Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 October 2006
Issue No. 817
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Back to square one

Official foot dragging over setting a date for elections to the Engineers' Syndicate has led some to argue that a parallel organisation be set up, reports Mona El-Nahhas

"In a society where freedoms are absent and despotism rife, it's understandable for people to think of establishing free organisations to replace those in control of the state," says Omar Abdellah.

A former council member of the Engineers' Syndicate, Abdellah is among those proposing that a new syndicate be established, parallel to the original one which has been under judicial sequestration since 1995.

But how can a parallel syndicate be formed? Will it receive any official approval? How will it function? And what will happen if the sequestration imposed on the original syndicate is lifted?

These are questions, says Abdellah, that are currently being investigated by a group of legal experts whose answers are expected to be available by mid-November.

Nor, should they go ahead, argues Abdellah, will engineers be the first to form a grouping that operates parallel to an older, already existing organisation. He points out that the 9 March movement for the independence of universities was formed parallel to university professors clubs and that university students established the Free Students Union as a response to state intervention in the results of student union elections. More recently, following disputes between independent and state-owned newspapers, the latter threatened to form a press syndicate of their own.

The idea of forming a parallel engineers' syndicate was the brainchild of engineering consultant Mamdouh Hamza. During an Iftar banquet organised by the anti-sequestration group of engineers last week Hamza spoke to the guests about the idea and was greeted with applause.

The independent Al-Masry Al-Yom, however, quoted housing expert Milad Hanna as mocking Hamza's idea as illogical.

While admitting that forming a parallel syndicate is no easy job, Abdellah believes the state has left no other choice.

For 11 years engineers have been struggling to have the sequestration order lifted, staging sit-ins, organising street protests and setting up anti- sequestration groups. During their long struggle they have received dozens of promises from state officials that fresh elections at the Engineers' Syndicate were imminent. Several dates for holding elections were set by Irrigation Minister Mahmoud Abu Zeid, in his capacity as the Engineers' Syndicate's supervisor.

"Yet none of the deadlines has been met. Instead legal pretexts have been cited as a pretext for not going ahead with elections. Once we were told that time was needed to update voters' lists. Another time it was said that the general assembly which had set the election date had no right to do so," says Abdellah.

"We got fed up of the state's policy of procrastination and its inability to keep its word."

Judge Farouk Sultan, the newly appointed head of the Cairo Southern Court and the man in charge of supervising elections at professional syndicates, has promised that nominations will open as soon as voters' lists are sorted out, though he declined to set a date for when this might happen. Such promises now carry little weight with engineers, who point out that Sultan's predecessor, Judge Hanaa El-Mansi, had gone even further, setting a date for nominations, only to go back on the decision.

Engineers have warned that if a date is not set for elections before the end of 2006, then voters' lists will legally have to be reviewed once again, sending the whole process back to square one.

Observers believe the reason behind the delay in holding elections at the Engineers' Syndicate is the same as that leading to the postponement of municipal elections to 2008; state officials fear that Islamist candidates will sweep the board.

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