The undersecretary of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate has slammed Al-Ahram newspaper for its "insulting" coverage of the syndicate's emergency meeting on Wednesday, which aimed to decide the next moves in escalating tensions with the Interior Ministry.
The state-owned newspaper gave little room on Thursday's front page for the syndicate's emergency General Assembly, reporting that attendance had been relatively small, indicating limited support for the syndicate's stand-off with the ministry.
Giving priority to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's encounter with Korean investors in Egypt, Al-Ahram reported on the syndicate's meeting under the headlines "The general assembly of journalists has failed and turned into a meeting" and "Cracks in the walls of the journalist community".
Karim Mahmoud, the syndicate's undersecretary, expressed deep disappointment with the newspaper an interview with TV host Wael al-Ibrashy on the satellite channel Dream TV.
"Thursday's issue of the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper is an insult to the prestigious history of the Al-Ahram institution, as well as an insult to the syndicate itself," said Mahmoud.
According to Al-Ahram, the planned General Assembly meeting was a failure because there were not sufficient syndicate members in attendance, a claim hotly disputed by journalists on other newspapers.
In its front-page article, Al-Ahram wrote: "The majority of journalists did not respond to the calls of the Journalists Syndicate for a General Assembly, as 1,000 at the most showed up, out of 8,000 members of the syndicate… which is a clear indicator of a great division among journalists regarding what happened two days ago."
Wednesday's meeting had been called at a press on Monday morning. The syndicate's head, Yehia Qallash, said the body's council would hold a General Assembly to decide on action to be taken in response to the arrest on syndicate property of two journalists on Sunday.
In an apparently unprecedented move, a group of armed security officers had entered the syndicate headquarters on Sunday and arrested Amr Badr, editor-in-chief of yanair.net, and a journalist working for the same news website named Mahmoud al-Sakka. The two were arrested on a warrant from the General Prosecution on suspicion of inciting anti-government protests.
The arrests came as a part of a broader police crackdown on journalists since April 25, when mass anti-government protests had been planned in response to the transfer of two Red Sea islands from Egyptian control to that of Saudi Arabia. Protests had been building since April 8, when an agreement redrawing maritime borders was signed between the Egyptian president and Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz.
In anticipation of further protests on April 25, security forces had cordoned off the journalist syndicate's headquarters in downtown Cairo, a common location for anti-government protests. According to Khaled al-Balshy, the syndicate's undersecretary, 46 journalists were arrested while reporting on the day's events or passing through the area.
Almost a week later, on Sunday, May 1, police entered the syndicate headquarters to arrest Badr and Sakka, who had taken shelter there, sparking uproar among syndicate members, who claimed that the police had broken the law in entering the building without proper authorization and prior permission.
On Monday, syndicate head Qallash demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and called a General Assembly on Wednesday to decide on further action against the ministry.
However, according to Al-Ahram, the meeting on Wednesday amounted to nothing more than a "batch of young" journalists" chanting slogans against the interior minister.
Meanwhile, said the newspaper, many eminent journalists and editors-in-chief of privately-owned and state-run newspapers did not attend.
Al-Ahram's characterization of Wednesday's events is at odds with reports in most other Egyptian newspapers, which reported that "thousands" had attended the meeting, expressing their resentment at the recent police crackdown on journalists and issuing their demands.
Privately-owned newspaper Al-Dostour, for example, carried the headline, "An unprecedented mobilization in the General Assembly," above a report claiming that thousands of journalists had turned up for the General Assembly.
State-run Al-Gomhurriya carried the front-page headline, "Raise your head up high, you are a journalist". The paper described the scene outside syndicate headquarters on Wednesday as "historic".
Privately-owned paper Al-Shorouk's main headline — written in a bold, red letters — read, "The pen besieges the weapon".
Another headline, this time from Al-Shorouk's front-page, described the journalist's gathering as a "Historic meeting for the journalists".
Al-Akhbar echoed the sentiment on its front page, with this headline, "A journalistic uprising against the syndicate storming".
Al-Ahram was alone on Thursday in calling into question the motives of the syndicate's board in pursuing its stand-off with the Interior Ministry. On page three, the newspaper quoted "anonymous" journalists working for both private and state-owned newspapers as saying board members were simply trying to score points against the government for political reasons. The same sources claimed that in following the present course, the board members were undermining the image of journalists.
Meanwhile, the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) ignored the syndicate's meeting entirely in its press review, which summarizes the key articles in the national press. Like Al-Ahram, MENA focused on Sisi's meeting with Korean investors, followed by Sisi's visit to Farafra oasis, the acquittal of a Mubarak-era prime minister of graft charges, and the announcement of a state of emergency in some parts of Sinai.