Backgrounder by Safaa Samir and Muhammad Shokry of BBC Monitoring on 4 December
Overview On 17 November 2007, Egyptian journalists went to the polls to elect a new chairman and board of their syndicate. Five candidates ran for the post of chairman and 77 others competed for the membership of the 12-seat board.
Makram Muhammad Ahmad, viewed as a pro-government candidate, was elected chairman, beating the other four candidates, including Raja al-Mirghani, who was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's key Islamic-oriented political force.
Six new faces joined the board, bringing the number of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated members down to two.
The elections, held every two years, came at a time when some journalists are facing prison sentences in publication-related cases. The polls have drawn mixed reactions from the independent media.
Election platform Makram Muhammad Ahmad put forward an election programme pledging to enter into a dialogue with the government on the imprisonment of journalists and the law which allows such measures. He also promised to work towards improving the economic conditions and professional skills of journalists.
Ahmad had already secured a salary increase of 200 Egyptian pounds (about 36 US dollars) for syndicate members following negotiations with Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif before the elections. All this apparently convinced most journalists that Ahmad's election would bring gains and help to achieve their demands. He received 2,389 votes, compared with 1,269 votes cast for his second nearest rival, Raja al-Mirghani, according to the semi-official Al-Ahram newspaper on 19 November.
The pay rise, however, was criticized by Mahmud al-Wardani of the independent daily Al-Badil, who described it on 19 November as "open bribery" and "a scandal". He said: "This expected salary increase is a real scandal. This is flagrant interference by the government. This amounts to boosting the principle of direct professional bribery," he added.
Muslim Brotherhood less represented The support given by the majority of the country's journalists to Ahmad has resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood having a lower representation on the board, and also in the defeat of the candidate they had supported.
Sulayman Judah of the independent daily Al-Misri al-Yawm on 19 November said that the elections "showed the real size of the Muslim Brotherhood", given that only two members retained their seats on the board.
The new chairman also referred indirectly to the Muslim Brotherhood during an interview with Egyptian state TV's programme "Point of View" on 18 November. He said that "journalists were quite aware that they were not ready to sacrifice their syndicate", and that "the syndicate has to continue, to stay on, and has to be safe and avoid falling into the hands of a certain group."
He stressed that the elections had demonstrated that "journalists unanimously reject the idea of the syndicate becoming an alternative to a political party".
Crisis between journalists, government This year's elections came amid a crisis between journalists and the government. Some journalists and editors-in-chief of independent and opposition newspapers are facing prison sentences in publication-related cases.
In the independent Al-Dustur daily, Ibrahim Mansur wrote a relevant article on 16 November, saying that the elections "come at a time when the ruling National Democratic Party [NDP] is working hard to grab the syndicate to rein it back" in order to avoid a "headache".
"This is, in particular, because it [NDP] is trying hard to push the bequest plan through," he said, in a reference to a widely-held view that President Husni Mubarak is set to transfer power to his son Jamal.
Some journalists critical The press body polls were criticized by some independent and opposition journalists. Muhammad al-Shabbah of the independent daily Nahdit Misr on 18 November said that, during the elections, "back-stabbing was legitimate and acceptable ... people's reputation and honour were attacked; opponents threw the meanest possible accusations at each other".
During an interview on Al-Safwah TV's programme "On Air" on 18 November, Muhammad Abd-al-Quddus, a newly-elected board member who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, dubbed the recent elections as "the worst elections that Egypt has ever seen".
Abd-al-Quddus added that "the elections were very, very bad", noting that "there has been a [government] desire to turn the syndicate into a body of services that has nothing to do with any political affairs or activities."
Others supportive Other journalists expressed supportive views on the election results. Salah Isa of Al-Misri al-Yawm, on 17 November said that the newly-elected chairman was "A man of duty. He belongs to a generation that has practised journalism as a call, function and public duty that serves the political interest." He further praised Ahmad by saying, "such a character can add respect and weight to the position it holds".
On 19 November, Sulayman Judah of Al-Misri al-Yawm said: "Makram is taking on a bomb rather than a syndicate, but we are relying on his skills to defuse this bomb and protect the profession from those who are lying in wait."
Source: BBC Monitoring research 4 Dec 07