The mid-term elections for Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate on March 15 saw Diaa Rashwan become its head and several new figures join its council. A security source and multiple journalists told Mada Masr that the security apparatus played a role in the outcome.
A longstanding supporter of the current government, Rashwan, who won 2810 of 4588 valid votes against 10 rival candidates to win the head post, is the chairperson of the State Information Service.
Also up for grabs were six posts in the 12-member council which leads the syndicate. Of the six elected, three are known to have pro-government affiliations. They were supported by close interventions from both the General Intelligence Services and the National Security Agency to ensure journalists voted for them, as recounted by an NSA source and multiple journalists.
These three were on a list of six nominees pushed by security services in newsrooms and around which voting mobilization took place. The list included Khaled Meiry and Mohamed Yahia, who work for state-owned Al‑Akhbar; Mohamed Shabana and Bahaa Mubasher, of state-owned Al‑Ahram; Doaa al-Naggar from state-owned Al-Gomhurriya; and Youssef Ayoub from privately-owned Youm7. Meiry, Yahia and Shabana were successful.
The three who were not on government-sponsored list who won council seats are Hesham Younis of Al-Ahram, Mahmoud Kamel of Al-Akhbar, and Hammad al-Romehi of the privately-owned Al-Youm newspaper. Younis and Kamel are considered activist or independent.
The security apparatuses’ electoral mobilization began when the General Intelligence Services met certain candidates, according to the NSA source. A list was then sent to heads of various newspapers, websites, and TV programs via WhatsApp, the standard communication mode between security apparatuses and media organizations. They were asked to encourage their staff to make time to vote, and to vote for the six nominees.
This account is corroborated by journalists working in several newsrooms. An Al-Ahram journalist revealed that the WhatsApp list was printed out and distributed to journalists eligible to vote in the syndicate elections two days before the election. This journalist said one editor insisted that extensive voting for this list was necessary “to prevent the leftists from hijacking the syndicate and creating hostilities with the state, which would harm journalists’ interests.” Similar messages were passed on to journalists at Al-Gomhurriya, Al-Akhbar and Youm7 who spoke to Mada Masr.
The Al-Ahram source told Mada Masr that on the day of the vote he was at his desk at 5 pm, two hours into the voting period, when his boss entered the newsroom and expressed disapproval of journalists who had stayed in the office rather than vote at the syndicate.
“Why are you still here?” the boss reportedly said. “You’ll cause us trouble. Anyone who hasn’t cast their vote must go now. Consider it a lunch break. Cast your votes and have lunch [at the syndicate]. Al-Ahram brought lots of food.” As he left, the source added, the boss asked the journalists if they had the list — referring to the printed WhatsApp list — with them, to which everyone answered yes.
When he eventually decided to go to the syndicate to vote, the Al-Ahram journalist found a bus waiting in front of the building to take him and others to the syndicate. A staff member from the administration insisted he take the bus, even though the syndicate is 500 meters away from the newspaper’s office.
A source from privately owned Al-Watan newspaper said the victory of only half of the six nominees may be due to the fact many journalists were upset by the way in which they were forced to vote, and for a particular set of candidates.
As it stands after the elections and the security apparatuses’ interventions, six out of 12 Journalists Syndicate council members are considered independent or activist. They are Gamal Abdel-Rehim of Al-Gomhurriya, Mohamed Kharaga of Al-Ahram, Mohamed Saad Abdel Hafeez of privately-owned Al-Shorouk, and freelance journalist Amrou Badr, alongside the newly elected Kamel and Younis.
Heated debate is likely to occur within the newly elected council, as it is expected to draw up a new law to govern the syndicate, replacing a law dating back to 1970. It is also expected to engage with the implementation of a government plan to restructure state-owned media organizations, long charged with inefficient over-employment and being financially burdensome for the state.
Reports of a March 5 meeting between Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly and National Press Authority head Karam Gabr suggested that the government is considering liquidating several press organizations, merging others, and disposing of their assets. Some longstanding publications would be shut, with others reduced to an online presence only.
Finally, the council is expected to deal with a new media law passed last September, which is widely seen as restricting both media freedoms and the syndicate’s role, with many of its powers given to state-affiliated entities such as the Supreme Media Regulatory Council.