Arab journalist conference ignites state control row

Surrounded: journalists swamp the stage to demand a free and liberated press in Arab states

The official opening of the 10th Congress of the Federation of Arab Journalists in Cairo descended into chaos last week as angry delegates from the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists stormed the platform.

They demanded an end to Arab governments’ interference in their business, the beginning of a real debate on issues of concern to journalists and a free and democratic election to the Federation’s leading bodies.

The vast throng of government officials, doyens of the Arab press and star guests sat stunned as delegates, led by their president, Galal Aref, shouted down the boss of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram , Ibrahim Nafie, who was chairing the congress in his capacity as president of the federation.

For them Nafie embodies all that is wrong with the federation.

He has been the government’s choice to run Al-Ahram, the main state-funded Egyptian media conglomerate.

At the same time he has also been the boss of the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists as well as the Federation of Arab Journalists, representing 19 associations and trades unions of journalists across the Arab world.

As the platform struggled to regain control, Aref declared: “This federation has always been overburdened withArab political issues and disputes among political systems. Talking about the freedom of press and defending the journalists’ rights couldn’t hinder the accelerating deterioration of the Arab press and journalists’ status.”

He called for “the federation to be reclaimed as an independent entity that is constituted of independent syndicates aiming to liberate the Arab press and preserve journalists’ rights”.

As soon as the Egyptian delegates departed and the platform regained control, Aref and the others were condemned as “wreckers” and “splitters”

By Jim Boumelha

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