It is not the fault of Gamal Abdel-Rehim, a member of the Press Syndicate council who gathered six like-minded journalists to forcibly prevent a conference against religious discrimination from being held in the headquarters of the Press Syndicate. It is the fault of all journalists.
Abdel-Rehim had garnered the support of journalists in the 2007 elections which secured him a seat in the 12-member syndicate council. Journalists elected Abdel-Rehim although they knew his attitude towards public issues.
Under a highly provocative title (“The Virus of Bahais Returns ) Abdel-Rehim accused authorities of giving in to “a deviant way of thinking that serves Zionism and imperialism, a way of thinking that is totally blasphemous to Islam. In addition, he called for “extra-judicial measures to deal with Bahais who have become, in his opinion, a “serious virus in Egyptian society.
This article appeared on Feb. 20, 2007 in the state-owned newspaper Al-Gomhuriya, where Abdel-Rehim writes. Despite his aggressive attitude towards religious freedom and freedom of conscious, Mr. Makram Mohamed Ahmed, chairman of the Press Syndicate included Abdel-Rehim on the semi-official list of contenders in the last elections, and consequently a large number of votes went to him.
After being elected, all Abdel-Rehim’s stances were against freedom of expression, the main mission of the Journalists’ Syndicate. He tried to impose his views on the rest of the council’s members, intimidating them, and sometimes using violence to silence opposing voices within journalists’ community.
Once, he tried to beat up a fellow journalist from Rose Al Youssef newspaper. In addition, Mr. Mohamed Abou Hadid, chairman of Al-Gomhuriya wrote an article to the effect that Abdel-Rehim is trying to gain benefits at the expense of his colleagues, while assuming a heroic position against corruption.
Although these positions are clear, no one dared to reprimand Abdel-Rehim. Hence, he felt stronger than everyone else, including the Syndicate chairman Mr. Makram Mohamed Ahmed, who was himself accused by Abdel-Rehim during the recent crisis of being a Zionist, atheist and traitor.
Since the invitation to the conference against religious discrimination was circulated, Abdel-Rehim has openly said that he would use all means to prevent it from taking place at Syndicate, but no one took him seriously, including Mr. Ahmed.
Two different views led to this problem. While chairman of the Syndicate speaks about “freedom of expression and dialogue, Abdel-Rehim, supported by some other members of the council (notably deputy Mr. Abdel-Mohsin Salama) propagates views that Islam is under threat, and that Bahais are infidels and atheists. In the end, Mr. Makram Ahmed expressed his sorrow and Abdel-Rehim and his colleagues agreed to appear before a toothless and powerless investigative committee.
This crisis is a real affront to the history of the Syndicate as a place open for all political affiliations and ideologies. But we must confess that journalists carry some of the blame because Abdel-Rehim was elected by journalists even though they knew his stances because he has always been vocal about them.
So why on earth are some journalists so hard on him?
This is a warning message to journalists that elections are not a time for horse-trade negotiations. Rather they are an occasion to think deeply about appropriate candidates who can make the Syndicate a fortress of freedom, not a battlefield for backwardness.
Sameh Fawzy is an Egyptian journalist, PhD researcher, and specialist on governance and citizenship.