Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Wednesday replaced the chief editors of several state-owned newspapers, a move journalists believe could change the print media landscape in the post-Mubarak era.
Sharaf, who is widely supported by Egypt’s youth, appointed 17 journalists as chairmen of boards and chief editors in seven official papers.
“The new names indicate that the government is responding to the demands of the revolution by removing all corrupt journalists who transformed the state-owned media that belongs to the people into a platform to serve the former regime,” said Salah Abdel Maksoud, chargé d'affaires of Egypt’s Journalists’ Syndicate.
Major state-run papers have witnessed a sharp decline in revenues in the last decade, a condition observers attribute to its uncritical editorial policy with regard to the ruling regime and the emergence of several privately-owned newspapers that have adopted more vocal stances.
In 2005, a major reshuffle of leadership positions in government-owned newspapers was seen as yet a further step to consolidate the political position of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak; some of his stooges were appointed to key positions.
The toppled 81-year-old ruler had been grooming his younger son to succeed him.
Following Egypt’s 19-day revolution, which ended on 11 February with Mubarak's resignation, journalists at various state-owned papers protested to demand the resignation of their chief editors.
Media experts also criticized the "opportunistic and hypocritical" attitudes of state-owned papers, which have abruptly transformed their editorial policy following the revolution. Whereas before they slammed the opposition and glorified the former president, they now write in support of the revolution and its demands.
Only hours after millions of Egyptians forced Mubarak to resign on 11 February, Egypt’s flagship daily Al-Ahram led with the headline, “The people ousted the regime.” Throughout the revolution, however, the paper had dedicated all its coverage to defaming protesters and opposition leaders, such as presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei.
The new appointees include Labeeb al-Seba’aey as chairman of the board at Al-Ahram. He replaces Abdel Moneim Said, one of Gamal Mubarak’s closest aides.
“Al-Seba’aey is a professional, veteran journalist who was denied promotion to the top leadership position of Al-Ahram because of his independent views,” said Sayyed Mahmoud, a journalist at the state-run daily Al-Ahram, Egypt’s second largest newspaper in terms of distribution.
Arab nationalist Abdel Azim Hamad was appointed as Al-Ahram’s editor-in-chief, replacing the pro-Mubarak Usama Saraya, who had been harshly criticized for his poor and unprofessional editorial management. Among actions that drew criticism was his role in the infamous September 2009 photo in which Mubarak was shown as first before a group of other leaders, including US President Barack Obama.
Getting rid of pro-Gamal editors was also evident in state-run daily Rose al-Youssef, once considered the mouthpiece of the ruling National Democratic Party’s Policies Secretariat; the three main journalists responsible for the institution’s editorial policy were replaced.
Gamal Almadoul was appointed as the institution’s chairman in place of Karam Gabr, NDP member and former member of the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament.
Independent journalist Ibrahim Khalil was appointed as editor-in-chief of the paper and Usama Salama as the editor-in-chief of the Rose al-Youssef’s magazine, replacing Abdallah Kamal.
Gabr and Kamal devoted both the paper and the magazine to defending the former regime and slamming the opposition.
“All the nominations in Rose al-Youssef show that the purpose is to appoint professional and independent journalists in order to change the institution’s infamous editorial policy,” argued Mahmoud.
Adeil Abdel Aziz was appointed as the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Middle East News Agency (MENA), replacing Abdallah Hassan.
Following the revolution, journalists at MENA staged many protests and sit-ins calling for the ouster of the former chairman, whom the journalists held responsible for the agency’s shameful coverage of the revolution.
“My analysis is that such appointments don’t represent a big transformation. It’s just a step forward in order to calm down the journalists who are resentful of old editorial policies,” added Mahmoud.
“I didn’t say that these steps are the end of the road. We as a syndicate suggested to the cabinet to enable the journalists to elect the paper’s chairmen and editors-in-chief. This happened in the case of Al-Ahram where the journalists informally elected Hamad as editor-in-chief,” argued Abdel Maksoud.
Prominent secular intellectual Helmy al-Namnam was appointed as editor-in-chief of the acclaimed Al-Hilal monthly magazine, founded in 1892. Al-Hilal once had a remarkable effect on the culture of Egypt and the Arab World, but in the last decade, the magazine lost popularity.
Other appointments include Gamal Abu Bey, a long-standing correspondent in the presidential palace as editor-in-chief of Al-Massa daily.