The electoral battle for the chairman of the Press Syndicate entered a defining stage after its current Chairman Yehia Qallash announced he is seeking re-election.
The elections are set to take place on 3 March with close to 60 journalists competing for six seats which include the chair and council.
Candidates submitted their applications starting 11 February.
Candidates for the board seats have already announced their platforms which include promises to provide affordable housing, leisure activities and legal assistance for journalists. The candidates span the ideological spectrum and include liberals and leftists.
Khaled Al-Balshi, Karem Mahmoud, Gamal Abdel-Rehim, Alaa Thabet, Osama Dawoud and Hanan Fikri are the outgoing members of the syndicate council. Thabet will not run again while the remaining five have said they will seek another term.
The race for the chairmanship is highly competitive and it’s far from clear who will win. Qallash runs up against two strong contenders, Al-Ahram Managing Editor Abdel-Mohsen Salama and former chairman Diaa Rashwan. Sayed Al-Eskandarani from the daily Al-Gomhouriya and Talaat Hashem from Misr Al-Fatah are also candidates although their chances appear slim.
The race is pretty much between Qallash, Rashwan and Salama. All have strong records in syndicate politics. Rashwan held the position between 2013 and 2015 but lost to Qallash in 2015. Since 2011, Rashwan has been head of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies which he joined in 1981.
Rashwan’s record when chairman may not serve him well. He had few achievements to his name though did manage to increase government pensions for journalists.
The outgoing council served in one of the most turbulent terms in the syndicate’s 75-year history following a crisis with the government that erupted after police arrested two journalists at the syndicate’s headquarters.
Qallash’s aim to secure a second term is not easy following a year of controversy and direct confrontation with the government. On Saturday he announced his candidacy in a lengthy statement in which he sought to justify his policies during his first term.
“Based on what we achieved in the past two years and the upcoming challenges that await us en route to complete what we started and to ensure the continued momentum in the spirit of the union, I found it my duty to run again for head of the syndicate,” Qalash said.
“I urge you to face the real problems, such as the new press law and the social and economic rights of journalists and to focus on changing the syndicate’s bylaws,” Qallash said.
“I did not allow all the repercussions, which you well know, to distract me from carrying out my responsibility towards my colleagues’ well-being and to protect their rights,” he added.
Qallash and two board members were given two-year suspended prison sentences late last year on charges of harbouring fugitives inside the syndicate’s Cairo headquarters.
The sentences were passed after two journalists, Amr Badr and Ahmed Al-Sakka, wanted by the police for allegedly spreading false news regarding Egypt’s Red Sea islands deal with Saudi Arabia and holding protests without government permission, were arrested in May last year inside the syndicate’s headquarters.
For board member seats the battle is the toughest since 2010. Nearly 60 journalists are vying for six seats. Candidates represent a broad spectrum of political affiliations and ideologies. In a surprise decision, Badr is running for the board. Badr said his platform will focus on protecting the rights of journalists in their institution and the laws that govern the right to obtain information.
Emad Hegab, an expert on professional syndicate politics, said the election this time is different than those over the three previous terms.
“This time the battle is over who can regain the syndicate’s prestige 0in society and is strong enough to deal with the government and the current administration,” Hegab said.
“This time thousands of journalists want the election to be about them and their rights, not about a political battle between the government and some political ideology,” he added.
Salama and Rashwan concur with Hegab. “The Press Syndicate must be independent and keep its distance from all political parties and have the respect from every institution in the state. It is bigger than confrontation with any institution,” Salama said.