State Information Service, Journalists Syndicate heads jockey for syndicate top job

Weeks before the start of elections for Journalists Syndicate board members and its chairperson, competition between Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service, and Abdel Mohsen Salama, the syndicate’s current head and the president of Al-Ahram Foundation’s board of directors, for the syndicate’s top job has come to a head.

At a time when the Syndicate’s Independence Movement — which includes leftist, Nasserist and opposition journalists, as well as a number of former syndicate members and ex-chairpersons, such as Yehia Qallash and Galal Aref — has yet to field a candidate, signs of a battle between Rashwan and Salama have emerged: Rashwan recently intervened to resolve an internal crisis taking place at Al-Ahram, while Salama made a move to suspend Rashwan’s membership in the Journalists Syndicate altogether.

This round of syndicate elections, slated to take place in March 2019, will see half of the syndicate’s board seats up for re-election, including those currently occupied by Mahmoud Kamel, Abu Saud Mohamed, Ibrahim Abu Kila, Khaled Miri, Mohamed Shabana and Hatem Zakaria. It is not yet clear who will be competing for these seats.

A syndicate board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Mada Masr that Salama attempted to include an agenda item for the board’s next meeting to discuss excluding Rashwan from the roster, in light of his affiliation with the government. Syndicate board members largely rejected the idea, according to the source, and Salama backtracked from the point. However, a number of members from the syndicate’s General Assembly submitted a memorandum on Sunday asking to discuss the same item at the next meeting nonetheless.

The memorandum was based on Article 20 of the Journalists Syndicate law, which gives the syndicate’s board the right to transfer non-press members to the non-press roster. If deemed a non-press member, the individual in question would thereby forfeit membership in the syndicate’s General Assembly and lose his or her right to vote or run as a candidate in syndicate elections.

The syndicate board member told Mada Masr that these events are mere electoral spats, asserting that Rashwan’s current post as head of the SIS is essentially a “journalistic job.” Rashwan also remains on loan from the Al-Ahram Foundation to the SIS and has not left the foundation, the source pointed out, adding that Rashwan remained on the roster for the duration of Salama’s term as chair, despite his work with the SIS.

Rashwan has made reference to the issue in a press statement, in which he said that the syndicate has previously elected two chairpeople who also held and maintained ministerial posts at the time: former culture ministers Abdel Moneim al-Sawy (from 1977 until 1978) and Youssef al-Sebai (from 1973 until 1975.)

“It’s not appropriate for the syndicate to deny [my] affiliation with the Egyptian press,” Rashwan said. “It’s insulting — I’m the one who added articles related to the press to Egypt’s Constitution! Have people forgotten? What’s happening right now shows a lack of understanding of the Journalists Syndicate law. These are games that resemble those that happen in elections for local councils in villages.”

Rashwan did not limit his comments to press statements, but also intervened strongly in an issue taking place within Al-Ahram, which is headed by Salama himself.

The syndicate board member explained that the Cabinet had suspended the distribution of 2018 dividends – which were scheduled for last December – to employees, journalists and administrators at the state-owned news organization. Rashwan, as a member of the National Press Agency, managed to reach an agreement with the prime minister to immediately disburse nine months of profits and release the remaining three months at the start of the new fiscal year in July 2019.

A journalist at Al-Ahram, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that Rashwan’s success in distributing profits delivered a major blow to Salama’s position. It also added to the general negative sentiment toward Salama in Al-Ahram and to a perception among its journalists that Salama has failed to achieve any of his campaign promises or take any serious stances on issues concerning the press, particularly regarding services made available to journalists.

Two years ago, the journalist explained, Salama pledged to abolish the imprisonment of journalists, establish an educational academy, pass a law on free access to information and apply a stamp duty to newspaper advertisements so that the syndicate can achieve financial independence from the government – pledges that have seen little progress made.

During his term, Salama has increased journalists’ technology allowance by LE300 and established a vocational training center. He has also stated he will sign a protocol with the Ministry of Military Production in the coming period to establish a hospital for journalists in 6th of October City.

Salama and Rashwan had previously competed for the position of syndicate chair in March 2013, with Rashwan winning with 1,280 votes to Salama’s 1,015. Rashwan also ran in the 2009 elections, losing to former chairperson and current Supreme Media Regulatory Council head Makram Mohamed Ahmed.

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