Dozens of local rights groups denounced the closure of the Towngouse Gallery for Contemporary Art in Downtown Cairo, in an official joint statement on Saturday.
The NGOs include a number of prominent rights groups and observatories, as well aas cultural centres. Some of these include the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Darb 1718 for contemporary arts, and the Nazra Association for Feminist Studies, among 17 others.
The statement called on the Egyptian government to immediately put an end to all the procedures it is taking against cultural organisations. It further called for the reopening of the spaces due to their important role in enhancing cultural education, in addition to being a platform for creative people to showcase their work.
They also called for the re-evaluation and amendment of the legal status of those cultural organisations, to respect their privacies and separate them from bureaucratic procedures.
The signatories further described the shutting down of the cultural spaces as a “war on creativity” on the part of the State.
Last Monday, the gallery was shut down by a consortium of authorities, led by the Censorship Authoirty. Charges were filed against the gallery following a security raid. The workers at the gallery were surprised by officials who identified themselves as members of the Censorship Authority, the Tax Authority, the National Security Agency, and the local office of the Ministry of Manpower.
“This incident follows a string of other raids that place restrictions on cultural venues and activities, such as banning the performance of El Fan Midan in 2014 for security concerns,” the statement said.
It added: “The government’s adoption of such intimidating policies for civil and cultural work violates international treaties that Egypt has signed, in addition to the 2014 constitution.”
Article 67 of the 2014 Egyptian constitution states that artistic and literal freedoms are guaranteed, and the State is committed to the advancement of arts and culture. The State should also support creative people and their work by providing them with the required tools and methods of encouragement, as stipulated in the constitution.
The constitution also bans lawsuits calling for the confiscation of any kind of intellectual or artistic work.
Townhouse Gallery is a non-profit organisation established at 1998, aiming to make contemporary art easily accessible to all people. Rawabet Theatre is a platform that was opened in 2000 by individual artists aiming to create a venue for independent groups to engage in different artistic practices. Both spaces hold contemporary art shows, including theatre and music performances, art exhibitions, film screenings, and lectures.