New life at syndicates
Syndicates in Egypt have traditionally played the dual role of trade union and professional association. They defend the rights of their members while at the same time upholding the standards of their professions. They have always been at the forefront of the fight for independence and democratisation.
Under Nasser the professional syndicates lost their independence and became, in effect, organs of government. Membership became compulsory and emphasis was placed on political issues, on pan-Arabism and the anti- imperialist struggle. Little was done at the time to defend syndicate members' rights or to advance their professions.
It was a situation further complicated by the controlled liberalisation adopted by presidents Sadat and Mubarak. Given legal restrictions on the forming of political parties professional syndicates became an important arena for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, they controlled many important professional syndicates -- Engineers, Lawyers and Doctors among them -- initially in coalition with the government to combat Marxist and nationalist forces, then later by themselves. The government cracked down in the mid-1990s when large syndicates were placed under government custody, effectively paralysing their activities.
Across the political spectrum -- including within the NDP -- moves are afoot to revive the democratic nature of syndicates. One example of this is the recent petition, signed by more than 100 engineers, demanding an extraordinary meeting of the syndicate's general assembly to organise free elections for the Engineers' Syndicate board.
This week's Soapbox speaker is an activist within the Engineers' Syndicate.