Controversial new posts
Recent appointments by the Shura Council to the National Council of Human Rights and the state-owned newspapers have renewed concerns over the apparent Islamisation of the country, reports Reem Leila
Members of the Shura Council's general committee met to endorse the final list of members of the Supreme Press Council and to name the new board chairmen of state-owned newspapers on 4 September. The new appointments came just 24 hours after the council had announced the formation of a new National Council of Human Rights (NCHR).
There will be 80 members of the NCHR, 27 of them appointed and forming the council's permanent members. The remaining members will be consultants to the council and will meet with the permanent members once each month. The NCHR's secretary-general will be elected from among the council's appointed members, or chosen from outside the council as stipulated by law.
The appointments made by the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt's parliament, are the second since the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. During the meeting of the council's general committee, council speaker Ahmed Fahmi refused nominations made by the council's human rights committee to the NCHR, saying that these should be made "by members of the Shura Council's general committee" instead.
According to Ezzeddin El-Komi, deputy chairman of the Shura Council's Human Rights Committee, the council had agreed to appoint judge Hossam El-Gheriani as head of the NCHR and leftist Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr as deputy. El-Gheriani is known to be an Islamist-leaning figure.
Among the 80 members are four Copts, Georgette Quillini, a lawyer and former MP, Edward Ghaleb, a member of the Coptic Church's Confessional Council, veteran writer Louis Greis, and Ihab El-Kharrat, head of the council's Human Rights Committee.
The council will also include Islamist figures, among them Mohamed Tosson, a prominent lawyer from the Muslim Brotherhood and former chairman of its legislative committee, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, another Brotherhood lawyer, who defended Khairat El-Shater when the Supreme Electoral Committee excluded the latter from the presidential race, Nader Bakkar, spokesman of the Salafist Nour Party, and Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Brotherhood spokesman who was imprisoned three times in 2002, 2005 and 2007 for opposing the previous regime.
Mohamed El-Beltagui, a prominent leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has also been appointed to the NCHR. El-Beltagui was an MP in 2005, but withdrew from the 2010 parliamentary elections upon the instructions of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is famous for defending the Palestinian cause.
Other figures include Abdallah Badran, head of the Nour Party bloc in the Shura Council, who is known for having criticised former prime minister Kamal El-Ganzouri and members of his government for not attending sessions of parliament. Ahmed Seif El-Islam, secretary-general of the Lawyers Syndicate, is also a member, as are leftist activists Wael Khalil and Mohamed El-Damati, head of the syndicate's Freedoms Committee.
Other nominees include actors Wagdi El-Arabi and Yehia El-Fakharani. El-Arabi declared his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2011.
The NCHR has various topics on its agenda, including social, economic and political issues that have to be addressed in order to grant people their rights and to ensure that there is no discrimination.
Quillini told the Weekly of her happiness at her appointment, saying that in her view there were several controversial issues that needed to be raised at the council. "Despite the recent appointment of Copts to the presidential team, cabinet and NCHR, their representation is still low. The law on unified places of worship should be passed to the People's Assembly for approval," she said.
According to Quillini, there are more Islamists than Copts on the council, but what matters is quality, not quantity. "This is what I intend to prove during my membership. I struggled for Coptic rights when I was an MP, and I will continue fighting until we have reached our goals. We are all equal, and there should not be any discrimination due to differences of religion," she said.
At the same time, writer and novelist Alaa El-Aswani refused his appointment to the council. El-Aswani tweeted: "a free journalist and novelist must not bind himself to any governmental entity in order to be able to criticise the government's performance when necessary without being embarrassed" to do so.
Activist Ahmed Harara, who lost his sight in the course of the 25 January Revolution, also refused his appointment to the council, without giving a reason.
Activist Wael Khalil, who accepted membership of the NCHR, said he would use it to accomplish the goals of the 25 January Revolution. "The council is currently facing serious challenges, among them the reform of the relationship between the government, the police and the people," he said, adding that it would also work to improve the status of women in society, which had been compromised after the revolution.
Activist Mohamed Bahieddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights, said that the formation of the new council was proof of the Islamisation of the country and of different organisations and associations.
"The council in its new incarnation will not be independent, and instead it will be controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. In the past, it was controlled by the now-dismantled National Democratic Party [NDP]," the former ruling party. "It used to appear to be an independent entity, but it was controlled by NDP tycoons. Now there will be no difference: the only difference is that instead of the NDP, it is the FJP that controls everything," Hassan said.
At the same time, the Shura Council also announced new appointments to the Supreme Press Council, including Shura Council head Ahmed Fahmi, eight chairpersons and eight editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers, and four editors-in-chief of party-affiliated newspapers.
New appointments also included the head of the Press Syndicate, Mamdouh El-Wali, liberal politician Osama El-Ghazali Harb, Ibrahim Hegazi, Mohamed Khuraga and Mohamed Negm.
The new appointments included the head of the General Union of Press, Printing and Publishing Workers, Talaat El-Meneisi. Basiouni Hamdan, Mahmoud Alameddin, legal expert Omar Salem, a former minister of legal affairs, and judge Mohamed Abu Naas.
Several Islamist figures joined the Press Council, such as Salafist Nour Party members Ahmed Khalil and Tarek El-Sahri, and Muslim Brotherhood members Fathi Shehabeddin, head of the Shura Council's Culture Committee, and journalist Qotb El-Arabi.
Osama Ayoub, assistant editor of October magazine, Khaled Salah, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabei, Sameh Mahrous, assistant editor of the Al-Gomhuriya newspaper, leftist political figure Wael Qandil, the editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouk newspaper, Naglaa Mahfouz, Ashraf Sadek, Souad Abul-Nasr, and Mohamed El-Abd all also joined the Press Council.
Additional appointments included Geel Party President Nagui El-Shahabi and professor of political science and economics Ayman El-Mahgoub, along with Magdi El-Maasrawi, Mohamed El-Gawadi, Khaled Hassanein, Azza Youssef, Mohamed Hassanein, Ashraf Saber, Abeer Beshr, Hedayat Abdel-Nabi and Mohsen Hassan.
Veteran writer Salah Eissa reportedly objected to the new nominations to the Press Council. "The Shura Council eliminated all those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as those who have perspectives on improving the country," he said.
Eissa added that the changes aimed to ensure the control of the Shura Council over the Supreme Press Council, as well as the state-owned newspapers. "They want to implement their own policy without listening to anyone's objections," he said.
In the same session, the Shura Council also announced the appointment of new chairmen of the board of the state-owned newspapers. Chairman of the Press Syndicate Mamdouh El-Wali will be the head of Al-Ahram, instead of Abdel-Fattah El-Gebali. The new chairpersons include Ahmed Sameh at Akhbar Al-Youm, Yehia Zakaria Ghanem at Dar Al-Hilal, Mustafa Abu Zeid at Dar Al-Tahrir, Kamaleddin Mahgoub at Dar Al-Maaref and Shaker Abdel-Fattah at the Middle East News Agency (MENA). Sayed Abdel-Fattah at the National Company of Publications and Mohamed Gamaleddin at Ros El-Youssef have kept their posts.