treatment, from male hormone injections to psychological therapies,” he said. “It wasn’t just a homosexual act. Now we’re dealing with a kind of marriage. There was a ritual involved.”

Foreigners arrested will be deported after serving any sentences imposed in court, he said.

Azouri said government psychologists were grappling to learn the causes behind an apparent increase in homosexual behavior in the Emirates. The booming economy has lured hundreds of thousands of Western residents and millions of tourists. Azouri said authorities want to be seen to be taking action at a time when complaints of gay behavior were emerging from the country’s schools and myriad shopping malls.

Most cases of homosexual behavior are taboo and violate Emirati laws based on Islamic sharia. Azouri suggested that other countries with laws based on religion, including Christianity and Judaism, would also ban gay behavior and marriage.

“It’s not about freedom of opinion, it’s about respecting religion which forbids this type of behavior,” he said.

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