Cairo’s Merit Publishing House, Townhouse Gallery Raided; One Merit Staffer Arrested, Released

Two major Cairo cultural institutions saw attacks from the Egyptian state in the twenty-four hours: The city’s Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theater were shuttered Monday night following a surprise inspection, and Tuesday afternoon the maverick Merit Publishing House was raided and searched, with one staff member briefly detained:

A recent artist talk at Townhouse.
A recent artist talk at Townhouse.

According to Mada Masr, a 20-member interagency team was sent to Townhouse Gallery — which in addition to staging exhibitions has a library and holds literary and cultural symposiums. It was just a few days ago that Townhouse held an important event on the “interior life of language” with several young authors. The team included members of “the Censorship Authority, Tax Authority, National Security Agency and local office of the Ministry of Manpower.”

Mada writes that “Both the main Townhouse exhibition and the adjacent Rawabet Theater were shut down, including the library, archive and office.”

Ahram Online characterized it as a paperwork issue, and Townhouse’s outreach director Yasser Gerab reportedly told the state-run newspaper: “Even if we disagree on the way it was done, as they did not notify us beforehand, the act itself was not illegal or unfair.”

In addition, Gerab said, “the representatives looked at the documents and pointed to a few things that were incomplete, and after we sort them out, we will soon start running the place again.”

However, publisher Mohamed Hashem was not so sanguine when his Merit Publishing House was raided the next day. As he has commented on Facebook and has been covered by Ahram Online and Mada Masr, Egypt’s censorship authority raided and searched Merit Publishing house.

Hashem told Mada Masr that he believes that the trigger for the raid was a book launch scheduled for Monday evening, Sharaf Abdel Shafy’s Vodka, in which he “exposes backdoor dealings and media personalities of the Egyptian media scene.”

Staff member Mohamed Zein was reportedly arrested during the raid. According to Ahram Online, he has been released. Hashem, who is also the owner of Merit, was neither arrested nor interrogated. He wrote on Facebook that the publishing house would continue activities: “We will expose the corrupt and will hold the Ashraf Abdel Shafy event on time. We will expose expose the executioners in Saudi Arabia and maintain our solidarity with [poet and artist sentenced to death] Ashraf Fayadh. We will continue to dream of bread, freedom, and social justice. And you won’t see us terrorized!”


According to Mada Masr, “An amplifier and a microphone were confiscated from [Merit’s] downtown premises.”

In a later interview with Ahram Online, Hashem said that an aide to the interior minister told him that the censorship authorities raided the venue because “they don’t have a publishing license.” Certainly, whether or not Merit’s paperwork for his new office is up to date, the publishing house is, as Hashem said, well-known and well-established.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information Tuesday issued a statement condemning the raid on the Townhouse Gallery and Rawabet Theatre:

[The r]aid on Rawabet Theater and Townhouse Gallery, especially a few days before January 25 Revolution anniversary, refers to those institutions’ consternation over allowing any space, even if very small, for freedom of expression particularly among young men and intellectuals. Additionally, this raid comes within a framework of a campaign that the security bodies are being launched against the art spaces and human rights organizations during the recent months; aiming at stifling the critical voices.