Downtown Cairo’s Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theater were shuttered Monday night following a surprise inspection from seven officials who were joined by others, making up a 20-member interagency team from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Artistic Products Police Department, Tax Authority, National Security Agency and local office of the Ministry of Manpower.
Established in 1998, the non-profit Townhouse Gallery, along with the affiliated Rawabet Theater, is part of a small group of art spaces in downtown that has helped promote a fledgling contemporary art and performance scene in the city. The gallery hosts lectures, symposia and performances in addition to visual art exhibitions.
Other contemporary art spaces in Cairo have also been raided in recent months, all with involvement of the Office of Artistic Products Police Department.
At around 7 pm Monday, a group of seven plainclothes officials identifying themselves as working for the Office of Artistic Products Police Department arrived at the Townhouse Gallery. They immediately began inspecting the gallery and offices, including personal laptops, employee IDs and paperwork, office documents, licenses, as well as archival material and artwork on display, according to a Townhouse employee who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
Lawyers from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression arrived at the scene half an hour after the raid began.
State officials from different bodies, including security and the Ministry of Manpower, continued to arrive, carrying out inspections and questioning employees for approximately three hours, before photocopies were made of their identification documents and they were allowed to leave.
No reason was given for the raid, nor were any search or arrest warrants presented at the time, the Townhouse staffer told Mada Masr. One personal computer and one office computer were confiscated, as well as exhibition and archival material, documents, CDs and USB flash drives.
Both the main Townhouse exhibition and the adjacent Rawabet Theater were shut down, including the library, archive and office.