Eleven candidates are competing to lead the Press syndicate, the largest number of nominees in the history of the union. In addition, 51 candidates are fighting over the six seats available of the syndicate’s council in the mid-term election.
The window for nominations closed on 14 February and the election process is scheduled for five days.
The leading contenders for the syndicate’s top position are head of the State Information Service (SIS) and former syndicate chairman Diaa Rashwan, Akhbar Al-Youm board member Refaat Rashad and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al-Gomhouriya Sayed Al-Askandrani.
Current chairman of the Press Syndicate, who is also Al-Ahram Board Chairman Abdel-Mohsen Salama, announced early in February that he was not going to seek a second term and would instead concentrate on his duties as chairman of Al-Ahram.
The majority of the candidates running for the council’s membership are from state-owned news outlets, with 11 from Al-Akhbar and Akhbar Al-Youm newspapers, seven from Al-Ahram newspaper, four from Al-Gomhouriya newspaper and three from the Middle East News Agency (MENA).
A smaller number of candidates are running from private-owned newspaper, while three are running as independent journalists, the most known of whom is Khaled Al-Balshi. Al-Balshi, a former member of the council and a human rights activist used to head the online leftist news site Al-Badeel.
The website closed in April last year after it has been blocked by the government for 10 months.
Journalists surveyed by Al-Ahram Weekly say they want more guarantees for press freedom, freer flows of information and an end to pre-trial detention for journalists. They also said the syndicate chairman should find practical ways to increase the income of journalists.
During his visit to Al-Ahram last week Rashwan vowed to improve the financial conditions of journalists and increase their monthly technology allowance. He said Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait had already agreed to increase the allowance by 25 per cent in July, to reach LE2,100.
Rashwan also promised to increase pensions, currently set at LE1,450, by 20 per cent, and spoke about the possibility of videographers and journalists working for online news services joining the syndicate.
Press Syndicate membership is currently restricted to journalists working in print media and the syndicate’s law would have to be changed to allow the membership base to broaden.
Rashwan’s campaign slogan is “to strengthen unity”. He said that under his leadership the syndicate would not brook divisions, be they religious or partisan, and promised to work to cement solidarity and foster constructive dialogue on public issues.
Rashwan, who headed the syndicate from 2013 to 2015, dismissed rumours that he was the candidate of the government.
In 2013 Rashwan beat Al-Ahram’s Salama to win the top post in 2013 but failed to secure a second term in 2015, losing to Yehia Qallash.
Akhbar Al-Youm’s Rashad said that he was standing to “protect fellow journalists and freedom of expression” and would prioritise the cases of journalists who had been expelled from their workplaces as well as fighting for increases in wages and pensions.
He wants the monthly technology allowance to be linked to inflation and promised to work to improve the healthcare services available to journalists. Rashad also warned the newspaper industry was passing through a critical phase the repercussions of which pose a threat to the livelihood of journalists.
The last Press Syndicate elections were held in 2017 when Salama was elected as head.
The Press Syndicate was founded in 1941 and is one of the oldest professional unions in Egypt. Elections require an initial quorum of 50 per cent of members plus one. Should not enough members turn out, a fresh poll is held after two weeks with a reduced quorum of 25 per cent plus one.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: In defence of the press