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Egypt Expands Crackdown On Freedom Of Expression, Advocates Say


In Egypt, the crackdown on freedom of expression is targeting cultural institutions. In the last couple of days, authorities shut down a prominent contemporary art gallery in downtown Cairo and raided a well-known publishing house. Both places are, historically, gathering points for young, politically active Egyptians. NPR's Leila Fadel joined us to discuss those developments. Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Give us, please, some more details on these raids.

FADEL: Well, in the last two days, first, interagency government officials came to the Townhouse Gallery in downtown Cairo, confiscated papers, laptops and shut it down. And the next day, they went to this independent publishing house - also extremely well known in Egypt, again in downtown Cairo, not too far from Tahrir Square - and raided that, arresting at least one of the employees who was supposed to be released last night.

MONTAGNE: But let me ask you, Leila - why now?

FADEL: Well, free speech advocates and lawyers that we spoke to says this comes at a time that the government is fearful of possible demonstrations on January 25. That's the anniversary of the uprising against ousted President Hosni Mubarak almost five years ago. And this is a place - both of these places are in the heart of downtown Cairo. They are places where young people gather to exchange political and cultural ideas. And so that's possibly a factor into why they went after these institutions, although there's been no public comment from the government on why these raids happened.

MONTAGNE: The military-backed government has not been really happy about public comment and political activity and free speech.

FADEL: Well, human rights defenders, freedom of speech advocates, lawyers that we spoke to said this is really an expansion. After the military ouster of Egypt's unpopular, but elected Islamist president in 2013, we saw political opponents being arrested by the thousands, really. Then we saw a popular comedian go off the air out of fear of retribution. We saw, then, journalists and researchers being arrested. And so this is sort of the latest expansion they say - cultural targets where young people gather, where they exchange cultural and political ideas. So that may be one of the reasons, although the government hasn't made any public comments on these raids.

MONTAGNE: What do you see ahead?

FADEL: Well, we're seeing a lot more criticism of the government lately and police conduct. In some cases, people are silent; they're being complacent. But we're also seeing people speak out against some of these raids, these arrests. So for example, the Townhouse Gallery - the outreach director gave an interview to Ahram Online, which is a semi-official news agency here. And he sort of dismissed it, played it down. But the publisher from the publishing house - the Merit Publishing House, which was raided - he said this won't scare us; we will continue to dream of a free country, a country with social justice, and this won't silence us. So really different reactions to the continued ramp-up against freedom of expression in Egypt.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That NPR's Leila Fadel speaking to us from Cairo on a crackdown there by the government on free speech. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.