Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Solution remains elusive

The conflict between the Press Syndicate and Ministry of Interior enters its fourth week with no solution in sight, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Solution remains elusive
Solution remains elusive
Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite positive statements exchanged between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Press Syndicate, there is no sign of a resolution to the crisis that has heightened tensions between journalists and the government.

On Wednesday May 18 the syndicate held its second general assembly meeting since the crisis erupted on 1 May. No resolutions had been announced by the syndicate’s board before Al-Ahram Weekly went to print.

The general assembly discussed possible solutions and ways to maintain unity in the ranks of syndicate members. It was called following divisions among journalists over the list of demands announced following the syndicate’s first crisis general assembly on 4 May.

Many journalists believe the syndicate’s board, led by Chairman Yehia Qallash, set the bar too high by demanding Al-Sisi issue an official apology and dismiss Minister of Interior Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar.

Some journalists have threatened to table a motion withdrawing confidence from the Press Syndicate’s board and forcing early elections. The threat was made during a meeting at Al-Ahram on 8 May attended by former and current editors-in-chief of private and state-run newspapers. Five members of the Press Syndicate’s board also participated.

Reacting to the rift, the syndicate’s board appeared to draw back from its earlier demands. On 12 May it issued a statement welcoming Al-Sisi’s call to overcome the crisis between what he termed “state institutions and the media”.

“Journalists agree with the president’s emphasis on the higher interest of the nation. We therefore call on all sides to act responsibility to maintain unity during the critical time through which Egypt is passing ... It is also important that all state institutions refrain from inflaming the crisis and respect the law,” said the statement.

During a visit to Badr City, Al-Sisi said state institutions should know how to overcome problems and manage conflicts.

“We must focus on how to achieve stability and prosperity instead of busying ourselves in internal disagreements. I want to say that nobody is above the law and anyone who violates the law will be held accountable,” said Al-Sisi.

In softening its tone, the Press Syndicate board appears to have courted the displeasure of some journalists who are holding a sit-in at the syndicate’s headquarters. The protestors argue that the government must do more to protect press freedom and independence and that the current crisis is an opportunity to press for guarantees.

“We will not give up our demand that the minister of interior, who was behind the storming the syndicate’s headquarters and the arrest of our colleagues, is dismissed,” said a statement issued signed by the striking journalists.

“The security forces will not stop violating the law and undermining press freedom if we do not remain united. There is no room to take step back and it is not right that we enter negotiations simply to be allowed to do our jobs as journalists.”

The striking journalists staged a mock trial of the minister of interior in which he was accused of “violating the syndicate law by ordering police officers to storm the syndicate’s premises to arrest journalists without informing the chairman of the board”.

Press Syndicate Secretary-General Gamal Abdel-Rehim told the Weekly that the syndicate’s board had opened channels of communication with “different state institutions” as a measure of goodwill and to show its willingness to end the crisis. The outreach, he said, included meeting with MPs from Media and Culture Committee.

“The crisis needs to end. It is not in the public interest and threatens to undermine the unity of journalists,” said Abdel-Rehim.

The meeting with MPs appears to have had little impact on resolving the crisis. On 16 May the House of Representatives’ Media and Culture Committee issued a report in which it accused the syndicate of being responsible for the crisis by “giving shelter to outlaws”.

Press Syndicate board member Alaa Thabet nevertheless told the Weekly that he expects an end to the crisis this week.

The conflict erupted on 1 May when police officers entered the Press Syndicate to arrest journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa. The two work for January Gate, a website critical of the government. They had begun their own sit-in at the syndicate headquarters after discovering that the police had searched their homes.

Prosecutors ordered the detention of Badr and Al-Saqqa for 15 days on 2 May, pending investigations on charges that include spreading false news and harming national unity.

Prosecutors say they issued an arrest warrant for the two journalists and seven others on 19 April, based on police claims that all nine “were in possession of firearms and Molotov cocktails with the aim of carrying out attacks on police, army forces and vital facilities”.

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