Daily News Egypt
By Sarah Carr
First Published: October 22, 2008
CAIRO: Journalists continued their hunger strike Wednesday against the refusal of the Journalists’ Syndicate to grant them membership.
Three journalists, Mohamed Abdel Raouf and Abdu Zaky from El-Badeel, and Ramy Hussein from Al-Dostour are currently in hospital after collapsing as a result of the hunger strike.
El-Badeel journalist Omar Said was also taken to hospital Monday after collapsing as a result of the hunger strike but was released the following day.
There are currently 18 journalists from independent dailies Al-Dostour and El-Badeel on hunger strike, demanding that the syndicate rescind its decision to deny them membership.
The strike began on Saturday night in the syndicate headquarters where journalists have been staging a sit-in since that time.
On Wednesday afternoon El-Badeel journalists were told by syndicate General Secretary Hatem Zakaria that an emergency meeting would be convened by the syndicate head in coming days to examine striking journalists’ demands.
This follows an offer brokered by syndicate board member Gamal Fahmy according to which journalists will present appeals to a group made up of Abdel Mohsen Salama, syndicate head Makram Mohamed Ahmed and two experts on journalism, in addition to the editor-in-chief of the relevant newspaper who will examine applicants’ files.
Journalists will not be questioned by the committee.
In August 2008, applicants for syndicate membership were questioned by a committee composed of three syndicate members.
Khalil Abo Shady, a journalist with El-Badeel, explained to Daily News Egypt why journalists reject the principle of syndicate membership being linked to testing.
“Firstly, it is not provided for by law. Secondly, the committee is not suitable for this because it is made up of elected syndicate members, who are concerned about their chances in the elections. Lastly, our experience shows that connections (or wasta) are involved because there was nothing in the archives, files and answers of the people denied membership to indicate that they would be rejected,” Abo Shady said.
Abo Shady says that his membership application was rejected despite the fact that he was asked an extremely easy question by the committee.
“I was asked a very easy question about Press Law 100. I report on the Journalists’ Syndicate and so write about this law every day. It was simply ‘what do you know about Press Law 100?’ – all I had to do was describe the law,” he said.
“The committee was not neutral and did not apply any kind of standards. Why should [committee members] Gamal Abdel Rahim, Abdel Mohsen Salama and Alaa Thabet test me? They’re journalists, just like me. The only qualifications these three possess is that they are elected by the syndicate.
“I have an opinion of their work just like they have an opinion of mine. Who should test whom?” he continued.
Fahmy’s latest proposal follows a previous offer rejected by journalists according to which a follow-up committee would re-examine their files in January 2009, involving the verbal questioning of journalists.
“We think that the committee is playing with us,” Abo Shady told Daily News Egypt.
“I refuse to enter the committee again because I fulfill the conditions. They got unqualified people to test us, we answered well and they still rejected us.”
“In April, El-Badeel journalists presented syndicate membership applications and we were told that they could not be considered because El-Badeel had not been in existence for a year as required by law — this condition does not actually exist in law, the syndicate inserted it in its executive statute,” he continued.
“We then had to wait until August for the committee tests — even though technically El-Badeel had been in existence for a year by June 2008 — and then they told us we’d have to wait again until January. They keep trying to stall us.”
Abo Shady, however, cautiously welcomes the latest offer.
“We see this as a convincing solution to the crisis. But our agreement is conditional on them setting a date for the committee issuing results, and within a month of its convening at the most.”
Abo Shady alleges that syndicate membership was decided in an arbitrary manner, and that the only clear factor involved is the rejection of journalists for political reasons.
He says eight of the 10 El-Badeel journalists rejected (out of a total of 46 El-Badeel applicants) by the committee are known to have leftist political views. Ultimately however, Abo Shady alleges, the syndicate was motivated by its desire to reduce membership.
“The syndicate wants to ‘filter’ its membership because it has members who are not actually journalists — they applied because they want to benefit from the LE 500 monthly allowance paid by the syndicate to journalists.
“I think that the Journalists’ Syndicate is unable to afford paying this allowance to everyone and therefore wishes to reduce the number of members. It does this through imposing a quota, and then claims that it is rejecting applicants on the basis of their professional ability — before going on to reject journalists who have proven their ability,” he continued.
“These tests have had the effect of denying membership to journalists while failing to filter out people who are not actually journalists.”