Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Waiting for a winner

Journalists hope to elect a syndicate head amid concerns for the future of their profession and for freedom of expression, Khaled Dawoud reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

One key challenge likely to face members of the Press Syndicate when they meet to elect a new chairman on 1 March will be meeting the 50 per cent quorum required for a vote. Half of the syndicate’s 7,400 members will need to attend the General Assembly. Should they fail to garner a quorum a second round of voting can be scheduled after two weeks, this time with a 25 per cent quorum.
In the last round of elections, held in October 2011, the 50 per cent quorum was only met after the judges overseeing the vote extended the deadline for two hours to allow more journalists to sign in. Elections in the current round, however, are being held according to the old Press Syndicate law adopted in 1970 which has no provisions for such an extension. If the 50 per cent threshold is not met voting will have to be postponed for two weeks, according to Yehia Qallash who lost to the present head of the syndicate, Al-Ahram Board Chairman Mamdouh Al-Wali.
Two leading candidates for the Press Syndicate’s top post, Diaa Rashwan and Abdel-Mohsen Salama, who both work for Al-Ahram, have been campaigning non-stop in the offices of state-backed newspapers, those owned by political parties, and the increasing number of privately-owned newspapers, in an effort not just to win their support but also to convince them to attend.
Mid-term elections are also being held for six seats on the Press Syndicate’s 12-member board. Competition is tough, with 50 candidates standing. They, too, fear not enough syndicate members will turn up for Friday’s General Assembly, especially given the polarisation between Islamists and non-Islamists which is as prevalent in the syndicate as in the country as a whole.
The current syndicate president, Al-Wali, was supposed to end his term in October. But his association with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood group, and continuous differences with the board members who mostly belong to liberal and leftist parties, have paralysed the syndicate, bringing activities to a stand-still. Al-Wali agreed with other board members to hold early elections.
Al-Wali was particularly criticised for not resigning from the now dissolved Constituent Assembly that drafted the constitution in early December. A majority of journalists criticised the assembly for failing to include articles in the constitution protecting freedoms or ending custodial sentences for publication offences.
Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, is known as a Nasserist who maintained good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood under the Mubarak regime. When the Brotherhood became the most influential political group following the 25 January Revolution, winning both parliamentary and presidential elections, Rashwan changed tack. He is now one of the Brotherhood’s fiercest critics.
His opponent, Salama, deputy editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Ahram, have a longer history of service at the Press Syndicate though he may suffer from past association with the now dissolved National Democratic Party.
In a meeting with Al-Ahram Weekly journalists on Saturday Salama denied rumours that he enjoyed the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, unlike Rashwan, he seemed more open towards dealing with the Brotherhood, saying “I have a specific programme and specific demands to protect the interests of journalists and I will present this programme to all concerned parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Rashwan was blunter, accusing the Brotherhood of seeking to limit freedom of expression and imposing its supporters in key positions in state-backed newspapers. He particularly criticised President Mohamed Morsi’s reaction, and that of the Brotherhood, to the death of an opposition journalist Al-Husseini Abu Deif during clashes in front of Al-Ittihadiya palace in Heliopolis on 5 December. Rashwan has, however, assured journalists with whom he met that he will serve the interests of all syndicate members regardless of their political affiliations. He argued that the syndicate needed a strong president who could fight for the economic and political rights of its members.
Abu Deif was shot in front of the palace while covering clashes between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents of the constitutional declaration issued on 22 November 2012 in which the president granted himself draconian powers.
Family and friends of Abu Deif have threatened to block the entrance to the Press Syndicate on Friday if investigations into his death are abandoned or those responsible escape trial. Abu Deif’s family say the authorities have been slow in providing the autopsy report and have dragged their feet over any measures that could lead to the arrest of those suspected of involvement in his death.
Besides political differences both candidates face a new reality in which the government has basically stopped providing support to key state-backed newspapers such as Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuriya. Over half of syndicate members work for state-backed establishments which are facing difficult economic conditions as advertising revenues have fallen over the past two years.
“In the syndicate elections under Mubarak the government offered financial incentives to back its preferred candidate,” said Qallash. “Right now the government is nearly bankrupt and has nothing to offer. The competition, therefore, should be over who will best serve the interests of journalists in difficult political and economic conditions.”

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