Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Confrontation at the Lawyers Syndicate

Friends and opponents of the Lawyers Syndicate chairman are mobilising support ahead of next week’s general assembly meeting, reports Mona El-Nahhas

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Hundreds of lawyers will assemble at the Lawyers Syndicate headquarters in Cairo on Sunday to vote on a motion of no confidence in Chairman Sameh Ashour and the Syndicate’s 56 Council members. Both Ashour and his opponents have strong support, meaning it is difficult to predict which camp will win.

 The legal quorum for the general assembly meeting requires 1,500 members to attend. If the assembly votes to withdraw confidence in the council and its chairman, elections for the vacant seats must be held within 60 days, according to syndicate bylaws.            

The call to hold the general assembly meeting came in response to requests presented by a majority of lawyers, who have been pressing since February for the dissolution of the present council.

They complain that Ashour has monopolised decision-making at the syndicate. An unequal distribution of revenues, lack of control over expenditure, poor healthcare and other services provided to members and low pensions were among the issues angering younger lawyers. 

In a statement issued this week, the “Protect the Syndicate” campaign, which opposes Ashour, revealed its charges against the current council. “Wasting syndicate funds, fragmenting branch syndicates, dividing lawyers into conflicting groups, and ignoring electoral promises are all reasons for the dismissal of Ashour and his council,” the statement said.

Islamist lawyer Montasser Al-Zayat, who came second to Ashour in last November’s syndicate elections, expects the coming general assembly to be decisive.

He has been battling for months to remove Ashour, but has also said he will not lead the anti-Ashour lawyers during the general assembly in order to allow them the freedom to run their own campaign.

“Accusations of being organised by Islamists could be levelled at the coming general assembly meeting if I was in the forefront,” Al-Zayat said. “For this reason I have decided to take a step back, while supporting the organisers.”

Al-Zayat has not yet decided whether he will run in forthcoming syndicate elections in case the chair of the council becomes vacant. “Before making any decision, I need to ask the opinion of the 17,000 lawyers who gave me their votes in the last polls,” he said.

Ashour was named chairman of the syndicate last November for the fourth time since 2002 after winning around 23,000 votes. His term in office is due to end in 2019.

The anti-Ashour moves were orchestrated by two former chairmen of the Alexandria and North Cairo branch syndicates, Abdel-Halim Allam and Mohamed Othman. In February, Allam and Othman collected the signatures of 1,117 syndicate members and presented them to the council, calling for an emergency general assembly meeting to vote on an issue of no confidence.

Both Allam and Othman lost their seats on their branch councils during April’s polls of the branch syndicates.

The two, former allies of Ashour, joined his opponents when Ashour did not oppose a decree passed in November by former justice minister Ahmed Al-Zend that divided some branch syndicates into sub-branches. The decree was intended to fragment the branch syndicates and marginalise their role, they said.

In a statement issued on 9 July, Othman said that Sunday’s assembly meeting would “put an end to syndicate corruption.” He denied any intention of standing for election to any syndicate post and called upon Ashour’s council to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the elections would be conducted transparently.

Not all the branch syndicates have opposed Ashour’s council, however. Five have announced their support for Ashour and the current council, and in a joint statement issued on 28 June the chairmen of the Suez, Port Said, Ismailia, Northern Sinai and Southern Sinai branches stressed their disapproval of attempts to topple the syndicate council.

They called for “strict disciplinary measures” to be taken against those acting against the syndicate council since last November’s elections.

Asked about his expectations of the upcoming general assembly meeting, Ashour told reporters at a press conference on 2 July that he was sure “all attempts to split syndicate unity” would fail.

Abdel-Gawad Ahmed, a syndicate council member, said the general assembly meeting would mark “the victory of lawyers” and the failure of those who had called for withdrawing confidence in Ashour.

Several campaigns have been launched to back the current council ahead of the general assembly, with the absence of any replacement for Ashour being given to justify support.

The “Support your Syndicate Chairman,” “Defend your Home” and “Protect Egypt” campaigns have all started to mobilise assembly members to vote for renewing confidence in the current council.

Naming Ashour as the “man of the moment”, members of the campaigns have tried to remind voters of Ashour’s achievements, referring mainly to his plans to build a new syndicate headquarters.

“Maintaining the unity of the syndicate has been the most important accomplishment of Ashour,” a statement issued on 9 July by the “Protect Egypt” campaign said.

“We will mobilise members on 17 July at the syndicate and its branches to renew confidence in Ashour in order to give him the chance to complete his achievements,” the statement said.

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