The Health Ministry ordered the closure of Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence on Wednesday because it violated its license, ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed told the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper on Thursday.
Al-Nadeem is a nonprofit NGO founded in 1993 in central Cairo that provides psychological counseling, legal support and other forms of assistance to torture victims.
The ministry discovered the violations when its personnel conducted an inspection of the center three weeks ago, Megahed claimed.
But Al-Nadeem’s director Aida Seif al-Dawla said there was no inspection. “There was an informal visit by a lady from the Health Ministry without a single official paper in her hand, who said she came to the center because the minister himself gave her a phone call and told her, ‘Go check this center and see what they are doing’,” Seif al-Dawla told Mada Masr. “She came and we were nice enough to show her our license, of which she took a copy, and she left.”
Seif al-Dawla explained that an inspection requires official papers from the ministry, a report of the inspection signed by the center and feedback from the ministry, none of which were provided during or pursuant to that visit.
An Al-Nadeem staffer told Mada two police sergeants and one architect came to the center carrying an order to shut them down on Wednesday afternoon. Their lawyer Taher Abulnasr negotiated with the officers to postpone the execution of the order until Al-Nadeem members visit the Health Ministry on Sunday to discuss the purported violations, the center said in a Thursday statement.
The officials who arrived to shutter Al-Nadeem did not provide any information about the nature of the violations, the staffer said on Wednesday evening.
However, on Thursday an unnamed ministry source told the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that the center was carrying out nonmedical and online activities that do not fall under the mandate of its Health Ministry license. Al-Nadeem would need to obtain licenses from other ministries if it wishes to remain open and continue carrying out these other activities, the source claimed.
The source added that the order was not politically motivated, but a normal administrative practice by the Health Ministry.
In response, Seif al-Dawla told Mada that the source’s assertions don’t “tell us what the activities are that we’re practicing that are violations. We still have not received anything from the Health Ministry that justifies this attempt at our closure.”
The anonymous source was very unclear about what nonmedical activities Al-Nadeem is practicing, Seif al-Dawla continued. “If what they want to say is that we are a human rights organization, if this is their accusation, let them say it clearly — that this is why they are closing us. Then we will have a reply for them.”
On Wednesday evening, Seif al-Dawla described the attempted closure to Mada Masr as “an organized attack by the security apparatus against rights and freedoms in Egypt.”
The privately owned Al-Tahrir newspaper also published statements on Thursday from Saber Ghoneim, the head of the administrative center for licensing NGOs in the Health Ministry, saying that Al-Nadeem did not have enough medical equipment in its clinic and was performing unauthorized activities.
Al-Nadeem responded to Ghoneim through another statement on Thursday, in which they asserted that Al-Nadeem’s purpose is the rehabilitation of victims of violence, which is defined broadly as the treatment and prevention of further trauma. This includes community outreach to raise awareness about the effects of violence, how it harms citizens and how to confront and deal with violence, the statement explained.
Al-Nadeem said they believe they are being targeted as part of an ongoing security campaign, not due to Health Ministry violations.
“We believe that this attempt at closing the center is part of the security policy, which, according to one official, seeks to close any space for breathing of activists, a matter that has been confirmed by a report published by Reuters, quoting a security source,” members wrote in the early Thursday statement.
In the weeks leading up to the fifth anniversary of the January 25, 2011 revolution there was a wave of raids on independent cultural and civil society organizations. State officials inspected the performance art center Studio Emad Eddin and the independent Merit Publishing house.
They also raided the privately owned Masr al-Arabia news website, and its managing editor Ahmed Abdel Gawad was temporarily detained. In December they also closed the nonprofit art space Townhouse and its adjacent performing space the Rawabet theater. Townhouse staffers only returned to work this Tuesday, but the space is still not open to the public.
In each of these cases, officials disputed claims that censorship or political motives were at play, citing administrative violations instead.