Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate is set to hold on Friday its general assembly to elect the 22nd head of the syndicate and six new members of the syndicate council after last week’s failed attempt at reach the required quorum of 50 percent.
Among the 11 candidates for the syndicate’s chairmanship, the leading contenders are veteran Al-Ahram journalist Diaa Rashwan and Akhbar journalist Refaat Rashad.
Rashwan is the current head of the State Information Service (SIS), a former syndicate chairman, and former head of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
Rashad is a board member of the state-owned Akhbar Al-Youm news organisation.
Meanwhile, 53 journalists are running to fill six positions on the syndicate’s council.
The window for nominations was closed on 14 February.
Last Friday, only 25 percent of members turned out for the general assembly to convene the elections.
Current syndicate head Abdel-Mohsen Salama, who is also chairman of Al-Ahram Organisation, had announced in February that he would not be seeking a second term so he could focus on his duties as Al-Ahram chairman.
In his electoral programme, Rashwan has vowed to improve the financial conditions of journalists and increase their monthly stipend.
He asserts that Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait have already agreed to increase journalists’ stipend by 25 percent in July to reach EGP 2,100.
Rashwan also promised to increase pensions by 20 percent, and spoke about the possibility of allowing videographers and journalists working for online news services to join the syndicate.
Press syndicate membership is currently restricted to journalists working in print media, and the syndicate’s bylaws would have to be changed to allow a broader range of journalists to join.
Rashawn, who is running under the campaign slogan ‘Reunion,’ says that his programme will work to eliminate partisan divisions, and promised to work to strengthen solidarity and foster constructive dialogue on public issues.
The SIS head, who chaired the syndicate from 2013 to 2015, has dismissed rumours that he is the government’s handpicked candidate.
He has also said that his campaign slogan refers to both journalists and all other segments of society.
Rashwan’s competitor, Rashad, says that his election programme focuses on both providing journalists with more services and seeking the maximum level of press freedom.
Rashad says he would fight for increased salaries to keep up with inflation and ensure a decent quality of life for journalists, as well as developing the medical insurance programme for journalists and their families.
Rashad referred to the possibility of integrating national press institutions as mentioned in the press law of 2018 due to the financial burden these institutions are putting on the government.
He pointed out that in recent years the administrations of press institutions have failed to balance revenues and expenditures.
Struggling press institutions
One of the oldest unions in the country, Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate was founded in 1941.
This year’s syndicate elections come amid a crisis facing national, independent and partisan newspapers, which are threatened by the possibility of closure or downsizing due to financial issues.
Several independent newspapers have recently resorted to downsizing to cover their expenses, leading to the dismissal of tens of journalists from private outlets.
The print newspaper industry in Egypt has also been facing a crisis in recent years due to a drop in advertising revenues and a hike in the price of print materials.
The Egyptian government has lately been studying the possibility of reducing the number of print outlets and restructuring national newspapers in an attempt to overcome the crisis.