The Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theater, two of the top art galleries in Cairo, were raided Monday by 20 Egyptian police officers and officials from the Censorship Authority, Tax Authority, National Security Agency and local office of the Ministry of Manpower.
Early Monday evening, a group of officials raided the Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theater and proceeded to examine everything in sight, including personal laptops, IDs, paperwork and archived material, according to Mada Masr .
Though lawyers from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression arrived shortly after the first batch of officials raided the galleries, other state officials arrived and continued to question employees, confiscating personal computers, USB flash drives, documents and materials before shutting down both galleries, their libraries and their offices.
Hours into the questioning, personnel from both galleries were allowed to leave once copies of their IDs were made. Officials from all four state bodies failed to provide a reason, a warrant, or an explanation for the raid.
Established by William Wells, a Canadian living in Cairo, in the late '90s, the Townhouse Gallery was created to help struggling Egyptian artists and performers. Rawabet Theater, which is affiliated with Townhouse, regularly hosts lectures and exhibitions promoting art and diversity.
Both galleries rose to prominence soon after their opening during the Mubarak era, which created a sense of worry among Egyptian authorities because of their ability to "shape the perceptions, political values, and intellectual mindsets of an entire generation of Egyptian and regional cultural innovators," said Maria Golia .
"The involvement of multiple government agencies in what appears to have been a fishing expedition suggests the Sisi regime wants to close Townhouse permanently and is looking for a legal pretext to do so," wrote Brian Whitaker, famed author and journalist .
"Since seizing power in 2013, the regime has been much criticism for its brutal suppression of Islamists but – simultaneously and less noticeably – it has also been cracking down on secular/liberal elements and independent-minded journalists," he stated, before adding that "the raid may just be part of that pattern. However, it's worth noting that January 25 – the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak – is less than a month away and the regime may be trying to pre-empt any related activity on the streets."