File Photo: Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate (Photo: Al-Ahram)
Journalists of privately owned Egyptian newspaper Al-Tahrir began an open-ended sit-in on Tuesday, protesting the closure of the daily paper and demanding that it remain under any circumstances.
The board of the newspaper, which also has a website, announced to its reporters just last week that it would suspend the printed version at the beginning of September while the site will continue operating.
The last copy of the paper was issued on Sunday.
Dozens of the newspaper’s reporters, estimated at almost 400, began their protest at the paper's headquarters in the southern Cairo district of Mohandeseen to express opposition to the shutdown.
The decision to stop printing the newspaper was made by its editor-in-chief Akmal Qortam, a businessman and an ex-member of the ruling party under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The journalists, most of whom are facing the possibility of a lay-off, have trusted the country's press syndicate to represent them in their challenge against the closure, calling for legal action to be taken against Qortam or removing him from his position.
"We have been told overnight, without any proper notice or justification, that the place where we have been working for five years will close, destroying our ambitions, years-long efforts and dreams in the process," Asmaa Fathy, one of the protesting reporters, told Ahram Online.
While a financial crisis hitting the newspaper has been cited as the reason for the closure, some insiders say the shutdown is driven by political factors against the backdrop of a new editorial policy critical of authorities over the few past months.
They say Qotram, owner since 2013, has already been scaling up online services and is expected to open a new weekly, something they argue makes a financial crunch more doubtful.
"We have been more critical of the government recently, bringing pressure to bear on authorities, which officials do not like," Fathy said.
"That's a political crisis not a financial one. It's an attempt to muzzle freedom of opinion and expression," she added.
The move to cease printing the four-year-old paper comes after three Egyptian newspapers were prevented last month from being printed or distributed because they had content critical of the country's president.
The censoring was criticised by the New York-based press advocacy organisation, The Committee to Protect Journalists, which said Egypt is “resorting to crude censorship."
Reporters demand that Al-Tahrir persists in any form, be it weekly or monthly. They have threatened to take escalating measures against owner Qortam, which might include relocating the sit-in to the headquarters of his political party or in front of his home.
"Al-Tahrir journalists express their full repudiation of the closure of Al-Tahrir and call on its owner to continue its paper version," the reporters said in a statement Tuesday that was reported by Egypt's press syndicate.
The syndicate said that several of its board members would take part in the protest Wednesday as an act of solidarity with the journalists.