Egyptian journalists Wednesday vowed to ban printing the interior minister’s name in an escalating row with the government over a police raid at their union and the arrest of two colleagues.
“We agreed to prohibit the publication of the interior minister’s name and to publish only his picture in negative in a preliminary step towards banning all news of the Interior Ministry until the minister is dismissed,” the Journalists' Syndicate said at the end of an emergency general assembly meeting.
The internet portal of flagship state newspaper al-Ahram was among several newspaper websites to print minister Magdi Abdul-Ghaffar's photograph in negative in compliance with the decision.
In recent weeks, tensions have grown between authorities and the syndicate, which accused police of standing by while pro-government demonstrators attempted to storm its headquarters last month.
On Sunday night, a police force stormed the syndicate and arrested journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Saqqa, who were staging a sit-in inside the building allegedly after repeated police raids on their houses, witnesses said.
The syndicate's board called for the meeting to discuss its response to what its officials said was the worst attack by authorities on their union since it was founded 75 years ago.
In response, hundreds of the union’s members Wednesday rallied to its building in central Cairo despite a heavy police presence.
Sacking Interior Minister Magdi Abdul-Ghaffar was the “solution to the crisis,” the independent union said in a statement.
The syndicate also called on the country’s publications to run blank front pages on Sunday as part of the anti-government protest.
It also called for an official apology from the office of President Abdul-Fattah al-Sissi and threatened a general strike if its demands were not met within a week.
“The issue is not the arrest of two journalists,” Gamal Abdel-Raeheem, a member of the union’s board, told hundreds of colleagues who gathered inside its headquarters. “The issue is the insult of the Journalists’ Syndicate.”
In the run-up to the meeting, police sealed off the street leading to the union's premises. Officers in uniform and plain clothes gave access only to journalists who showed the syndicate's membership card.
Several journalists gathered outside the building and chanted anti-government slogans.
"O Freedom, where are you? The Interior [Ministry] is standing between you and me," they shouted. "Long live the struggle of journalists."
Other colleagues stood in silence, wearing black vests with a slogan that read "journalism is not a crime."
Metres away, scores of government loyalists were kept behind police-manned iron barriers. They waved the national flag and held portraits of al-Sissi, an ex-army chief, while playing pro-army songs on loudspeakers and chanting pro-al-Sissi slogans.
Some of them shouted: “We don’t want journalism.”
Police armoured vehicles were stationed nearby.
Prominent opposition activist and al-Ahram journalist Khaled Daoud wrote on his Facebook page that he had been attacked by the loyalist demonstrators and his clothes torn before he was rescued by two police officers.
Badr and al-Saqqa, who worked for an anti-government news website, face charges of spreading false news, inciting unauthorized protests and plotting to overthrow the regime.
The Interior Ministry denied police forces had stormed the syndicate.
The country's chief prosecutor said police had acted lawfully and issued a gag order on the case.
The syndicate said it would appeal the gag order and called on parliament to amend and clarify the law on the prosecution's power to impose such orders, which have been issued in a number of recent controversial cases.
In recent years, the Journalists' Syndicate has been a focal point for anti-government demonstrations in Egypt.