CAIRO: The inner conflicts apparent in party newspaper Afaq Arabiya have heightened as journalists continue to protest the halt of the papers publication, endorsed by Managing Director and Editor Mahmoud Atiyya in his attempt to throttle the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over the paper.
“I refuse having the newspaper turn into a sectarian newspaper because of the presence of the Muslim Brothers, Atiyya tells The Daily Star Egypt. “I haven’t asked anyone to leave, but a new system will be applied.
“Whoever supports the new system is welcome to stay; whoever wants to leave should leave. It will be their choice, not mine, he adds.
The new system, setting boundaries on the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement in the newspaper and threatening their autonomy, is already in motion, according to Atiyya. The newspaper is due to be published in less than 10 days, should no more conflicts arise.
The newspaper, officially owned by the Al-Ahrar party, had previously cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, giving the banned-but-tolerated group’s journalists room for free expression. According to Brotherhood sources, the party was to finance and manage the newspaper, while the Muslim Brotherhood was to contribute senior writers and journalists in the hope of attracting a new audience to the newspaper and increasing distribution based on the group’s grassroots popularity.
The voice of the newspaper had grown more Islamic, and many now refer to the publication as the “Brotherhood’s newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have not objected to Atiyya’s “new system, saying that they are ready to “step out at any time. However, Muslim Brotherhood journalists who have worked for Afaq Arabiya for a long time beg to differ.
Many of the “unwanted journalists are now saying that Atiyya’s halt of the newspaper and the new system are devastating to their careers, and for weeks they have been protesting the ban in front of the press syndicate, submitting petitions to the High Council of Journalism and to press syndicate heads along the way.
However, contrary to many reports, the halt was not originally initiated by Atiyya in order to get rid of the Brotherhood. “At the beginning, the halt was due to a conflict between me on one side and the former party leader on another.
For months the Al-Ahrar party, like many similar parties, had been experiencing in-party conflict and strife over leadership. The in-fighters had taken their cases to a Cairo court, where months of arguments ended when the court chose Helmy Salem, former curator of Al-Ahrar, as president.
But for the party, the arguments did not stop. On Feb. 23, shortly following the court’s decision, the Political Parties Commission annulled the decision and canceled the appointment, leaving the party without a chairman.
Confusion followed the commission’s decision, according to Abdel-Hakim Al-Shamy, managing editor of Afaq Arabiya and Muslim Brotherhood member. “We did not know whether the new decision canceled the appointment of Helmy only as party leader or not . Did the decision include his position [as managing director] in the paper as well? We were puzzled, says Al-Shamy.
This confusion has lead to conflicts between editor Atiyya and former party leader Helmy over the position of managing director of the newspaper. Both sides had sent requests to the newspaper’s distribution company asking the latter for a publication halt until matters were settled. Both also sent petitions to the High Council of Journalism, asking the organization to interfere.
Shortly afterwards, the council made their decision to reinstate Atiyya. The newspaper, however, remained unpublished.
“I sent convoys representing the Muslim Brothers to Atiyya in order to solve the crisis the paper is facing and to ask him to re-publish it, says Al-Shamy. “He told them that he never liked the way the paper was managed.
“‘I was just a name,’ he had told them and the Muslim Brotherhood were the real editors and managers of the paper, adds Al-Shamy.
Al-Shamy, however, says that the decision to stifle the Muslim Brotherhood’s powers inside the newspaper was not solely Atiyya’s.
“It is what the government wants. Atiyya and some other editors had previously said that they face security problems because of the presence of the Brothers inside the paper . For the paper to be republished, the Brothers must be shunned, he says.
“Our leaders are ready to give up the paper to Atiyya, says Al-Shamy. “He is now free to reshuffle the paper’s staff and even expel the Brothers if he chooses to. However, he must be ready to lose the paper’s popularity . Without the Brothers, distribution will be low.
“Then again it’s a game . the government plays this game, he says.