CAIRO: Journalists have launched a hunger strike to protest the Journalists’ Syndicate’s refusal to grant them membership.
They say that they are being denied syndicate membership for political reasons.
Around 40 journalists employed at independent newspapers launched a hunger strike on Saturday and are staging a 24-hour sit-in at the syndicate’s downtown headquarters.
The syndicate was scheduled to officially announce which journalists have been granted membership on Tuesday.
According to unofficial reports, the applications of 85 journalists have been rejected.
Fatma El-Hag, who works with opposition daily El-Ghad, displayed some of the articles she has had published in the syndicate lobby.
“I’m on hunger strike and am taking part in the sit-in because of the syndicate’s refusal to give me membership despite the fact that I fulfill all the conditions required, El-Hag said.
El-Hag showed Daily News Egypt an interview she published with syndicate head Makram Mohamed Ahmed.
“How is it that the syndicate head will agree to be interviewed by me, but will not let me be a member of his syndicate? she asked.
Journalist Omar Said, from independent daily El-Badeel, described the committee examinations held in August 2008 which govern syndicate membership.
“These examinations are meant to be vocational, to establish whether the person being tested is actually a journalist or not and no more. The committee should ask questions along the lines of ‘define a news report, define an investigation.’
“It is not the committee’s right however, to assess a journalist’s standard – because the syndicate is meant to be open to all journalists. The only conditions for syndicate membership are that the applicant is Egyptian, and that he or she has been working at a newspaper for at least three months.
In a joint statement issued Monday, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement condemned the way new journalists are denied membership of the “only journalists’ syndicate in Egypt.
“The committee for the registration of new members of the syndicate had earlier held a meeting where it looked into new membership application forms to ensure that they were in accordance with rules stipulated in the Journalists’ Syndicate Law, the statement explains.
“However, the large number of applications [around 278] made the committee put aside the rules and resort to political background and nepotism in accepting new members of the syndicate.
Said confirmed the political nature of some of the questions asked during the examination.
“Not only were invalid questions asked during the oral examinations, but some of them had a state security aspect: I was asked whether I am a member of a workers organization or not, and other people were asked about their political views – about their opinion on the events of April 6, for example, Said told Daily News Egypt.
ANHRI says that journalists working for government-controlled newspapers were all granted membership.
“This political orientation made journalists affiliated to independent newspapers such as Al-Dostour and El-Badeel, as well as partisan newspaper El-Ghad, pay the price for their critical stance by refusing syndicate membership to 19 journalists of the three newspapers – all this, while all journalists working for government-controlled newspapers were granted membership.
Said also questioned the relevance of some of the questions asked.
“Really trivial questions were also asked, such as ‘who is the eldest, Ali Amin or Mostafa Amin?’ – Ali and Mostafa are twins, both working as journalists. This is their understanding of an examination.
While many Egyptian journalists pursue their profession despite being denied membership of the Journalists’ Syndicate, this makes them vulnerable to criminal prosecution, as ANHRI’s statement points out.
“Although the Egyptian government largely applies free market policies and is committed to privatization, it still denies professional syndicates the right to diversity, the statement reads.
“This situation puts professionals, including journalists, in a critical position when they are deprived of syndicate membership, denying them the few privileges conferred on them by law.
“This lies in the shadow of the attack launched by the government on freedom of the press, and the criminal prosecution of many journalists on claims that they are not members of the Journalists’ Syndicate.