Winds of change blowing from the Journalists Syndicate?

A look at the political scene allows us to draw one conclusion: All the elements necessary for change are available. It is not at all unlikely that the coming two years will witness a series of events that will put an end to one era and set the stage for another that we hope will allow Egypt to rise to its feet and launch a process of reform to compensate for lost opportunities locally, regionally and internationally.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that "change" is the word on Egyptians’ minds, whether they say it or not. It’s the magic word that can unite all Egyptians. It is no secret that Egypt has grown bored of calls to keep the status quo that has turned the country into a stagnant pond.

My statement is supported by ample evidence in Egypt’s current political and social climate. Almost daily we are informed by mass media that movements have been formed to fight corruption, the transfer of power, and the rigging of elections, or to call for change.

These are signs that the patience of Egypt’s elite is fraying. Not only do the elite reject the current state of affairs but they’re also ready to introduce change and bear the cost of it.

In today’s article, I’m not going to discuss political mobility in its entirety. I’m focusing on one event which I believe is representative of the whole phenomenon: The Journalists Syndicate elections whose first round took place on Sunday. In that first round, competition was intense between experienced journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed, who is backed by the government and the National Democratic Party, and Diaa Rashwan, who is much younger and has the support of most of the opposition.

According to the traditional official analyses, Ahmed, the government and NDP candidate, was expected to win by a landslide in the first round, because: 1) He is highly competent compared with the heads of other national press associations; 2) He has considerable experience in the field that allowed him to win the position of Syndicate head several times before; 3) He is keen on retaining a degree of independence and a margin of freedom that have allowed him to express differences with officials, all while steering clear of trading barbs, unlike his fellow chief editors of some national newspapers.

Although I didn’t entirely rule out the possibility that Ahmed would win in the first round, I was confident that his potential victory would be subject to a number of factors. First, Egyptian journalists, like all Egyptians, are yearning for change. Second, Rashwan belongs to a segment of youth that combines knowledge and talent, and he is more capable of embodying the dreams of this generation and leading the process of change.

Rashwan belongs to a generation aware of the oppression to which past generations have been subjected, when certain unfair conditions empowered journalists of limited talent and allowed them to control national journalism. Ingenious journalists such as Fahmi Howeidy, Salama Ahmed Salama, the late Salah el-Din Hafez, and Mohamed Awad were therefore deprived of well-deserved leadership positions. This explains Rashwan’s determination not to let this happen again.

It never occurred to me though that Rashwan would get 1458 votes compared to 1497 votes to Ahmed, and that the experienced Ahmed would have to go for a run-off vote. I have to confess, too, that the result came as a happy surprise to me, not because I believe Rashwan to be a better candidate but because I think he’s a more rightful winner, considering the desire for change.

Ahmed, who is a close friend, is in his 80s and has been given plenty of opportunities. He has nothing more to give. Despite his keenness on retaining a margin of independence, he has linked himself to a political system that I believe has lost its legitimacy and has nothing more to offer Egypt in general and the youth in particular.

Let’s now examine what could happen in today’s run-off election. All reports that I have seen point out that the ruling party is in a state of emergency, and that Ahmed Ezz, a prominent NDP member and one of the richest billionaires in Egypt, is leading the run-off election battle and employing every means to secure a victory for Makram Mohamed Ahmed. Those reports also indicate that the state-owned Middle East News Agency sent instructions to its team abroad to vote for Ahmed and attached free plane tickets.

Those reports, if correct, don’t only imply a violation of established journalistic norms and traditions, but also a gross financial violation that can subject its perpetrators to punishment. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the journalists and technical workers who have been summoned, and who may have been enlisted at a certain point in time as members of the Journalists Syndicate, will necessarily vote for Ahmed.

The competition is between government and opposition, stagnation and change. Egypt as a whole seems to be primed for a change that can only be led by the opposition.

I hoped that Ahmed would withdraw from the run-off as soon as the results of the first round were announced. I also think that he is perfectly aware that those who voted for Rashwan were not actually voting against Ahmed as a person, or his professional history, but were rather voting against the NDP candidate, and for change.

I also believe that Ahmed is perfectly aware that the NDP should take the credit if he wins. Therefore, if he wins his position as syndicate head will be weaker in the face of the government and the NDP and he will be less understanding of the demands of journalists. So, it would have been better for Ahmed to give way to the other candidate and not stand as an obstacle to change.

It’s often said that a syndicate head belonging to the NDP is desired, because he can serve the interests of the profession and its people. But I think that such a statement is false, because undoubtedly the majority of Egyptian journalists are aware that defending rights, and primarily the freedom of the press, is the shortest way to gaining economic and social rights.

Trading freedom for bonuses and apartments only means that we accept corruption and oppression, and acquiesce to the transfer of power. That would mean maintaining the status quo for another forty years!

If I were a member of the Journalists Syndicate, I would unhesitatingly give my vote to Rahswan. With all due respect given to Ahmed, I think Rahswan can better represent the demands for change. So I ask, are the winds of change blowing from the Journalists Syndicate at this time? I hope so.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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