Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Battle at the Lawyers Syndicate

The members of the Lawyers Syndicate Council have managed to keep their seats after a stormy meeting of the general assembly, writes Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The will of the lawyers has succeeded in overthrowing those who seek personal interests and those with political agendas,” Sameh Ashour, chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate, wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday following the announcement of the result of a vote of the syndicate’s general assembly.

After receiving a majority of the votes of the general assembly members, the 56-member council chaired by Ashour will now continue its term in office that will end in 2019.

Amid a tense atmosphere, hundreds of lawyers headed to the downtown Cairo headquarters of their syndicate to vote either for or against withdrawing confidence from Ashour’s council on Sunday.

The voting ended at 5pm, and according to the results 9,974 lawyers voted for renewing confidence in Ashour’s council, while 3,080 voted against it.

“The general assembly has said its final word. Calls for withdrawing confidence are attempts to drag the syndicate into sequestration and failure,” Ashour told the CBC Extra satellite TV channel, adding that such calls had “no legal grounds”.

In the wake of the result, several electoral violations were cited by Ashour’s opponents, who vowed to attempt to have the vote annulled.

Abdel-Halim Allam, former chairman of the Alexandria branch of the syndicate and one of the lawyers who had led the move against Ashour, said he had videos showing the “alarming size” of the electoral fraud that had marred the voting process.

“I will present the videos to the general prosecution,” Allam said.

The day of the general assembly meeting saw verbal clashes and even fist fights between supporters and opponents of Ashour. Facing each other, dozens of members of the two camps assembled at the entrance of the syndicate building chanting slogans and raising banners. The anti-Ashour camp chanted “Leave. Leave. We want a free syndicate,” while the other group replied with “We love you, Ashour”.

Islamist lawyer Montasser Al-Zayat filed a complaint at the Qasr Al-Nil police station accusing Ashour and his council of hiring thugs and of assaulting him during the vote. Eye-witnesses claim that Al-Zayat had been banned entry into the syndicate building to cast his vote.

Some lawyers also broke into the headquarters of the nearby Press Syndicate and assaulted photojournalists who were covering the general assembly, damaging their cameras and seizing their equipment.

In a meeting with journalists on Monday, Ashour apologised for what had happened and promised to conduct an investigation into the incident.

The assaulted journalists said in a statement that they had recognised some of the lawyers from Ashour’s office as being among the attackers. “Such acts will not stop us from doing our jobs,” they said, adding that they would publish videos of the attack on social media.            

Two days ahead of the general assembly meeting, a lawsuit filed by Al-Zayat asking for judicial supervision of the assembly vote was turned down. Ashour’s council took charge of the supervision process with the help of some branch syndicate councils.

“I accuse the syndicate council of rigging the results,” Al-Zayat said afterwards, adding that he would continue his battle against “corruption” in the syndicate.

The general assembly meeting was held in response to calls by hundreds of lawyers pressing for Ashour’s ouster. The signatures of 1,117 syndicate members were collected and presented to the council, calling for holding an emergency general assembly meeting to consider withdrawing confidence.

Last week saw attempts from supporters and opponents of the current council to mobilise the general assembly members into their camps.

According to the anti-Ashour camp, Ashour has monopolised decision-making at the syndicate. Unequal distribution of revenues, lack of control of expenditure, poor healthcare provision and low pensions were among the reasons that had angered the lawyers, they said.

In a statement issued last week, the “Protect the Syndicate” campaign revealed what it said were violations committed by the current council. “Wasting Syndicate funds, fragmenting branch syndicates and dividing lawyers into conflicting groups are all reasons that have caused us to call for dismissing Ashour and his council,” the statement said.

Ashour’s supporters accuse the camp of seeking personal interests even at the price of undermining the syndicate. Naming Ashour as the “man of the current period,” the pro-Ashour camp has tried to remind voters of Ashour’s achievements, referring to his plan to build a new syndicate headquarters.

In a memorandum presented to the general assembly, a group of parliamentary lawyers announced their support for Ashour and warned of any attempts to topple the council.

Ashour was named chairman last November for the fourth time since 2002 after winning around 23,000 votes in syndicate elections. Al-Zayat came second with around 17,000 votes.



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