Journalists finally cast their votes in syndicate elections

Egypt’s journalists began voting today to elect a new chairperson and board of directors for their syndicate.

From early morning, journalists poured into the headquarters of the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo, with police officers re-directing traffic to make room for the journalists, media workers, political activists and observers who filled the street outside.

The committee responsible for running the elections extended the time for voter registration so as to meet the minimum number of voters required for the poll. At around 3:30 pm, the minimum figure was met, with 50 percent of members (2959 out of 5916) on the list.

Five candidates are running for the post of chairman, but the electoral contest is centered on Yehya Qalash, who is backed largely by young and secular journalists, and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed journalist Mamdouh al-Wali.

For the first time, the Brotherhood has declared it is backing five journalists for board membership positions, and chose to back Wali as a candidate for the chairmanship. Wali has said he is not a Brotherhood member.

Whereas under President Hosni Mubarak the battle was regularly between a pro-Mubarak and an anti-Mubarak figure, both candidates in the current elections have a history of being outspoken critics of the former president.

The chairs of Egypt's various professional syndicates are expected to take part in drafting the nation’s new constitution once parliamentary elections are out of the way.

Many observers and syndicate members believe that this election – the first since the revolution – will test the abilities of those journalists who advocate revolutionary demands. However, others fear that the elections might bring some journalists who were loyal to the Mubarak regime back into power.

Most of the syndicate’s board members elected in the 2007 elections refrained from running in today's poll. The veteran journalist Makram Mohammed Ahmad, who was elected in 2007 as the chair of the syndicate, resigned in February after journalists protested in condemnation of his pro-Mubarak views.

There are 101 candidates contesting the 12 seats on the board. Around 70 of them  are considered young journalists with less than 15 years as members of the syndicate.

Not every Egyptian journalist is a member of the syndicate, which is said to have strict conditions for membership. Opening the syndicate’s membership to all journalists has been a demand of young journalists, and has been one of the key issues in this election.

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