'Role of Egypt's new information minister to be announced soon,' informed sources say

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 25 Dec 2019

Sources said a presidential decree will be issued soon to outline the role of Egypt's newly-appointed minister of state for information

Osama Heikal
The newly-appointed Minister of State for Information Osama Heikal (Al-Ahram)

Mohamed Fouad, an independent Egyptian MP, directed an inquiry to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Wednesday asking what the roles and responsibilities of the newly-appointed Minister of State for Information Osama Heikal will be.

Fouad said that on Sunday, MPs were surprised that a cabinet reshuffle had named a minister of state for information, more than five years after the information ministry was abolished.

"As we all know, Egypt's 2014 constitution gave all the powers and roles in the media sector to three bodies: the National Press Organisation (NPO), the National Media Organisation (NMO), and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR)," said Fouad, adding that "in light of this fact, we have to know what the roles and powers of the newly-appointed minister of Information will be."  

"We also want to know what will be the budget of this ministry and from where the minister's main office will operate," said Fouad.

Informed sources told parliamentary reporters on Wednesday that a presidential decree will soon be issued to outline the roles of the new minister.

Heikal, an MP who was the head of parliament's media, culture and antiquities committee and chair of the state-run Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), was named a minister of state for information on Sunday.

Heikal, a former military correspondent with Al-Wafd newspaper, briefly served as information minister in the first government following the 2011 uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The ministry, led later by former TV anchor Doreyya Sharafeddin, was scrapped in a cabinet reshuffle in mid-2014.

Karam Gabr, head of the National Press Organisation (NPO), said on Sunday that he would soon meet with Heikal to see how coordination between the NPO and the new Ministry of Media Affairs will be in the coming stage.

"There is nothing in Egypt's constitution against appointing a minister of information, but of course the roles of this minister will be different from the past, given the fact that the media in Egypt is now regulated by three media organisations," said Gabr.

Under Egypt's 2014 constitution, TV, radio, print and online media are governed by the SCMR, whose current chairman is veteran journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed.

The media regulator, established by a law in late 2016, has sweeping powers ranging from regulating media organisations, imposing penalties on violators, ensuring their independence and neutrality and that they preserve national security.

Abdel-Hamid El-Demerdash, an independent MP, said in a statement on Tuesday that most MPs agreed that the resurrection of the post of the minister of information comes out of necessity.

"Heikal a big regime loyalist and a professional media expert, and for these two reasons MPs approved that he be appointed a minister of information," said El-Demerdash, adding that "most MPs believe that the appointment of Heikal comes at the right time to mobilise Egypt's media to stand up to the repeated hostile campaigns targeting Egypt's internal stability and national security all the time."

"These campaigns have been using television channels broadcasting from Turkey, Qatar and London, as well as the social media manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood," said El-Demerdash.

Salah Hassaballah, the spokesman of parliament and head of El-Horreya Party, told Ahram Online that he believes that the main roles of the new minister of information will be just to crystallise a new policy aimed at safeguarding the nation against malicious and hostile media campaigns.

"So the new minister will just be required to coordinate with the three media organisations and also help in finding solutions to the financial and administrative problems facing the national press and TV and radio so that they can perform their jobs more powerfully," said Hassaballah.

Makram Mohamed Ahmed, the head of the SCMR who previously warned against the return of the post of information minister, said on Sunday that he would wait to see how the responsibilities and roles of the new minister would be delineated to guarantee that there would be no conflict of tasks between him and SCMR.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal met with Heikal on Sunday to congratulate him.

"We will miss you in parliament, but it is sure that you will be a big win for the media sector," said Abdel-Aal.

In response, Heikal said, "I am aware that the message of Egypt's media should be strong in the coming period, and in this respect there should be coordination between all authorities to achieve this goal."

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