Electoral race for Press Syndicate elections launches

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Candidates resumed their electoral campaigns amid the race for the upcoming March elections of the Press Syndicate for the position of the president and membership of the syndicate’s council.

This comes as the syndicate’s committee supervising the elections is meeting with candidates on Wednesday afternoon.

On one side, the managing editor of state-run Al-Ahram, Abdel Mohsen Salama, who is running for the syndicate’s presidency, said Tuesday that he was able to reach an agreement with media business tycoon Ahmed Abou Hashima regarding his acceptance to drop a lawsuit he won against two journalists, therefore eliminating the possibility of their imprisonment.

Former head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union magazine Hala El-Badry and a fellow journalist were sentenced to six months in jail and fined over charges of publishing a report containing false information about Abou Hashima.

Salama’s slogan focused on opposing the imprisonment of journalists and promises to have those detainees released, including those affiliated to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

In statements published by Al-Ahram earlier this week, Salama criticised the performance of the current freedoms committee saying it “failed to improve legislations protecting journalists against imprisonment.”

Although officially out of the electoral race, former syndicate president Diaa Rashwan remains a player in the scene at the moment, speaking to the press and commenting about the situation in the syndicate and the candidacy of Qallash, saying that he had recommended its “postponement” as he was “finalising negotiations for a political solution with the state which cold not occur having Qallash in office.”

In a statement he published on Facebook Tuesday, Rashwan said that he was able to “negotiate a solution at the highest state level,” stating that, “my only hope was for Qallash to postpone his candidacy, but he rushed into it only one day before finalising the solution; a solution impossible to implement with him as a candidate.”

However, Rashwan denied that his so-called initiative meant bargaining Qallash’s position in exchange for ending the crisis between the syndicate and the state.

On the other hand, both Salama and Qallash also denied having sat with Rashwan for discussions regarding the syndicate and the elections.

For his part, Qallash visited independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, claiming that it would be “disastrous to hand the syndicate to those who violated it,” the newspaper reported.

Last May, police forces raided the syndicate and arrested two journalists, a historical and unprecedented incident that led to tensions between journalists and the state and ended up with syndicate leaders being tried over charges of harbouring suspects.

Qallash, along with his deputy, Khaled El-Balshy, and the syndicate’s secretary-general, Gamal Abdel Reheem, face trial in one of the syndicate’s most controversial battles with the security apparatus.

El-Balshy, who headed the freedoms committee, is also running in the elections to renew his position as a member of the council.

In contrast to Salama’s accusations of failure pointed at the freedoms committee, the press community—including the syndicate—had drafted a law back in 2015, in coordination with the cabinet, bringing up new perspectives regarding the protection of journalists and press freedoms.

Although the draft law, known as the “unified press and media law,” was a joint project between press, constitutional and legal experts, the government, and parliament speaker Ali Abdul Aal himself. The unified press and media law project was drafted by the governmental advisory committee for press and media legislations, which had Rashwan as secretary-general. The committee included 45 members representing different media fields—including the press, broadcast, and printing businesses.

However, the press community expressed concerns over the death of the project, accusing the government of annulling their agreements in favour of other newly dissected laws outside of the scope of dialogue, one of which recently passed by the parliament on the organisation of press and media institutions.

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