Despite opposition the Shura Council is set to announce the new editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers on Sunday
Today members of the Shura Council's general committee are scheduled to discuss the evaluations handed to them from a 14-member committee regarding the selection of new chief editors of state-owned newspapers, reports Reem Leila. The meeting is headed by Shura Council Speaker Ahmed Fahmi and attended by deputies along with heads of sub-committees. On Sunday, the final names are scheduled to be announced.
Up until the end, several journalists were still opposing the way the Shura has gone about making its selections. Journalists from Al-Ahram Establishment erected a tent in front of Al-Ahram building on Al-Galaa Street. Alaa El-Attar, a member of the Press Syndicate's board of directors, said he had "great faith that the youth of Al-Ahram will be able to press the Shura Council in changing its decision.
"I trust Al-Ahram's youth, just like people before trusted the 25 January youths who were able to change the fate of the whole country," said El-Attar. Any decree by the Shura Council for the time being, according to El-Attar, is illegal. "They have to wait until the court's ruling regarding the continuity of the council" on 5 September.
According to El-Attar, any decision regarding appointing new editors-in-chief must also be postponed until the passage of a constitution. "We need to figure out what will the constitution do about journalism and the status of the state-owned organisations. Until then, the question of whether the rise of Islamists in the political arena will affect freedom of expression will always be hanging," said El-Attar.
The Shura Council and parliament are both dominated by Islamists who were voted in during nationwide polls late last year that were widely considered free and fair.
El-Attar said Al-Ahram journalists were exerting their utmost effort to pressure the Shura Council into preparing a new law stipulating that state-owned organisations should be affiliated to an independent national council which does not have any political preferences. "Members of such a council are not to be dismissed from their posts as in the case of judges, the prosecutor-general, and the grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar. This is the only way to guarantee the independence of the press," El-Attar said.
Many journalists oppose the Islamist-dominated Shura Council and the criteria the council has adopted to select editors-in-chief of publications. They also object to the formation of a preliminary committee which makes the selections. The committee is composed of 14 members -- six from the Shura Council, four veteran journalists and four mass communication university professors.
On 24 July veteran writer Salah Montaser resigned from the Shura Council committee tasked with the selection process, accusing the Shura of granting Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidates preferential treatment. Montaser said he resigned because he felt the committee "is biased and leaning towards choosing Muslim Brotherhood candidates".
Fathi Shehab, head of the Shura committee, responded to Montaser's resignation by saying "it reflected a personal and subjective attitude‚ê¶ Montaser was all the time trying to influence committee members and imposing his own point of view‚ê¶ Such actions will not prevent us from proceeding with our cautious work in selecting editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers," said Shehab.
In the same context, Shura member Magdi El-Maasarawi, who is also a member of the 14-member committee, resigned from the committee, saying it was not applying the criteria set forth by the Shura Council. "This reveals there is the intention to appoint certain people who are not qualified. I beseeched the speaker to reconsider the criteria as they are not being properly or honestly applied," El-Maasarawi added.
The Shura Council also received a memorandum signed by 1,000 journalists and employees of state-owned newspapers objecting to the committee formed by the Shura Council to select newspaper editors. According to reports, a 10-member delegation went to the Shura Council to submit the memorandum, but Fahmi's secretary refused to take it. The delegation was forced to leave the petition with reporters who cover the council. Signatures included reporters from the newspapers Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Rose El-Youssef and Al-Gomhouriya, as well as October magazine.
"Reporters were demanding the Shura Council immediately stop the work of this superficial committee," El-Attar said. "It has become evident from the resignations of Montaser and El-Maasarawi that this committee is fake and there is a set list for the names who will be the future editors-in-chief."
At the same time, Hisham Younis, a member of the board of directors of the Press Syndicate, said the council's attempts to interfere in the affairs of press institutions "raises suspicions regarding its desperate attempt to Islamise state-owned organisations. They are playing the same role as the dismantled National Democratic Party. There is no doubt about that," said Younis. "Journalists will be forced to write what the Islamists like. If they did not, they will definitely be penalised," added Younis.