On 1 December 2016, authorities shut down two al-Karama public library branches in Tora and Dar al-Salam. The libraries were founded by Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer and head of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), without any warning or official reason, simply stating they had “received orders” to do so, reported Mada Masr.
“The closure of two branches of Al-Karama library is retaliation by the state against me. It is a warning message and a punitive measure from the regime regarding my personal political views and activism,” Eid told Daily News Egypt on 3 December 2016. “No records from the prosecution were provided to us regarding the sudden closure. This is an unexpected measure that has been carried out against centres of knowledge based in underprivileged districts in Cairo.”
According to a 4 December 2016 ANHRI statement, members of a third branch in al-Zagazig received a summons to appear before city officials and were threatened with closure.
UPDATE: National security officials shut down the al-Zagazig library branch at dawn on 18 December 2016 without giving a reason. All activities at the branch, as well as the remaining two open branches at the time – Khanka and Boulaq, were suspended after the earlier closures, reported Mada Masr on 20 December 2016.
Eid had called upon Moshira Khattab, Egypt’s nominee for UNESCO director-general, via Twitter earlier in the week to step in and reopen the first closed branches. Khattab responded on Twitter that she would do her best “to ensure no child is deprived of the right to knowledge”. The closure of the al-Zagazig branch happened, despite her pledge.
The statement continued:
No legal reasons for the closure have yet been revealed by the police officer. Also, closing the two libraries and attacking the third one in the same time indicate that the decision was issued by some security or sovereign bodies under reasons relating to retaliation and attempting to force ANHRI’s founder to be silenced over the human rights violations occurred in Egypt. However, this decision is really harming those who are benefiting from the services provided by the libraries, who were amounted in 2016 to 40,000 male and female citizens, including youth and children and even households, since their establishment in 2012.
The organisation explained the library is “disconnected from politics or religion, not affiliated with any political or religious party whatsoever, and doesn’t offer any human rights-related activities, only cultural and art services”.
Targeted by the state
Eid has been targeted by authorities before. Earlier in 2016, Eid’s assets were frozen and he was not allowed to leave the country as authorities cracked down on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including human rights groups, that, authorities allege, took foreign funding with the intent to destabilise Egypt after the 2011 uprising that ousted then-president Hosni Mubarak.
On 15 November 2016, Egypt’s parliament approved a bill that would strictly regulate NGOs, including measures such as, limiting work to development and social sectors, banning NGOs from doing field work or conducting polls in coordination with international bodies, including the United Nations, without approval, and that foreign NGOs need to be overseen by a regulating agency represented by government or military officials.
Eid used funds he received from winning the 2011 Roland Berger Human Dignity Award to set up the five al-Karama library branches in the underprivileged districts and slums of Tora, Dar al-Salam, al-Zagazig, Khanka and Boulaq, to give children access to books and to host art and cultural events in an effort to supplement their schooling.
Photo: al-Karama library Facebook page
» Mada Masr – 20 December 2016
Government shuts down third library owned by right activist Gamal Eid
» The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information – 4 December 2016
Egypt: Authorities in Egypt close two of al-Karama public libraries in Cairo slums and pave the way for closing the third one
» Daily News Egypt – 3 December 2016
Closure of Al-Karama library is state’s retaliation against my political views: Gamal Eid
» Mada Masr – 1 December 2016
Government shuts down libraries owned by rights activist Gamal Eid
» Mada Masr – 29 November 2016
Update: Egypt’s parliament passes new NGO law
» Reuters – 15 November 2016
Challenging government, Egypt’s parliament approves ‘repressive’ NGO bill
» Reuters – 25 March 2016
Human rights on trial in Egypt as NGO funding case revived
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