December 2, 2016
With kids banging on the doors, two Egyptian libraries are shuttered by authorities
by Ian Dreiblatt
Libraries in two working-class neighborhoods of Cairo, Egypt have been shuttered by authorities without explanation, according to a report from the online newspaper Mada Masr.
Both libraries, in the neighborhoods of Tora and Dar al-Salam, were part of the “Karama” network, which aims to provide economically disadvantaged children access to books. Karama—the English translation is “dignity”—was founded by Gamal Eid, a prominent Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist, with prize money he received on winning the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in 2011. Eid is the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
In Tora—the site from which much of pharaonic Egypt’s limestone was quarried, and which Strabo believed to be the city of Troy, and more recently home to a notorious prison—the municipal authorities responsible for carrying out the orders claimed to know nothing about what had prompted them, 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. Several municipality employees said that they did not want the library to be closed as their children benefit from it, according to Eid.” ANHRI lawyers also specified that “there had not been any official proceedings to issue the closure order.”
“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. “Clearly there was a suggestion from a higher authority to shut it down.”
Karim Abdelrady, a lawyer and activist who works with the ANHRI, captured this video footage of the library being closed down, and the adorable kids forced to watch as they were locked out:
فيديو للحظة اغلاق مكتبة خطوة وتشمعيها بدار السلام بعد إجبار الاطفال علي مغادرتها #لا_لغلق_مكتبات_الكرامة pic.twitter.com/tvRqSwJWSb
— Karim Abdelrady (@KarimAbdelrady) December 1, 2016
In a post to her blog Arablit, the indefatigable M. Lynx Qualey provides more background, and links to some language from the Tadamun Initiative, offering history and context on the Karama libraries, and the Dar al-Salam branch (nicknamed “Khatwa,” or “a step”) in particular:
Cairo’s urban poor have been deprived of access to adequate housing and basic services. They have also been deprived of a less obvious right and what some may consider only secondarily important: access to culture, in the form of educational materials, books, literary expression, and sufficient cultural spaces and activities…. [For a time,] 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. 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.
As we in the States look to the future security of our own libraries, it may be worth remembering that Egypt is one of the small number of places where literature, and libraries, were invented. It’s a place where the arc of history is long and has always bent towards writing. In the more immediate term, though, the situation looks bleak. As Eid told Mada: “I don’t know what to do to stop this.”
Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.