In its issue of 29 January 2023, Watani marks 110 years on the establishment of the Lawyers Syndicate in Egypt. The Lawyers Syndicate is among the longest-standing professional syndicates in Egypt; it carries a great national legacy of defending the rights and freedoms of not only individuals, but also those of the Egyptian nation in its path towards freedom and independence.
Going through the honourable record of the Lawyers Syndicate, I stop at some of its prominent milestones:
Following several failed attempts to establish a syndicate that would attend to the interests of the legal profession, hope was renewed in 1910 when Saad Zaghloul (1859 – 1927), statesman and revolutionary leader who was then Minister of Justice, responded to a request by lawyer Aziz Bek al-Khanki to sponsor a bill for establishing a Lawyers Syndicate; he then presented the bill to the Cabinet.
Upon invitation by Yahia Pasha Ibrahim, President of the Civil Court of Appeals, 336 lawyers met on 1 November 1912 at the headquarters of the Appeals Court. The meeting saw the declaration of the establishment of the Lawyers Syndicate, with Ibrahim Bek al-Helbawy as its first president. In January 1913—110 years ago this month—the first general assembly of the Lawyers Syndicate convened and approved its statute.
Six years after the Syndicate was founded, WWI ended in 1918. The head of the Lawyers Syndicate, Abdel-Aziz Pasha Fahmy, together with Saad Pasha Zaghloul and Ali Pasha Shaarawi, joined the delegation that went to see Sir Reginald Wingate, the British High Commissioner for Egypt on 13 November 1918. The delegation went to discuss the future of Egypt following the war, and its independence from British protection.
The Lawyers Syndicate strongly participated in the events of the 1919 national Revolution in support of the demands of Egyptians for independence from the British. The then head of the Syndicate, Abdel Aziz Pasha Fahmy, joined the delegation that went to Paris headed by Mr Zaghloul, to negotiate Egypt’s right for full independence at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference where it was denied a hearing.
In December 1919, the Syndicate elected a new head, the Copt Morqos Hanna. The election of Mr Hanna was a blow to the British claim of protecting ‘minorities’—including Copts—in Egypt, a claim used to justify their presence in the land and to sow discord among Egypt’s Muslims and Copts. The election of a Copt as the head of the Lawyers Syndicate firmly rooted the foundations of national unity and joined the Syndicate with the national struggle.
In 1930, Prime Minister Ismail Pasha Sedqi dissolved the Egyptian Parliament and terminated the 1923 Constitution, in the face of fierce public opposition led by al-Wafd political party. In a blatant act of challenge to the government, the Lawyers Syndicate elected Makram Ebeid, a Copt and a prominent member of al-Wafd, as its President. This despite several attempts by the government to thwart Ebeid Pasha’s election. The tug-of-war between the Syndicate and the authorities persisted for many years to follow. So much so that the authorities attempted to detach the Syndicate from politics by restricting its role to the professional aspect alone. But the Syndicate continued its political struggle for the nation.
With such an outstanding record of honourable, patriotic service, no one can but venerate the Lawyers Syndicate. Moreover, its staunch role as a cornerstone of the Egyptian judiciary system can but be highly valued. Yet a few concerns arise, which I will jot down here, hoping they get cleansed from the legal profession’s otherwise spotless gown.
I am certain that the legal profession has its own code of honour, and that this code is embraced by all who join the noble profession, taking it upon themselves to defend the rights of the oppressed. I am also sure that the Syndicate has adequate tools to empower this code of honour and to take violators to account. So why do we occasionally come across practices that are inconsistent with the standards of defending the right and striving for justice?
What can we say about lawyers who boast of their ability to secure acquittals for guilty clients, through digging up procedural violations or error in causation? The law might give way to that, yet the lawyer’s integrity must remain alert in its quest for justice for the sake of the entire community.
How can a lawyer accept to draft a petition that casts unsubstantiated allegations at his client’s opponent? Even if the Criminal Procedures Law allows this, and even if such allegations stand to be rejected in court for lack of evidence, the fact remains that such practice disrupts justice and unnecessarily wastes precious time. Does the Lawyers Syndicate follow up on such violations? And does it have any accountability system for its members who use such deceptive means?
From time to time, we are shocked by crimes that occur in the Egyptian street, crimes related to terrorism or religious extremism, sexual assault or rape, or fatal car accidents owing to drunken driving or drivers on drugs. Such crimes horrify the community at large, which expect justice to be promptly served. Yet it is horrifying to see masters of the legal profession rising up to defend the criminals especially if they happen to come from rich or powerful families. Such lawyers have no qualms about resorting to forging evidence in interest of their clients, or to intimidating the victims or their families into acquiescing to lucrative out-of-court settlements, or even to terrorising the victims or twisting their arms into withdrawing their pleas. In the face of all such crooked practices, we seek prompt justice and wonder how the Lawyers Syndicate could agree to these methods of achieving ‘justice’ or rather injustice. Is the Lawyers Syndicate aware of the message relayed to the community by these practices, or of how strongly that community counts on the Syndicate?
27 January 2023
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