Townhouse Gallery’s downtown Cairo premises remain closed not for political reasons but due to administrative failures by various state bodies, Townhouse outreach director Yasser Gerab told Mada Masr on Wednesday.
The gallery and the nearby Rawabet Theater that it runs were both shuttered on December 28 following a raid by an interagency team. Several cultural spaces and apartments in the area have since received surprise inspections.
While a Townhouse source told Mada Masr at the time that the state bodies whose representatives were present for the raid included the Interior Ministry’s Office of Artistic Products Police Department, the Tax Authority, the National Security Agency and the local office of the Ministry of Manpower, a statement posted on Townhouse’s official Facebook page on Wednesday stated otherwise.
The statement named four bodies that inspected the leading non-governmental arts space before its closure as the West Cairo Municipality, the Ministry of Manpower, the Tax Authority and the Office of Artistic Products Police Department. It did not refer to any security bodies.
Townhouse said its legal representative contacted all four entities for the reasons behind the ongoing closure, but none have assumed responsibility for the decision.
“We were surprised to find that every entity we approached denied responsibility for the closure decision, stating that it is not within their remit,” the statement read. Gerab clarified that Townhouse has not received any official documentation informing them of the closure, but that all three licenses acquired by Townhouse for operation, valid until October 2016, were confiscated by the Office of Artistic Products Police Department and not returned.
He said if any of the four entities request new requirements for operation, related to taxation, licensing or any other procedures, Townhouse will work on meeting them. “But we need to know what these requirements are, and for us to meet them we need to open first so that we can work on maintaining them,” he added.
“I don’t think the closure is political. It exposes the inability of administrative bodies to have clear work mechanisms,” he said. “There’s obvious confusion in the way they work. For example, all Townhouse’s administrative employees leave at 3 pm, and the raid took place at 7 pm, so there was nobody able to present licenses at the time of the raid. It was a surprise visit from multiple entities at a completely unsuitable time of day.”
For precisely the same reasons, another source working at Townhouse, which recently expanded its exhibition space into a neighboring apartment, believes the decision to close the gallery was political.
“There were security forces as part of the raid, but they didn’t identify themselves as such, and lawyers said the same thing,” said the source, who preferred to stay anonymous. “If none of these administrative bodies want to claim responsibility for the closure, it does not make sense to say it is not political. There is nothing left for us but to think that it is political.”
This source saw the closure as part of the larger crackdown on public space in downtown Cairo, especially the raids by security forces on cultural spaces and apartments rented in the area by young people.
In the lead-up to the January 25 revolution’s fifth anniversary, a number of downtown residents have reported police raids on their apartments in which laptops, mobile phones and personal belongings are inspected. A security official told the Reuters-run Aswat Masriya website that over 5,000 apartments have been inspected in the past few days as part of the Interior Ministry’s security plan before the anniversary.
Activist and member of the Doctor Syndicate’s freedoms committee Taher Mokhtar and two flatmates were arrested and had their detention renewed for 15 days after their apartment in downtown Cairo was raided last week. They face accusations of possessing flyers calling for the regime’s downfall and inciting protests. Performance arts center Studio Emad Eddin and the leading Merit Publishing House have both been inspected by the authorities in the past month.
“If it is not political, we would have been open and operating by now,” the source said.
Meanwhile Townhouse’s new branch in the upper-class suburb of Sheikh Zayed, Townhouse West, is operating as usual with a solo exhibition by Ibrahim A. Ahmed opening on January 21.