Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
1 - 7 June 2000
Issue No. 484
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Journalists give Al-Shaab 'critical' support

By Shaden Shehab

Joining forces with other sections of civil society, the Press Syndicate has decided to take action against the decision of the Political Parties Committee to suspend the publication of the bi-weekly Al-Shaab, the newspaper of the Islamist-oriented Labour Party, and clamp a practical freeze on the party's activities. The committee, chaired by Mustafa Kamal Helmi, speaker of the Shura Council, is a government-controlled body that licenses political parties and oversees their activities.

The committee's decision was based on a split in Labour ranks after two senior party members, Hamdi Ahmed and Ahmed Idris, were chosen by two different congresses to replace party chairman Ibrahim Shukri.

But it was Al-Shaab's campaign against the allegedly blasphemous Haydar Haydar novel, A Banquet for Seaweed, which was viewed by many as the main reason behind the committee's decision. The campaign triggered protest against the novel by hundreds of Al-Azhar University students last month.

"We are considering several options to resolve this crisis and our decisions are based on solidarity with the journalists of Al-Shaab who have suddenly become jobless," Ragai El-Merghani, deputy chairman of the Syndicate's council, told Al-Ahram Weekly. About 70 journalists are employed by Al-Shaab.

On 24 May the syndicate's council held an extraordinary meeting under its chairman Ibrahim Nafie. "The council commissioned Nafie to deliver a letter to President Hosni Mubarak, arrange meetings with government officials with the aim of protecting the financial and professional rights of Al-Shaab journalists and act to settle this crisis by all possible means," said a statement issued after the meeting.

"This turbulent crisis, which has imposed itself in the past few days on political, cultural and journalistic circles, and which was triggered by irresponsible and sensational writings on a novel, underlined the urgent need for a comprehensive national dialogue to affirm the principles of democratic co-existence," the statement added.

The syndicate requested intellectuals, regardless of their political affiliations, to "discharge their national duties, ensure the success of the dialogue and produce a positive atmosphere conducive to agreement on common denominators."

The statement affirmed that respect for religion, as opposed to derision or ridicule, is a principle that should be upheld by all creative writers and intellectuals. Equally, freedom of creativity and expression by men-of-letters, writers and intellectuals should be highly respected. Any aggression on this freedom does a major disservice to Egyptian culture, the statement said.

The syndicate strongly opposed the suspension of Al-Shaab. "The closure of newspapers runs counter to the principle of the freedom of the press. Therefore, the syndicate will make the maximum effort to ensure that the publication of the newspaper will be resumed," the statement added.

At a meeting on Saturday, the Press Syndicate's bureau said it will consult with the syndicate's lawyers on the possibility of taking legal action against the decision of the Political Parties Committee. "The syndicate's decision is in harmony with its responsibility to safeguard the financial and professional rights of journalists and protect the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press enshrined in the constitution," said Yehia Qalash, the syndicate's secretary-general.

In the same breath, Qalash said, "The suspension of Al-Shaab should not be taken as an opportunity to throw the blame on the Press Syndicate and claim that its sole responsibility is to correct the performance of journalists."

"The law stipulates that the Supreme Press Council should shoulder the responsibility when journalists lose their jobs or newspapers are shut down," El-Merghani said. "This is not the responsibility of the Press Syndicate."

The Labour Party's management has, meanwhile, decided to pay the May salaries of the Al-Shaab journalists.

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