Professional syndicates and labor unions have become a battleground for the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, where a significant presence of the outlawed group is being threatened.
In recent weeks, the Teachers and Pharmacists Syndicates have been placed under state custodianship via court orders, while other professional associations face a similar fate. Anti-Brotherhood lawyers have filed complaints to dismiss fellow lawyers from the syndicate on allegations of their membership in the group.
Throughout these moves, the Brotherhood is accused of exploiting the many professional syndicates in which they are council members for their own political ends. For example, in late November, they are reported to have organized a conference at the Pharmacists Syndicate headquarters to support their jailed members. Brotherhood hackers are also reported to have (briefly) taken over the syndicate’s webpage on November 24 to promote participation in Islamist protest marches that were organized on November 28.
While the Brotherhood maintained a stronghold within several professional associations since the 1990s, it has lost its control over most of them – especially following the military-led ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, and after the government officially classified the group as a terrorist organization on December 25, 2013.
On November 25, the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters upheld a sequestration order against the Pharmacists Syndicate. This verdict effectively imposes state-appointed caretakers to preside over its executive council to replace Brotherhood members.
This verdict was issued, according to the court’s findings, after money from the Pharmacists’ Syndicate treasury was allegedly misappropriated, and used to finance the “terrorist Brotherhood” and their objectives.
The Cairo Court of Urgent Matters had previously issued a verdict, on March 31, 2014, placing Egypt’s largest professional association, the Teachers Syndicate, under sequestration. Its findings also mentioned that syndicate funds were being misappropriated and used to finance the “terrorist Brotherhood.”
The Veterinarians Syndicate underwent a similar trial this year, yet managed to avoid a sequestration order.
Anti-Brotherhood syndicate members were behind the appeals for judicial sequestration against both the Teachers and Pharmacists Syndicate.
Ali Fahmy, the court-approved president of the Teachers Syndicate appointed in June, claimed judicial sequestration was imposed by will of the syndicate’s members, in order to purge the association of terrorism.
In a televised interview with private satellite channel Al-Mehwar this month, Fahmy said “Teachers are the front-line army in the war against terrorism and extremism.” The interim syndicate president added, “Teachers must help shape conscious minds” amongst their students to confront terrorist thought and ideologies.
Fahmy accused Brotherhood council members of exploiting the syndicate’s treasury to fund their political campaigns from 2011-2012, while using syndicate-owned busses and other assets in supporting pro-Morsi protest camps from June to August 2013.
But for those not belonging to the Brotherhood, these measures taken have a wider fallout, potentially infringing on the rights and freedoms of millions of individuals not linked to them.
Mohamed Seoudi, an independent council member of the Pharmacists Syndicate, describes judicial sequestration as an act of “collective punishment” against syndicate members. “These sequestration orders only serve to harm Egypt’s image, portraying it as a violator of syndicate rights and freedoms,” he says.
“Sequestration is a blatant violation of Article 77 of the Egyptian Constitution,” he adds.
This constitutional article stipulates the independence and democracy of each professional syndicate, adding, “No sequestration shall be imposed on it, and no intervention from administrative authorities in its affairs is permitted.”
This same article stipulates that a syndicate’s “council may not be dissolved without a court order.”
In the case of the Teachers and Pharmacists Syndicates, the court has issued its orders.
Similarly, for Ahmed Abu Shanab, a liberal member of the Veterinarians Syndicate, “Judicial sequestration is catastrophic by all standards, even when safeguarding and protecting a syndicate’s funds.”
“We don’t need any form of sequestration. We categorically reject sequestration, and are filing further appeals against this verdict as of next month,” he added.
Seoudi explains that, unlike the case of the Teachers Syndicate, a caretaker committee had not yet been appointed or imposed on the syndicate. He adds that such custodianship would negatively affect the rights and freedoms of nearly 200,000 members of the association – as it has with over 1.2 million members of the Teachers Syndicate.
Abu Shanab points out that “a preferable solution to financial misappropriation is an early election.”
“We have purged our council of Brotherhood members, and our next elections are due for March 2015,” he points out. He also explains that the syndicate would open its doors to its members’ candidacies as of December.
Meanwhile, Seoudi claims that all money missing from the Pharmacists Syndicate treasury is presently being accounted for.
Syndicate organizers have been taking steps to fight sequestration.
In a message of solidarity, the executive council of the Teachers Syndicate issued a statement to their pharmacists counterparts, where they wrote, “Let us stand united against attempts to impose custodianship.” It added that sequestration represents an attempt “to turn back our gains to the days prior to the January 25 Revolution.”
This month, the president of the Veterinarians Syndicate, Samy Taha, called on the government to issue legislation outlawing the imposition of sequestration on syndicates – in keeping with the provision of Article 77 of the 2014 Constitution.
Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, sequestrations were issued against several Brotherhood-dominated syndicates – including the Engineers, Lawyers and Pharmacists Syndicates.
Other methods used by the Mubarak regime to circumvent the Muslim Brotherhood’s potential wins in syndicate elections include Law 100/1993 “Guaranteeing Democracy in Professional Syndicates,” which imposed strict quorums on syndicate elections – in an attempt to keep the Brotherhood from capturing council seats by capitalizing on low-voter turnouts. This law was later scrapped, as the Supreme Constitutional Court deemed it to be unconstitutional in 2011.
Sequestrations aside, demotions from syndicates’ echelons have also been occurring in attempts to push the Brotherhood out of the syndicates.
In October, a member of the Lawyers Syndicate filed a lawsuit before the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters calling for the dismissal and disbarring of 20 syndicate members – effectively ending their careers altogether. The plaintiff, Hisham Sokkar, accused these 20 lawyers of being terrorists by virtue of the membership in the Brotherhood.
While this court initially processed Sokkar’s lawsuit, it was later dismissed on November 24 when the plaintiff failed to appear before the judges to present his case.
Claims of criminal conduct and terrorism have also been filed against labor unions, where the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies have historically had a negligible presence.
On November 16, President of the General Union for Public Utilities Workers Adel Nazmy filed charges to the prosecutor general against independent trade unions in this service sector, and accused them of involvement in acts of sabotage and terrorism.
However, this criminal claim did not mention any specific incident in which utilities workers were involved in such terrorist acts.
Nazmy claimed that independent unions for utilities workers – which don’t fall under the umbrella of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation – represent a threat to national security. This threat was not explained, however.
This content was produced in partnership with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.