Egyptian authorities shuttered two Al-Karama library branches on Thursday morning, according to human rights activist Gamal Eid.
Eid, who founded the publicly accessible libraries and is the head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told Mada Masr that municipality authorities sealed the Tora and Dar al-Salam branches without providing reason for the action.
News that the Tora branch was being closed surfaced first, with an ANHRI lawyer immediately visiting the municipality office. He later found out that there had not been any official proceedings to issue the closure order.
The head of the Tora municipality told the ANHRI lawyer that his office had received the orders to seal the library from another government source. Several municipality employees said that they did not want the library to be closed as their children benefit from it, according to Eid.
When the lawyer arrived at the Tora branch, he found children attempting to gain access to the sealed library.
Eid subsequently received a phone call from the Dar al-Salam branch telling him that the library was being shut down as well.
When the ANHRI lawyer arrived at the library, the head of the municipality said that he was not the authority responsible for the closure order, but he would try to find out why the action was being taken.
Eid established the Al-Karama libraries with the funds he received from winning the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in November 2011, aiming to give economically disadvantaged children access to books. Library branches were established in Tora, Dar al-Salam, Khanka, Boulaq and other locations in Zagazig city.
The libraries ran several art and culture events to encourage children to read and supplement formal schooling in the absence of other services.
“We ensured that the library would be disconnected from politics, religion or any political party, a stance that won the trust of the people,” said Eid, adding that Al-Karama administrators had ensured they obtained necessary documentation and permits. “We were told that we can open the libraries as long as we were not engaged in any commercial activities. Only in Zigazag were we asked to secure a permit for the library banner at the front entrance, which we did.”
“Clearly there was a suggestion from a higher authority to shut it down,” he added.
Eid is currently banned from travel and has had his assets frozen as part of the NGO foreign funding case. He told Mada Masr that he has ensured that the libraries have not received foreign funding and that donations were accepted only in the form of books.
“Among the book donators to the libraries are public figures such as Khairy Ramadan, Mona al-Shazly and Hala Sarhan,” he said. “I don’t know what to do to stop this.”