Egypt’s Townhouse Gallery Might Be Facing New Censorship Rules

Egypt’s Townhouse Gallery — which is not just a visual-art space, but has hosted talks by groundbreaking writers like Nael Eltoukhy, Mahmoud el Wardany, and Iman Abdel Rehim — was allowed to temporarily and partially reopen last week after being shut down by multiple agencies. But it has many more battles before it can permanently reopen:

The Townhouse Library, an important part of the Townhouse project. From the gallery's Facebook page.
The Townhouse Library, an important part of the Townhouse project. From the gallery’s Facebook album.

The iconic downtown gallery was shut down in December after the municipality, the Censorship Authority, and the Tax Authority all declared there were “administrative irregularities.”

Last week, Townhouse announced that at least there was forward movement, as the gallery provisionally reopened to “provide a period of reviewing the civil protection laws and the completion of procedures newly required by the government.” However, they added, “we are unable to schedule programs for the time being.”

One such “administrative irregularity” was highlighted: the gallery had made a short video documenting their projects, used for internal purposes. Officials complained this film was “unlicensed.”

Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach director, told Ahram Online“We will try to better understand what they want and fulfill it.”

But Townhouse Director William Wells used stronger langauge in an interview that ran in The Guardian yesterday, saying new regulations — including proposed new permits, as well as health and safety regulations — were being used “as a means to control freedom of expression.”

The gallery has been warned it may now need to obtain prior state approval for its events, according to The Guardian. Wells told the newspaper: “It’s a matter of being able to control the activities and programming that take place – music, performance, talks, visual art.”

This comes in an increasingly restrictive atmosphere for artistic speech in Egypt.