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Former chair of Al-Ahram describes Sisi's supporters as "barking dogs"

Ahmad Al-Sayyid Al-Najjar

The dispute between journalist Ahmad Al-Sayyid Al-Najjar, who resigned last Wednesday from his position as Al-Ahram Board Chairman – which is Egypt's biggest state-owned newspaper, and the supporters of the regime of Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, including journalists and parliamentarians, grew sharper.

In a statement released by him, Al-Najjar announced that he resigned his position more than three years ago to protest against the early decisions made by the National Press Association which prohibited board chairpersons from taking any financial or administrative decision during the coming period without first reporting to the Association. He also stressed that he objected to remaining in a post without a mandate.

Al-Najjar concluded his resignation statement by saying: "You have your firm and I have my knowledge and my independent will and my stance in support of the best interests of the homeland including its territorial integrity all the way from Tiran and Sanafir to Al-Sallum." In saying so, he was clearly implying that he had been subjected to harassment because of his stance on the controversial decision by the government to relinquish the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

The National Press Association announced that it had unanimously accepted Al-Najjar's resignation with immediate effect. The resignation was made just hours before the Association held its first meeting upon its formation by virtue of a Republican Decree issued by coup leader Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi.

"Barking dogs"

In his articles during the past few months, Al-Najjar repeatedly criticised the regime and adopted positions uncommon from state journalists. He defended Al-Azhar against the fierce campaign launched by the regime's media against it. He wrote: "Respect the value and rank of Al-Azhar and its noble sheikh. Al-Azhar, after all, is a centre for the Islamic world; it is part of Egypt's moral might in the world."

In the days that followed his resignation, pro-regime media outlets launched a campaign against Al-Najjar that included accusations and complaints of corruption as well as charges of administrative transgressions during his chairmanship of Al-Ahram.

Responding to accusations made against him by pro-regime supporters that he was embroiled in financial and administrative corruption during his chairmanship of Al-Ahram, Al-Najjar said in press statements released on Friday that "all these are rumours and lies to which I shall not respond except with the recitation of a famous poetic maxim: if I were to throw a stone into the mouth of every dog that barks, the stone would be valued in gold."

Al-Najjar added: "I cannot say for sure that the political disagreement with the regime is the reason behind these accusations. But I would call on whoever has evidence against me to bring it forward and hand it over to the prosecutors." With reference to the group that make these charges against him he said, "if it is acting on behalf of the regime, this would be truly shameful."

Objecting to interventions by the Press Association

Commenting on Al-Najjar's resignation, Salah Eissa, a  journalist and writer close to the regime, ruled out the possibility that Al-Najjar's resignation had political dimensions or had anything to do with his opposition to the Tiran and Sanafir agreement. He went on to say: "Many months ago, Al-Najjar declared his opposition to the decision to redraw the border lines with Saudi Arabia and no one could bring him down until he submitted his resignation out of his own free will."

He told Arabi 21 that the reason for resigning was explained by Al-Najjar himself in his resignation statement, namely that he objected to intervention by the National Press Association in his own decisions."

Eissa expected that major changes might take place in the Egyptian press in the coming days after the closure of the Supreme Press Council and its replacement with the National Press Association. The latter has become the actual owner of national daily newspapers and the authority responsible for putting forward new standards and criteria for the establishment of private newspapers. It issues them with the appropriate licenses in a bid to rescue the newspapers from disappearing as a result of the economic crisis.

The regime can't stand opposition

Human rights activist Muhammad Zari said that "the regime and its supporters demanded more than once the resignation of Al-Najjar because of his patriotic position of opposing Egypt's surrender of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia."

In a statement to Arabi 21, Zari said that "changing the circumstances of the press and establishing the National Press Association were also responsible for Al-Najjar's resignation. It was obvious he was going to be brought down as part of the process of replacing the chiefs of the national newspapers." He affirmed the existence of "personalisation of some matters within the National Press Association" and that "some of its members are settling scores with their critics."

He explained that "it had already been decided to topple Al-Najjar and strip him of his post but he took the initiative of submitting his own resignation so as not to embarrass himself or his history." He drew attention to the fact that Al-Najjar pointed out in his resignation that there was "clear intervention by the Association in his work."

As for the charges of corruption, Zari said that "the lobby mobilised by the security agencies within Al-Ahram is the one that makes the charges and lodges the complaints against Al-Najjar and accuses him of squandering the foundation's funds." He stressed that "the aim of these spiteful complaints was to damage his reputation because the regime is not used to being opposed by someone who works in a state-owned newspaper such as Al-Ahram in a manner similar to that pursued by Al-Najjar in his position toward Tiran and Sanafir."

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