Journalists from several state-run and independent newspapers protested in front of the Shura Council on Sunday, objecting the council’s decision to remove the editor in chief of Al-Gomhuria newspaper, Gamal Abdel Rahim. The protesters see his removal as unprecedented state interference in the freedom of the press.
Alaa Omran, Al-Gomhuria journalist, said the dismissal of Abdel Rahim was based on an article that the editor in chief had published last Wednesday. The article claimed that Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and chief of staff of the armed forces Sami Hafez Anan were to be banned from travelling out of Egypt pending an illicit gains investigation. “When the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) declared there was no investigation, we published an apology the next day,” Omran said. The SCAF responded on Thursday saying the article was an insult to the military and its leaders.
Under the law, according to Al-Gomhuria Vice President Ahmed Badawi, when a journalist publishes erroneous information it is up to the Journalist Syndicate to conduct an investigation and pass judgement. “This is the first time in the history of our country that the head of a newspaper was removed by the Shura Council,” Badawi said. “We absolutely reject any and all outside interference in a newspaper’s internal issues.”
Omran said that the paper had followed all the guidelines regarding their article, which included printing an apology and retracting their story. “In the 30 years that [former president] Hosni Mubarak was in power, not once did he violate press freedom to the extent that President Mohamed Morsy has,” Omran said, calling for the reinstatement of Abdel Rahim.
Journalists from other publications also joined the protest. Eissa Gad Al-Karim, a journalist for Rosa El-Yousef newspaper, said while he does not consider himself an Abdel Rahim supporter he was against his dismissal based on the freedom of the press. “This is the start of a chain of strikes,” Gad Al-Karim declared. “The Muslim Brotherhood has taken control of the Shura Council and rejects our role as the fourth authority [government branch] responsible for monitoring the other three authorities.”
Many journalists expressed fear of persecution by the government. “What happens to the journalists when not even the biggest names are safe from persecution?” Mohamad Kamel Hassan, a television presenter for the Amni Masr show, asked. “It is strange to see the very people defending others being punished.”
The Journalist Syndicate will be holding an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss Abdel Rahim’s removal.
Abdel Rahim was appointed editor in chief of Al-Gomhuria by the Shura Council in August, a decision that was criticised by many within the industry who saw his appointment and the appointment of other newspaper heads as a resurgence of the old regime and a power-grab by Islamists.