Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

New battle lines

As the Muslim Brotherhood was rebuffed in Press Syndicate polls, journalists’ newly elected representatives found themselves in immediate crisis mode, Khaled Dawoud reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Friday 15 March saw the Press Syndicate’s second attempt to elect a new chairman and half of the syndicate’s 12 member board. An earlier attempt on 1 March failed to secure the 50 per cent turnout required for a quorum leading to a two-week postponement of the ballot.
Last Friday only 25 per cent of the nearly 7,000 registered members were needed for the poll to be valid. Forty-seven candidates were competing for the six board seats up for grabs in the mid-term election while the chairman’s seat turned in the end to be a simple contest between Diaa Rashwan and Abdel-Mohsen Salama, both from Al-Ahram.
Rashwan is an outspoken critic of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi while Salama had long been close to the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. Supporters of the Brotherhood, who had played a key role in the election of outgoing syndicate head Mamdouh Al-Wali, were opposed to Rashwan, leading many to assume Salama enjoyed the Brotherhood’s backing.
Rashwan’s supporters struggled to mobilise even the reduced quorum, which remained unmet 20 minutes before the deadline for the registration period was due to close at 3pm. A brief General Assembly meeting ensued during which the syndicate’s Deputy Chairman Gamal Fahmi, read out several key decisions, topped by the demand for a speedy investigation into the death of syndicate member Al-Husseini Abu Deif, killed in clashes in front of the presidential palace on 5 December 2012. The syndicate reaffirmed its rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood drafted constitution which conspicuously failed to halt custodial sentences for publication offences or to prevent the closure of newspapers by administrative order.
The General Assembly demanded increased remuneration for journalists, an increase in retirement age to 65 and a review of laws regulating the state-owned press, including Shura Council control over the appointment of editors-in-chief. The assembly further agreed that journalists elected to the syndicate should not then be promoted within their own press organisations. The move was a clear rebuke to outgoing Chairman Al-Wali who was appointed as Al-Ahram board chairman following his election in October 2011. The move was widely seen as a reward for his loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Wali called for elections before completing his two-year term in office after repeated clashes with the majority, non-Islamist board members. They had been particularly critical of Al-Wali’s refusal to resign from the Constituent Assembly that drafted the constitution despite a board decision that he do so. 
Between 3-7pm more and more journalists turned up to vote, leading to worries among the Rashwan camp that Salama might win. In the end 1,280 votes went to Rashwan and 1,015 votes to Salama. Three other candidates won a total of 46 votes, and 123 were declared invalid.
Salama left as soon as it became clear he would not win, well before the final results were announced, and was not on hand to congratulate Rashwan. Rashwan’s mostly leftist and liberal supporters were jubilant. They carried the new chairman on their shoulders chanting “we will always be free journalists, and we will continue our struggle.”
Rashwan was careful not to criticise the Brotherhood in his inaugural speech. Indeed, he avoided mentioning them at all. He promised instead to represent all journalists regardless of their ideology.
“Today we proved that hope remains and that the Press Syndicate is alive,” said Rashwan, “we are facing many threats, financial and political and yet others related to our basic freedoms. We have to deal with them united.”
He concluded his short speech by leading journalists in chanting “bread, freedom and social justice”, the chant of the 25 January Revolution.
The results of the board elections represented a major setback for the Muslim Brotherhood which failed to secure a single seat. The victorious candidates included Coptic Christian Hanan Fikri, who won comfortably; Khaled Al-Balshi, a well-known young leftist journalist; Alaa Thabet, the editor of Al-Ahram Al-Masaai who was removed from his post by the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Shura Council; Gamal Abdel-Rehim, similarly removed as editor-in-chief of the state-owned Al-Gomhuriya; well-known Nasserist Karem Mahmoud and Wafdist Osama Dawoud. Out of the syndicate’s 12 board members only one with Muslim Brotherhood connections, Mohamed Abdel-Qoddous, remains.
“This is a clear message to the Brotherhood and the fascist state we see rising in Egypt,” said Fahmi. “To elect a female Coptic candidate and a young leftist journalist is a victory against those who want to suppress our freedoms and want to keep women at home.”
Both Fikri and Al-Balshi were also carried on top of the shoulders of their supporters as they led chants promising to bring those responsible for the murder of Abu Deif to justice. “Oh you Husseini the hero, your blood will liberate our country,” they shouted.
Rashwan and the new board members were quickly put to test when on 16 March at least six photographers and a journalist were beaten by “guards” as they covered a protest outside the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The guards, it quickly transpired, were Brotherhood members drafted into the platoon of bodyguards of the group’s deputy supreme guide, business tycoon Khairat Al-Shater. They were caught on video, armed with chairs and batons, attacking prominent youth activist Ahmed Doma. When a middle-aged lady came to his aid she was knocked to the ground by one of the so-called guards. During the assaults on the journalists Al-Watan’s photographer Mohamed Nabil’s leg was broken. A cameraman for Russia Today TV channel, a reporter from Sky News Arabiya and journalists and photographers from Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Youm Al-Sabei and Veto newspapers were also among the victims.
Rashwan led a protest in front of the Press Syndicate on Sunday and later marched with reporters and sympathisers to the nearby prosecutor-general’s office to present a complaint, demanding that the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and Al-Shater be investigated alongside their bodyguards. On Monday prosecutors ordered three of the assailants to be detained, including one who reportedly threatened journalists and protesters with decapitation. Violent clashes between protesters and police continued for three days in front of the Brotherhood’s office following the attacks on activists. At least 46 protesters were arrested and referred to prosecutors.
Cameramen held a small silent vigil in front of the Shura Council on Tuesday.
On Wednesday journalists held a second protest in front of the syndicate, attended by writers, artists and representatives of opposition parties who came to express solidarity. Many were dismayed by the heavy use of force against protesters by police who had turned a blind eye to the violent assaults on protesters by Brotherhood members.
A number of revolutionary groups and political parties have called for a protest in front of the Brotherhood’s office in Muqattam on Friday, 22 March, under the slogan “Restoring dignity”. Islamist political parties have warned they will attack the headquarters of liberal and leftist political parties if any damage occurs to the Brotherhood’s lavish, multi-million pound premises.

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