Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Lack of confidence

A battle between the head of the Lawyers Syndicate and his opponents is heating up, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sameh Ashour, the chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate, was scheduled to hold a press conference at the syndicate’s downtown headquarters on Wednesday 9 March to reveal details about a planned emergency general assembly.

At the upcoming assembly, lawyers are to vote either for or against withdrawing confidence from Ashour. As the paper went to print, a date for holding the general assembly had not been set.

Ashour’s move is in response to calls by a large majority of lawyers who have been pressing to hold an emergency general assembly to withdraw confidence from the syndicate chairman. If the general assembly votes to withdraw confidence from Ashour, the 56-member syndicate council will be in charge until the election of a new syndicate chairman.

Speaking to Al-Youm Al-Sabei newspaper on 6 March, Ashour said he is ready for any confrontation with the lawyers.

Mohamed Othman and Abdel-Halim Allam, chairmen of two branch lawyer syndicates in Northern Cairo and Alexandria, started a campaign to collect signatures early last month, a legal procedure required to hold an emergency general assembly. Othman and Allam, both former allies of Ashour, were quoted as saying that it was necessary to take such a step to put an end to corruption at the Lawyers Syndicate.

Syndicate sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Othman and Allam started to turn against Ashour and take the side of his opponents after deciding that Ashour no longer cared about their interests. Ashour did not oppose a decree passed last November by Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zend to divide branch syndicates into sub-branches. Such a decree, according to lawyers, will fragment branch syndicates and minimise the work of their current chairmen.

Signatures have been submitted to the syndicate council, according to Othman and Allam. Syndicate bylaws stipulate that the chairman must call for a general assembly within a month after receiving the signatures. If he does not take any action, the law stipulates that an emergency general assembly must be 30 days after receiving the signatures. The legal quorum for holding the general assembly requires the attendances of 1,500 lawyers.

The anti-Ashour camp set Saturday 12 March for holding the emergency assembly. Ashour is expected to set another date, one or two months later, to reportedly gain more time to thwart the lawyers standing against him. Ashour’s term in office is due to end in 2019.

News of meetings held between Ashour and chairmen of branch syndicates was recently leaked. Sources said Ashour hopes such meetings will give him the support he needs in the upcoming general assembly. However, mobilising members to vote in support of him will not be an easy job amid the anger of so many lawyers.

In fact, recent moves by Othman and Allam served plans by Islamist lawyer Montasser Al-Zayyat, who has been battling for months to remove Ashour from the chair seat.

Al-Zayyat, who ran against Ashour in last November’s elections at the Lawyers Syndicate, held a press conference at his office on 5 March to announce plans to escalate the fight against the current council, which he claimed was the a result of rigged polls.

Following the release of elections results in November, Al-Zayyat reported that violations including bribery had marred the syndicate council’s electoral process.

Ashour was named chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate on 8 November for the fourth time since 2002 after winning 22,982 votes. Al-Zayyat came in second with 17,120 votes. On 16 March, the Court of Cassation is due to hear an appeal filed by Al-Zayyat, contesting the authenticity of the results of the November polls.

At Saturday’s press conference, Al-Zayyat announced the formation of “Our Unity is Dignity”, a group that he says includes prominent lawyers with various political affiliations. “It will restore the role of the general assembly in controlling the performance of the syndicate council,” Al-Zayyat told the Weekly.

Defending the rights of lawyers and their interests, combatting corruption at the syndicate and drafting a new law for the profession will be among the main tasks of Our Unity is Dignity.

Lawyers have complained that Ashour is monopolising the decision-making process at the syndicate. The unequal distribution of syndicate revenues, the lack of control of expenditure, the poor health care provided to members and low pensions were the main reasons that led many lawyers to form the Tamarod movement, or rebellion, of lawyers late last year.

The movement announced it will not join hands with chairmen of the branch syndicates “who started to take action only after realising that their personal interests were threatened,” said Mohamed Karem from Tamarod, adding that they will work separately and continue taking all measures to withdraw confidence from Ashour.

“If the 12 March general assembly is not held, we will mobilise efforts to hold another,” Karem said, claiming that his movement has already collected more than 30,000 signatures from lawyers.

Al-Zayyat vowed to act likewise if Saturday’s general assembly is scratched. “I have nothing personal against Ashour. All I care about is the syndicate and the lawyers,” Al-Zayyat said. “For the last 15 years, the role of the syndicate as the fortress of freedom has deteriorated thanks to Ashour.”

Al-Zayyat has served as defence counsel for individuals linked to Islamist groups since their rise in the 1980s. He has been part of the defence team in many cases involving Islamists. His most high-profile client is former president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

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