Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 October 2008
Issue No. 917
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Don't hold your breath

Will elections at the Bar Association go ahead? No one is sure, writes Mona El-Nahhas

The Administrative Court yesterday resumed hearings of nearly 20 appeals filed by lawyers demanding a halt to the Bar Association elections due on 14 November. The court is expected to pass its ruling within two weeks, leaving little time for candidates to campaign.

Petitioners claim that the professional syndicates law under which polls are to be staged will leave the vote open to electoral fraud. They are arguing that elections should instead be regulated by Law 100/1993 which guarantees judicial supervision. Under amendments to the professional syndicates law, passed in June, lawyers working for branch syndicates in the provinces replace judges in supervising elections.

If the court orders a halt to the poll the election process will be back to square one, with responsibility for regulating the vote shifting from the chief justice of the Appeals Court to the head of Cairo Southern Court.

"It will take at least a year for the nomination process to be reinstituted," Gamal Tageddin, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a candidate for the syndicate council, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

With worries growing that any ruling will annul next month's polls, many candidates have stalled their campaigns until the court decides whether or not the elections go ahead. In the few campaign meetings that have been convened a new draft law regulating the legal profession, amending registration procedures at the syndicate and improving the level of services provided to lawyers emerged as the main issues.

"Restoring the dignity of the profession, improving working conditions and upgrading the quality of advice provided by lawyers top my electoral programme," announced prominent lawyer Ragie Atteya during an electoral conference held last month.

Although he is a member of the ruling NDP, Atteya has not received government backing in the upcoming elections. His intention is to avoid being linked with any political bloc. "I am standing as a candidate for all lawyers, regardless of their political affiliations," Atteya has repeatedly stressed.

In the 2001 and 2005 Bar Association elections the Muslim Brotherhood supported Atteya, though this year it is unclear whether the pattern will be repeated. The Muslim Brotherhood has refused to reveal who it will support for the post of chairman, and is in any case far more concerned with gaining a majority on the council than chairing the syndicate. It is competing for all 41 council seats.

"The real battle will not begin before outstanding legal issues are settled," says Tageddin. And that, he argues, will be done in the government's favour.

Some lawyers see a halt to the elections as only a remote possibility. They believe the elections will be held on schedule but do not discount the possibility of government interference in election results.

During a meeting earlier this week in Sohag, Talaat El-Sadat, a candidate for the post of Bar Association chairman, criticised the ruling NDP's " flagrant interference in syndicate elections".

Bahaa Fikri, a leading member of the NDP in Minya, recently announced his backing for El-Sadat's rival, former syndicate chairman Sameh Ashour.

Ashour, a Nasserist whose hostility to the former Brotherhood-controlled syndicate council is no secret, has not included a single Brotherhood candidate on his electoral list which is dominated by the NDP.

"Ashour's alliance with the government is clear to everyone," Tageddin said. "He will be handed the chairmanship seat in return for replacing the MB syndicate council with a governmental one."

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