Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Press Syndicate stand-off

The crisis between the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry has moved in a new direction following the intervention of parliament and Al-Ahram to find a solution, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Press Syndicate’s council agreed on Saturday to postpone for a week a general assembly meeting planned for Tuesday to discuss possible escalatory action.

Following a stormy three-hour session on Sunday, MPs decided to entrust parliament’s Media and Culture Committee with finding a solution to the crisis which erupted after plainclothed police officers raided the syndicate’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on 1 May to arrest two journalists. The two are accused of publishing false news and inciting the overthrow of the regime.

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the committee should invite representatives from all concerned institutions, including the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry, to meet in a bid to find a way out of the crisis.

Former information minister Osama Heikal, who heads the Media and Culture Committee, told reporters that contacts have already been made to pave the way for a solution.

“I met with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar and made contacts with the Chairman of the Press Syndicate Yehia Qallash, in an attempt to mend fences and find a way out of the crisis,” said Heikal.

The committee, he said, has already invited Qallash and officials from the Interior Ministry to a joint meeting so each can tell their side of the story. “I think this is important so that we can find common ground,” said Heikal.

He added that while the Interior Ministry had sent a detailed letter on the incident, the Press Syndicate had so far refused to come to parliament.

“As a result, the committee decided to send a 10-member delegation to meet with the Press Syndicate council on Tuesday,” said Heikal.

Heikal hopes the Press Syndicate will stop issuing fiery statements against the Interior Ministry.

“I told Qallash over the phone that the committee is neutral and that the syndicate must show greater flexibility and refrain from taking any escalatory measures in order to create an environment favourable to a settlement of the crisis,” he said.

Heikal also told Qallash that “the syndicate’s council must do everything possible to contain the anger of MPs and the public”.

Heikal said the Interior Ministry’s letter had accused Qallash of allowing the two wanted journalists to hide in the syndicate’s building. “When we contacted him and asked about this he didn’t seem to care, saying he was too busy to do anything about it,” said the Interior Ministry’s letter.

In a heated plenary session on Sunday, 30 MPs took to the floor to criticise the Press Syndicate for demanding President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi apologise and Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar be sacked after policemen entered the syndicate building last week to arrest two journalists.

Some MPs used the terrorist attack that took place in the Cairo district of Helwan earlier on the same day as ammunition to attack the syndicate. Independent MP Mustafa Bakri accused the syndicate’s council of “paving the way” for the crime.

“The syndicate’s description of policemen as thugs gave terrorists an excuse to commit their crime in Helwan today,” said Bakri.

There had been suggestions that the debate would be postponed to allow mediators time to help mend fences between the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry. However, a majority of MPs pressed for the debate to go ahead, arguing that the syndicate rather than the government or Al-Sisi should issue an apology for what happened on 1 May.

Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the arrival of the police at the syndicate’s headquarters on 1 May to arrest two people, one of whom was not a member of the syndicate, could not be referred to as a “storming” of syndicate premises or a “police raid”.

“Those who entered the building were simply implementing the law. They did not search the premises, and the syndicate’s council should not have offered sanctuary to people the prosecution authorities wanted for questioning in the first place.”

Said Abdel-Aal, “Nobody should put himself above the law and the Press Syndicate should respect judicial orders.”

He continued, “All state bodies should help the judicial and prosecution authorities implement the law rather than oppose it. I cannot imagine that the Press Syndicate would choose to stand against the law. The main message of the syndicate should always be to promote the rule of law.

“Parliament will not allow any institution to create crises, destabilise the country or try to drive a wedge between state institutions.”

Qallash defended himself in a letter to the speaker.

“The Press Syndicate council appreciates parliament’s attempts to find a solution for the crisis with the Interior Ministry,” he wrote. “I just want to stress that we respect the rule of the law and for this reason we decided to stand against the Interior ministry when a security force stormed the headquarters in violation of Article 70 of the Press Syndicate’s law (Law no 76/1970) which stipulates that its building can be searched only by a prosecution official and in the presence of the head of the syndicate or someone delegated to act on his behalf.”

The syndicate’s decision to suspend its general assembly meeting and Qallash’s letter to parliament did little to contain divisions.

On Sunday the day that parliament discussed the crisis  hundreds of journalists gathered at Al-Ahram to call for an extraordinary general assembly to withdraw confidence from the syndicate’s council and force early elections.

According to Article 32 of the Press Syndicate law, an extraordinary general assembly can be held if at least 100 journalists who are members of the syndicate petition for it.

Ahmed Nagi Qamha, Al-Ahram political analyst and chairman of what is now called “The Correction Movement Front”, told Al-Ahram Weekly, “More than 800 journalists have signed the petition, which far exceeds the quorum required by Article 32.”

Said Qamha, “We have sent a request, with the signatures attached, asking the syndicate to convene a general assembly as soon as possible. A motion to withdraw confidence from the 13-member council requires the approval of more than half of the assembly. This means that more than 5,500 of the syndicate’s 11,000 members must support the motion withdrawing confidence.”

Mahmoud Bakri and Mahmoud Nafadi, both members of Qamha’s front, told the Weekly, “If the syndicate council refuses to convene a general assembly meeting we will petition the administrative court to force them.”

Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a former chairman of the Press Syndicate, told the Weekly, “Resorting to courts will only complicate the crisis. It will disrupt the syndicate, just as happened with the Lawyers’ Syndicate and the Engineers’ Syndicate which were finally placed under sequestration.”

Rashwan believes the syndicate made a big mistake when it asked Al-Sisi to apologise. “But now they have begun to correct their mistakes by halting the issuing of fiery statements and meeting with the parliamentary delegation,” he said.

add comment

  • follow us on