Problems on hold
Watani came out last Sunday carrying no coverage on the recent dispute between the Journalists’ Syndicate and the Interior Ministry, in honour of a decision by the Prosecutor General banning publication on the legal case involved. The incident began when the Syndicate would not hand over to the police two young journalists who had broken the law and taken refuge in the Syndicate building Downtown Cairo, despite an arrest warrant by the public prosecutor. The police entered the building and arrested the outlaw journalists, and publication on their case was banned. The journalists rose in uproar against the Interior Ministry accusing the police of ‘breaking into’ the Journalists’ Syndicate, and fired slogans that called for ‘upholding freedom of expression’ and ‘defending journalists’ dignity as part and parcel of the dignity of all Egyptians’. The public responded with a vehement “journalists are not above the law”.
Watani respects the Prosecutor General’s decision, and will not be lured into tackling the file of this conflict, nor in indicting or vindicating any of the parties involved. However, as I closely follow all the well-intentioned efforts now being volunteered towards steering this crisis to safe shores, I cannot help contemplating the role of syndicates, an issue that has long preoccupied me. I believe I need to expound on this issue since, as things stand, confusion appears to be the rule of the day. The honourable role of syndicates is being misunderstood, and the gap between an enraged public on one hand and the professionals and syndicate members on the other is getting wider.
Syndicates were originally conceived to cater for an urgent need to organise the affairs of any sector of citizens who had in common the same activity or profession. The syndicates set the measures, regulations and charters that worked as an umbrella for each sector, ensuring that its members got their rights and monitoring their commitment to their duties.
Syndicates kept growing in prestige and weight. The respect they earned from their members and the public at large increased as they proved time and again their vigilance and rigour in monitoring the practices and behaviour of their members. Syndicates consistently purged themselves of violators who disgraced the code of honour of their profession, in order to uphold the dignity of the profession and to safeguard the community against those violators. Hence the conviction that syndicates are no havens to shield violations or violators under the pretext of upholding the reputation of a profession or professionals. Quite the contrary, syndicates shouldered the momentous professional and ethical responsibility of safeguarding the integrity of the profession and the professionalism and honourable behaviour of its members.
No conflict should exist between the syndicates and their members on the one hand, and the community at large on the other; all citizens stand on equal footing under the one large umbrella that is the nation. They are all governed by one legal system which defines rights and duties. No factional laws, regulations or charters may transcend this system of law, even if they pertain to the sub-umbrellas specific to various activities or professions. Bylaws, regulations and charters are drafted to complement not to contradict the public law in any way; any discrepancy is likely to create a confrontation or a conflict of dependency between the general law and the specific regulations.
I fear that these basic notions are no longer well-rooted; they have lost muscle before the many erroneous practices that have been allowed to fester in our community, just as so many of our sins and deficiencies have. This led certain sectors among our professionals to imagine they are entitled to superior rank and privileges by virtue of the nature of their profession, guarding themselves with legislation and prerogatives that shield them from the rule of law. But this situation has worked to goad and aggravate the wider community. What need do we have for special privileges for specific professionals as long as they respect the code of honour of their profession, and their syndicate is supposedly a vigilant monitor of their performance and rigorously takes violators to account? The general public has come to see these privileges as set merely to protect violators and corrupt members, to cover up for their sins under the pretext of ‘upholding the dignity of the profession’.
The thought, ethics and charters of syndicates serving whichever sector of professionals—be they journalists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, artisans, workers or peasants—must be revisited. Matters will stabilise and go back to normal only when each of us dreads standing before an accountability or disciplinary board of his or her professional syndicate, instead of rushing to the arms of the syndicate to seek refuge from the rule of law.
15 May 2016