On Thursday, human-rights activist and Karama Libraries founder Gamal Eid received a surprise call that two branches of his community-libraries network — in the working-class Dar al-Salaam and Tora neighborhoods — had been shut down by authorities:
News of the Tora branch’s shuttering came first. According to Mada Masr, a lawyer from Eid’s Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which manages the libraries, immediately visited the local municipality office. “He later found out that there had not been any official proceedings to issue the closure order,” according to Mada.
“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,” Mada reported.
Eid then received a call that the same was happening at the Dar al-Salaam branch. A video taken of the library’s shuttering — and sealing with red wax — shows the children left outside.
— Karim Abdelrady (@KarimAbdelrady) December 1, 2016
Gamal Eid founded the network of six Karama libraries after he was given more than 300,000 Euro in 2011, named co-winner of the Roland Berger Foundation Human Dignity Award for “for waging a long and successful struggle for freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt.”
Instead of pocketing the money — which he indeed could have done — Eid decided to found a network of community libraries in poor and working-class Egyptian neighborhoods, which are traditionally unserved by both bookshops and libraries.
Most of Egypt’s library money has gone to large showpieces, like the giant Alexandria library, rather than small community-based institutions. Eid’s libraries, which are placed in working-class neighborhoods, have served a particularly important role. For instance, according to Tadamun:
The only cultural service provided was through a mobile library, which used to stop by the metro station in Dār al-Salām on a weekly basis, allowing people to purchase or borrow books.1 Since the January 25 Revolution, however, Dār al-Salām’s residents no longer spot this mobile library in their area. Therefore, Khatwa library is, in effect,the only space of its kind in the area, providing its services daily and free-of-charge.
Eid explained why he was using the money for libraries in 2013, saying “we decided that the public libraries are the best we could provide for people. Whenever you provide the citizen, regardless of his age, with a book, it will be beneficial to them.”
Other library branches are in Khanka, Boulaq and Zagazig city.
Across Twitter, Egyptians expressed outrage at the shuttering of the libraries. Although Karama libraries does not take monetary donations, many donated books to the library system:
Our family gave part of the library of my mother, Fatma Moussa, to @gamaleid neighbourhood libraries – now being shut down by Security.
— Ahdaf Soueif (@asoueif) December 1, 2016
Although Eid has been under a travel ban, and has had his assets frozen as part of the NGO foreign funding case, it was still unclear why the libraries were shut down. Eid 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.”
It was unclear whether this had anything to do with a new NGO law, passed Tuesday.
“I don’t know what to do to stop this,” Eid told Mada.