Fistfights broke out at an extraordinary general assembly meeting of Egypt's Journalist Syndicate on Sunday, convened to declare the syndicate's position on Egypt's draft constitution, which many syndicate members see as limiting press freedoms.
Several attendees chanted against syndicate head Mamdouh El-Wali, demanding his resignation. Others rushed to his defence.
El-Wali and his supporters from the syndicate board stood up on a table and chanted "one hand" in an effort to calm the situation. "The people demand the resignation of the syndicate head," El-Wali's opponents shouted in response.
Syndicate board member Alaa El-Attar, who opposes El-Wali, criticised the syndicate head for failing to issue a clear stance on the draft constitution, which, he asserted, included several articles limiting press freedoms.
Last week, the syndicate's higher council announced its withdrawal from Egypt's Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new national charter, citing the assembly's refusal to heed the syndicate's recommendations.
"This came too late and only under much pressure," El-Attar told Ahram Online. "People expect more from the journalists syndicate and, of course, syndicate members expect more from the syndicate's head and elected board."
Many journalists consider El-Wali, who was elected months after the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or to at least have close ties with the group.
The current draft constitution has been criticised by many sectors of Egyptian society. Several groups, NGOs and political parties have criticised the draft for falling short on rights and freedoms.
The constitution-drafting body has frequently been accused of failing to reflect Egypt's diverse society and of being dominated by Islamists.
Recently, the assembly has suffered from a second wave of withdrawals, including journalists, Coptic Church representatives, Farmers Syndicate representatives and other non-Islamist party representatives.
The assembly had already suffered a spate of withdrawals since June, when the 'Egyptian Bloc' parties – including the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party – initiated a walk-out, followed by the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Democratic Front Party.
The walkout was ostensibly staged to allow greater representation for women, young people and Coptic Christians, while also registering objections to "Islamist monopolisation" of the assembly.
Threatened by the recent withdrawals and a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, the assembly was given immunity from dissolution by a constitutional declaration issued by President Mohamed Morsi last week.
The controversial declaration, protested by tens of thousands since its announcement, prevents the judiciary, or any other body, from challenging the president's decisions and immunises the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) from dissolution, despite pending court decisions on the constitutional legitimacy of both bodies.