Authorities shuttered a third Al-Karama library branch, owned by rights activist Gamal Eid, in Zagazig city on Sunday. Two other branches in Tora and Dar al-Salam were closed by municipality heads on December 1.
Eid told Mada Masr that the National Security officials closed the library at the dawn, “in order to avoid clashes with the library’s users and the residents, particularly as it is one of the most successful branches and attracts a lot of volunteers.”
Municipality heads also shuttered the Tora and Dar al-Salam branches without giving any justification, despite having no financial, administrative or legal dispute against the libraries administration.
Eid called upon Moshira Khattab, Egypt’s nominee for director-general of UNESCO, to intervene and reopen the closed branches. Khattab responded: “I will do my best in order to ensure no child is deprived of the right to knowledge.”
She added: “Children should not be deprived of the right to knowledge that broadens their understanding and enables them to participate in building their society.”
She also shared a tweet by Eid which reads: “No to depriving children and youth in local neighborhoods from knowledge and reading, just as revenge against its founder.”
Eid added that the closure of the third branch was carried out despite Khattab’s pledge to intervene. He said “the closure of Al-Karama cultural libraries came at a time when Egypt is nominating someone for a position in the biggest cultural institution.”
He said that the activities in the Zagazig, Khanka and Boulaq branches were all suspended following the closure of the first two branches, adding that he was not notified of the reason for the closure, nor did he receive any official papers on the matter. He explained that the library in Zagazig was closed despite already having suspended its activities.
Eid asserted that “the third closure came after the Egyptian nominee for UNESCO promised to intervene through the national security apparatus.”
He established the Al-Karama libraries with the winnings he received from the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in November 2011, 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 art and culture events to encourage children to read, and attempted to supplement formal schooling in the absence of other official 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,” Eid told Mada Masr earlier, adding that Al-Karama administrators had ensured they obtained necessary documentation and permits. “We were told that we could 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.”
He added:“Clearly the suggestion to shut it down came from a higher authority.”
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 any foreign funding, and that donations were accepted only in the form of books.
“Among those who donated books 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.”