CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's upper house of parliament named 50 new editors for state-owned newspapers on Wednesday, including several who have Islamist leanings, raising concerns among journalists of Islamizing the press.
The state-owned papers, run for years by secular-leaning editors, had a reputation as a mouthpiece for President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed last year.
Elections following the popular uprising put the Muslim Brotherhood in control of the parliament and the presidency. State-owned media formally belong to the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, and it was poised to put its stamp on the newspapers.
The lower house, also dominated by Islamists, was dissolved after a court ruled that elections for the body were conducted illegally.
The Brotherhood and its newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, have complained about negative press coverage, and the move by the Shura Council to replace the old editors with people more sympathetic to the Islamists was not a surprise.
Since the 1960s, the state-run press has been dominant, employing about 30,000 journalists and staff. The papers have run up deficits of 12 billion Egyptian pounds ($2 billion). However, over the past decade, many of its most respected journalists have moved to privately-owned papers, which increased in number and attracted large audiences.
Egypt's journalists' union is demanding that the Shura Council relinquish ownership. The union warned against turning the papers to a tool of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most influential Islamist group in Egypt. The syndicate has called a partial strike, including running blank columns on Thursday's papers.
"This is an attack on freedom of the press," said Khaled Meeri, a member of the union and advocate for freeing the papers from the state control. "From the new names, I see a desire to control the editorial policies of the papers and serve the agenda of the Freedom and Justice Party," he said, in a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm.
Several of the new editors named Wednesday appear to be linked to Islamists. Abdel-Nasser Salama, appointed chief editor of Al-Ahram, Egypt's oldest paper, was suspended from writing his weekly column in 2010 for inflammatory articles against Christians.
The new chief editor of Al-Akhbar daily, Mohammed Hassan al-Bana, is the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al-Bana.
Gamal Abdel-Rahim, new chief editor of el-Gomhouria, was accused by rights groups of inciting Muslims against the Bahai religious minority in 2009, when Muslim villagers attacked houses of Bahais, denouncing them as "enemies of God."
The Shura Council, headed by Ahmed Fahmi, who is Morsi's brother-in-law, formed a committee of 14 members to filter applicants for the editor posts.
The committee comprised six lawmakers, two professors, two administration experts and four journalists. Journalists who favor normalization with Israel or had strong ties with old regime were banned.
Two of the journalists resigned from the committee, voicing suspicions that the filtering process was not transparent and that Islamists were choosing their loyalists.