CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian officials raided two prominent cultural venues — a popular art gallery and a publishing house — questioning workers about their activities and taking equipment, in what appeared to be the latest in a crackdown on the country's art scene.
Authorities have been working to rein in liberal voices ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary of the 2011 uprising that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Early this month, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warned against any street protests marking the anniversary. The arts venues in downtown Cairo are popular among activists.
Officials on Monday night raided the Townhouse Gallery, searching the venue for about three hours, two workers in the gallery told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The workers said the officials prevented employees from leaving, forced them to show photos on a camera and play movies found on their computers, the workers said, speaking on condition of anonymity for their security.
They took other items including CDs and flash drives, the workers said. Afterwards, the officials shut down the gallery.
The seven officials who initially conducted the raid introduced themselves as from the censorship authority. But other plainclothes officials also arrived and questioned employees without indentifying themselves. A rights lawyers who was at the scene at the time told the AP he believed some of the other officials were from the National Security Agency.
Yasser Gerab, the Townhouse's outreach director, told the AP on Wednesday that none of the officials were from the security agency and that all the issues raised by the officials were administrative in nature. He didn't provide details on their questions, but said he has reached out to several agencies, and so far none of them would acknowledge they were the one which sealed the art house.
On Tuesday night, police raided the publishing house, Dar Merit, and questioned a volunteer, Mohammed Zain, for several hours before releasing him, Dar Merit's manager Mohammed Hashem said.
Maj. Gen. Medhat Hashad, a director at the censorship authority, said they had information that Dar Merit was in violation of publishing rules.
The spokesman for the Interior Ministry, in charge of police, could not be reached for comment.