Yahya Qallash and Abdul M. Salama Image Credit: Supplied

Cairo: Head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate Yahya Qallash, who is facing a jail sentence for sheltering wanted colleagues, lost his bid for re-election on Friday.

Qallash, who led the union for two years, got 1,890 votes against his rival Abdul Mohssen Salama who got 2,457 votes in a highly polarising election. Salama is the managing editor of the state flagship newspaper Al Ahram.

Qallash, 61, conceded defeat and urged journalists to get united to face what he called “challenges ahead”.

Last November, Qallash and two other journalists, were awarded two-year jail sentence after being convicted of harbouring two journalists charged with inciting unauthorised antigovernment protests. An appeals court will rule on their appeals on March 25.

In May last year, police raided the syndicate’s building in central Cairo and arrested the two journalists.

The unprecedented raid on the office of 75-year old journalists union sparked angry protests from journalists, but also triggered divisions within the media community.

Pro-government journalists accused Qallash and the union’s then board of politicising the crisis and antagonising state institutions but

Qallash’s supporters said freedom of the press was at the heart of his dispute with authorities.

During his campaign for the syndicates’s election, Salama said he would focus on improving the financial and professional status of journalists if elected. Salama, who denied he was the government’s candidate, criticised Qallash’s stance on the crisis.

In an apparent attempt to heal rifts triggered in the run-up to the vote, Salama on Friday night called for unity among the journalist fraternity.

“Long live unity of journalists!” he said in his victory address. “I’ll work to give a boost to our profession,” Salama, in his late 50s, added.

The syndicate has said that 24 journalists are still in jail. The government says that they have been charged or convicted of offences unrelated to their job.

Qallash, known for his leftist leanings, was elected as the head of the independent union of journalists in 2015.

His tenure was marred by tensions between the union and the government of President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who took office in mid-2014.

Al Sissi has on several occasions criticised the media for causing problems for Egypt by publishing what he said were inaccurate reports.

Qallash has repeatedly advocated for freedom of the press and accused security agencies of violating the union’s independence.