On Wednesday the Journalists Syndicate held its second General Assembly meeting in two weeks to discuss the response to a security raid on the Syndicate’s headquarters on May 1 and the arrest of two journalists.
President of the Syndicate Yehiya Qalash addressed the assembly and read a report on Syndicate action taken since the raid, asserting that all necessary measures have been taken to clarify the Syndicate’s position and to resolve the stand off with the Interior Ministry.
“During the past two weeks we have opened our doors, reaching out for solutions and initiatives on condition that such initiatives safeguard the Syndicate’s dignity and prestige, while upholding the state’s rule of law,” Qalash said. Yet in his report, he noted two weeks have passed since the raid with “no tangible progress.”
A number of initiatives by members of Parliament and the National Council for Human Rights were proposed, but they didn’t translate into any clear ways of ensuring the Syndicate’s rights or the dignity of journalists, Qalash said.
The Journalists Syndicate is fully committed to investigating all violations committed against it and its members, the Syndicate head stressed, maintaining it would continue its struggle until a “just resolution” is reached “based on the state’s adherence to the rule of law, and the accountability of those who commit crimes against the Syndicate or the community of journalists.”
During Wednesday’s meeting journalist and parliamentarian Osama Sharshar addressed the audience, arguing, “There is no problem between journalists and the Interior Ministry.” His comments were interrupted by an uproar from General Assembly members, who chanted: “Dismissal! Dismissal!” — referring to the interior minister, and “The police are thugs.”
Journalist Mona Selim, a member of the Front for the Defense of Journalists and Freedoms, also addressed the General Assembly, saying, “I filed a petition yesterday, signed by 300 members, to convene an extraordinary General Assembly meeting in which its resolutions will be binding.” Selim added that the Syndicate Council should investigate any General Assembly member who does not abide by these resolutions, and should refer them to disciplinary board hearings.
“I want to relay the words of our jailed colleague Amr Badr, ‘Do not be afraid, and continue with your protests,’” Selim added.
Journalist Magdy Helmy urged Qalash to summon the judge presiding over the investigation of the police raid on the Syndicate to a hearing.
Media veteran Hussein Abdel Razek commented, “During the 55 years I have worked as a journalist, the police raid has been the most serious crime committed against the Syndicate.” He argued that the government is not sympathetic towards journalists, as he said is exemplified by the Cabinet’s approval of a restrictive and interventionist draft media law.
Journalists “must not give up their demand for the dismissal of the interior minister,” Abdel Razek stressed, calling on the Syndicate Council to summon the Prime Minister to a meeting in order to explain in detail the reasons behind this demand.
“The origin of this crisis is that colleagues [Amr]Badr and [Mahmoud al-]Sakka objected to the sale of land and that protests were conducted outside the Syndicate on its steps against the sale of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir,” journalist Mohamed Mounir asserted.
“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to the demands of May 4 [adopted during the Journalists Syndicate’s extraordinary General Assembly meeting] and to not back down from our demand for the dismissal” of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, Mounir said.
The General Assembly meeting was concluded by a protest rally outside the Syndicate’s headquarters, which was attended by over 1,000 journalists.
“Oh police officer … Journalism is not terrorism” and “the police are thugs,” and “tell the negative minister … the jailing of journalists means his dismissal,” angry journalists chanted.
Police forces surrounded the Syndicate’s headquarters in downtown Cairo from early Wednesday morning, preventing entry to anyone not holding card membership. They did, however, permit a counter-rally. Standing next to police forces, a group of civilians carried posters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, blasting songs praising the Armed Forces from loud speakers.
Signed by 300 journalists, the petition filed with the Syndicate Council on Tuesday requests another extraordinary General Assembly meeting and the formation of a committee to resolve the crisis and address the concerns of General Assembly members. This committee should include both Syndicate Council members and representatives of journalists involved in the ongoing sit-in protest, the petition detailed.
It also emphasized the importance of upholding the resolutions of the May 4 General Assembly meeting, specifically the dismissal of the interior minister, the issuing of an official apology from the president’s office, the release of all prisoners of conscience in Egypt and the formation of a joint working group to include representatives from other professional syndicates and labor unions to confront the Interior Ministry’s violations.
The petition called for easing Syndicate restrictions on membership to allow all journalists the right to join the General Assembly, a right that has been denied to thousands of Egyptian journalists employed in news organizations, particularly online websites.