Lawyers turn to Muslim Brotherhood for leadership

Lawyers turn to Muslim Brotherhood for leadership

CAIRO // Egyptian lawyers voted last week to return the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, to the leadership of the country’s most powerful professional syndicate.


The move follows nearly a decade of what many lawyers saw as government control over their syndicate by Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).


Although the lawyers’ syndicate elections are not a strictly political exercise – the campaigns focus mostly on debates over health care, pensions and other social benefits for lawyers – they are closely watched. Even under Egypt’s autocratic regime, judges and lawyers are given more political space than most to deviate from official government policy in their judgments and prosecutions. For that reason, elections for the syndicate, which functions as a bar association, represent a revealing interstice in Egypt’s tightly controlled political environment.


The results, which were announced yesterday, showed that Hamdy Khalifa, who is the head of the Giza branch of the syndicate, was able to oust his incumbent rival, Sameh Ashour, by nearly 5,000 votes out of the 75,000 voting lawyers.


The Brotherhood, an officially outlawed but widely tolerated Islamist political organisation, backed a list of 12 candidates for 15 open seats on the syndicate’s 41-member council.


 Nine of the Brotherhood-backed candidates won seats, said Mohammed Tosson, a lawyer and spokesman for the Brotherhood.


“After our winning in the bar, the people will now be more sure that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a majority and that we are winning,” Mr Tosson said. He added that although the group’s victory will probably amplify government opposition to the Brotherhood, it will also give them a greater role in contesting national and local election results.


“This will allow us to challenge the government’s election fraud. From the elections in the students’ union up to the legislative councils … all of them are fraudulent,” he said. “There is a committee in the syndicate that defends electoral freedoms that can reveal the government’s methods to the people. That’s why the government always keeps an eye on the syndicate and it always gets involved in the syndicate elections.”


Neither the Brotherhood nor the ruling party explicitly backed a candidate for the chairmanship, but Mr Tosson acknowledged that Mr Khalifa benefited from lawyers aligned with the Brotherhood, who came out in force for the election. Many lawyers, meanwhile, considered a vote for Mr Ashour a vote for the ruling NDP, of which he is not a member.


Mr Ashour, who chaired the syndicate for nearly two full four-year terms starting in 2001, was removed from the chairmanship position in February amid allegations of vote-tampering and misappropriation of syndicate funds. Mr Ashour’s candidacy delayed the syndicate elections, which were supposed to be held in October, for seven months as an administrative court debated whether he should be allowed to run for a third term.


The controversy surrounding Mr Ashour formed the crux of one of the campaign’s most salient issues: restoring integrity to the legal profession, which some lawyers feel has been compromised by allegations of corruption.


“Sadly enough, the state of the lawyers’ profession in Egypt is going from bad to worse,” said Talaat Sadat, one of the candidates for chairman and a member of the People’s Assembly. Mr Sadat is also the nephew of Anwar Sadat, a former Egyptian president. “The lawyers’ syndicate chairman did what the ruling party wanted him to do. It reached the point where the security forces were always present in the syndicate and had the upper hand in any decision.”


But among the lawyers who were drinking tea recently at the syndicate’s club in downtown Cairo, discussion of the election focused almost entirely on the syndicate leadership’s primary duty: helping its members by improving their salaries, securing healthcare benefits and even giving them holidays and homes.


Many lawyers were impressed with Mr Khalifa while he was chairman of the Giza lawyers’ syndicate, for which he built a brand new clubhouse in 6th of October City outside Cairo.


“I dream of a building like the engineers’ syndicate. If we had a good syndicate offering good services, we’d be able to do good work,” said Ahmed Abdul Fatah, 23, who said that although he had voted for Mr Ashour, he would support Mr Khalifa because his connections with both the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP might help resolve internal political tensions within the syndicate.


“The problem is that we earn peanuts, so if our wages improve, we might be able to live better,” he said.


His friend, who graduated with him in the same law school class, had a different opinion. “Sameh Ashour never helped the legal profession. He wanted to put limits on registering new lawyers and he made part-time lawyers pay full taxes,” said Rana Zain, 23. “Hamdy Khalifa should make some real changes to prove that he’s different from his predecessor.


The Source