Cultural policy

Fears of political crackdown in Cairo after Townhouse Gallery is closed

Officials inspect the established culture venue as the Arab Spring anniversary draws near

Arts professionals have raised fears about the plight of the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, which has been closed by Egyptian administrative authorities. 

The gallery, a non-profit contemporary art venue which opened in 1998, was shut down after representatives from the censorship authority and the tax authority carried out an inspection, which “showed administrative irregularities” according to the Ahram Online website. 

Shiva Balaghi, a visiting scholar at Brown University, Rhode Island, says: “Townhouse matters. It is a truly independent art space in Cairo with deep outreach to the local community through workshops, seminars, exhibitions and an art library. The raid and its closure is alarming, signaling a broader closure of political freedoms in Egypt.”

Paperwork and archival material was seized from the gallery and its affiliated building, the Rawabet Theatre. Gallery staff have not responded to email requests about the closure but Yasser Gerab, the gallery’s outreach director, told Ahram Online that “all the entities that came in were administrative not security authorities…. the representatives looked at the documents and pointed to a few things that were incomplete, and after we sort them out, we will soon start running the place again.”

Fatenn Mostafa, the founder of Art Talks, a Cairo-based education and advisory firm, says however that the space remains closed, adding: “It is a matter of principle, not a specific case of an institution that has been in existence under four presidents and one interim president [such as Husni Mubarak and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi). It is about the protection of freedom of expression post-25 January 2011 [the anniversary of the Arab spring uprising], in all its shapes and forms.” 

She says: “Why haven't we heard more outrage from the local cultural community? Why haven't we seen a more forceful and proactive stand with the Townhouse from more artists, writers, and curators?” 

The Egyptian consulate in London declined to comment.