The general assembly of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate on Sunday voiced its rejection of President Mohamed Morsi's constitutional declaration, threatening to stage a general strike in retaliation against Morsi's divisive Thursday declaration.
"The general assembly announces its total rejection of the latest decisions issued by the president," Gamal Fahmi, member of the syndicate's executive board, shouted to hundreds of journalists at the syndicate's downtown headquarters.
The president's decisions "represent naked aggression against general freedoms, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary," he added, as fistfights erupted around him between supporters and opponents of the syndicate's head Mamdouh El-Wali.
Fahmi also announced that the syndicate planned to stage a general strike if its proposals were not included in Egypt's draft constitution.
On Thursday, Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a decree making all his decisions immune from legal challenge. The decree also protects the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly (tasked with drafting a new constitution) and the Shura Council (the upper, consultative house of parliament) from dissolution by court order.
The declaration was widely condemned by Morsi's political opponents, who deemed it as an "attack on democracy."
'Important day for journalists'
Last week, the Journalists Syndicate's executive council announced the withdrawal of its members from the Constituent Assembly, citing the charter-drafting body's refusal to heed the syndicate's recommendations regarding the constitution.
"We submitted several recommendations to the Constituent Assembly, but these were rejected," former syndicate head Galal Aref shouted out during the syndicate's raucous Sunday meeting.
"They rejected our proposal to stop the practice of jailing journalists for press offences and our proposal to keep news organisations independent of political groups."
He added: "We called this meeting not only because journalism is in danger, but because the country is burning."
"Today was a very important day for journalists, who made it clear to the presidency that they would continue to defend freedoms," journalist Saad Hagras, who spoke at Sunday's syndicate meeting, told Ahram Online.
Hagras added: "The constitutional declaration does not only threaten us, it also threatens the judiciary and other vital state institutions; we had to take a stance against it."
Following the meeting, however, El-Wali told reporters that the quorum for the syndicate's general assembly had not been reached, and therefore any decisions issued at Sunday's meeting were not considered valid.
El-Wali went on to say that he had not participated in drafting the statement that had been read out by Fahmi.
But Hagras asserted that, "as far as the general assembly is concerned, the syndicate head doesn't have to approve syndicate decisions; he's like every other member of the assembly."
During Sunday's general assembly meeting, fistfights broke out more than once between El-Wali's supporters and opponents. Journalists eventually left the hall after cheering Fahmi when the latter issued the statement despite El-Wali's disapproval.
At the beginning of the meeting, El-Wali told the assembly that the general assembly's quorum had not been reached, meaning that none of the decisions to come out of Sunday's meeting would be considered valid, prompting most journalists in attendance to protest as they demanded that the general assembly be held. This led to physical altercations between El-Wali's supporters and opponents on the podium.
Tension has mounted between El-Wali and syndicate board members since the former assumed leadership of the syndicate last year. El-Wali's critics accuse him of serving the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of journalists' interests.
Journalist Ahmed Taha El-Naqr, who spoke at Sunday's meeting, was met with applause when he called on syndicate members to withdraw confidence from El-Wali.
A number of journalists collected signatures calling for the withdrawal of confidence from the syndicate chairman; other syndicate members tried to calm their colleagues who were vigorously protesting against El-Wali.
"This syndicate is for everyone; it will not be hijacked by Nasserists and leftists," El-Wali shouted through the microphone after failing to finish his opening speech amid loud chants from hundreds of journalists calling on him to step down. "Down with the rule of the [Brotherhood's] supreme guide," they shouted.
El-Wali's supporters, meanwhile, who surrounded him on the stage after he was prevented from speaking, distanced themselves from Fahmi's statement.
"This statement is not representative. A mere show of hands doesn't represent agreement," said Moataz Wadnan, a journalist with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice newspaper. "Entrance to the hall was not restricted. How do we even know that those chanting were even journalists?"
"They attacked the head of the syndicate and did not give him the right to speak. This isn't acceptable," Wadnan added.
Journalists who support Fahmi's statement are expected to join Morsi's opponents in planned protests on Tuesday against Morsi's constitutional decree.