Problems on hold
It is now six years on the 25 January 2011 Arab Spring uprising in Egypt. We recall this date as one that brought in positive and negative impacts and changed the face of Egypt. We remember the outburst of Egyptian anger at the state of affairs Egypt had come to under longtime President Hosni Mubarak. Back then the Mubarak-controlled National Democratic Party (NDP) exercised hegemony over the political scene in Egypt to the point of sweeping all the seats of parliament in the 2010 parliamentary elections; the NDP was dissolved later in 2011 once Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011. There was also an alleged plan for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president of Egypt, apparently in a replay of the provocative Syrian model which a few years earlier elected Bashar al-Assad to follow his father Hafez al-Assad as President.
I do not intend to reminisce on the circumstances and aftermath of the 25 January 2011 uprising; we experienced it first-hand and it is now up to historians to work on seriously and candidly recording this phase of Egypt’s contemporary history. This should obviously include the post-Arab Spring rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to power, and their bleak one-year Islamist rule of Egypt; also the brighter story of the massive Egyptian revolution on 30 June 2013, which rescued Egypt from the clutches of the MB.
The 25 January 2011 uprising left its imprint on Watani too. Prior to that date, it was the responsibility of Watani’s Board of Directors to appoint the paper’s editor-in-chief, a person who in journalistic norms exclusively holds editorial authority over the paper. The chief editor alone is responsible for designing the editorial policy and making sure it is implemented. Room for disagreement with the paper’s editorial team is limited. In State-owned papers sovereign State authorities appoint chairs of boards and chief editors. In independent papers, just as in Watani, the boards of directors appoint the chief editors.
In the wake of the 25 January uprising, a spree of wrathful rebellion caught with all sectors of Egyptians. Those who did not take to the streets to protest against whichever national issue or condition they disapproved of, or to call for specific demands, protested in front of government departments, companies and factories, demanding professional or economic benefits. Press institutions were no exception; multitudes of journalists—especially those belonging to the younger generation—protested against what they saw as curtailed freedom of expression, and called for removal of the chief editors of their papers.
Amid the discontent and turmoil-filled climate, it was impossible to overlook the new reality on the ground or reject the demands of journalists. Watani decided to invite its journalists to have a say in the editorial policy design and sound their opinion regarding their chief editor, whether they accepted or rejected him. If rejected, he should tender his resignation and a new one would be appointed by the board. In fact, Watani’s initiative came before any protest reached its doors. We decided to capitalise on the general mood of rebellion, since we realised it could give rise to balanced, candid dialogue and involvement of subordinates in decision making.
Accordingly, as editor-in-chief of Watani I called for a referendum on whether the existing chief editor should remain or leave. I vowed to myself to abide by the outcome of the referendum which was conducted under the full control and supervision of representatives of the editorial team. I promised to tender my resignation to the board of directors in case the majority voted for changing the editor-in-chief. I also pledged to hold a meeting that would include all members of the editorial team to discuss the editorial policy, and that decisions should be taken democratically through a majority vote.
Members of the editorial team enthusiastically responded to the referendum, and the result was the desire of the majority not to change the editor-in-chief. This was coupled with a host of ideas and opinions related to developing the editorial policy. These ideas were discussed and developed during the meetings that followed the referendum, and decisions were voted for, taking these ideas to the following stage of implementation. Ever since February 2011 when the first referendum on changing the editor-in-chief was carried out in Watani, the same tradition has been kept every year. Next week will witness this year’s referendum which will be carried out under the same measures and mechanisms. I care to note that this tradition has generated a deep sense of belonging among Watani’s journalists, entrenched their faith in its editorial policy and objectives, and fostered among them a keenness for positive participation in criticising and evaluating their paper as well as for developing their own professional skills.
I already mentioned that 25 January 2011 was a date that changed the face of Egypt and had both positive and negative impacts. More important, it moved stagnant waters and gave birth to new concepts.
5 February 2017