Newly-formed bloc seeks to beat Brotherhood in Engineers Syndicate elections

A group of engineers has formed a bloc in the Engineers Syndicate in order to beat Muslim Brotherhood candidates in the syndicate's elections scheduled for 25 November.

Engineers Against Guardianship, a group that comprises engineers of different political affiliations, hopes to achieve a victory similar to that achieved by the Independence List in Doctors Syndicate elections last month.  

The Engineers Syndicate, one of the largest professional syndicates in Egypt with some 475,000 members, 23 sub-syndicates and 61 council members, was placed under judicial protection in 1995 after a court injunction approved the dissolution of the syndicate board.

On 14 August, an Egyptian court ordered the lifting of the judicial protection and the formation of a temporary internal committee to supervise the syndicate and its first elections in 16 years.

Throughout the judicial protection phase, and as is the case with most of Egypt's professional syndicates, the Muslim Brotherhood was the most active bloc. However, a number of new movements have gun to appear and participate in syndicate activities.

The Engineers Against Guardianship bloc began to appear in the late 1990s, aiming to lift the judicial protection directive. Many of the group's members have now decided to run in the syndicate's upcoming elections under a unified list bearing the group's name.

The Brotherhood-controlled list is called the Coalition of Engineers for Egypt.

Observers believe these two lists are the most organized and expect the majority of seats to be divided between them.

Although members believe the syndicate has become an arena for political conflicts, they said they are prepared to accept this and allow power to be dispersed within the syndicate, a healthy phenomenon that will serve its interests.

"It's hard now to ensure the separation of politics from the syndicate, because still the old powers, such as the Brotherhood, exist and its is natural that this still has an effect due to [the Brotherhood's] ability to mobilize people," said Wael Khalil, an activist engineer.

Khalil said he hopes the existence of another organized power will be able to beat the Brotherhood in the elections.

"It is difficult to predict who will prevail in the elections, but what happened in the Doctors Syndicate is an example we must follow. Those who cast their votes were the young [doctors] protesting and demanding better living conditions for doctors regardless of any political or party affiliation. And as a natural result they chose non-politicized and suitable members," Khalil said.

The Independence List, which comprised a large number of young doctors, gained nearly 70 percent of the seats on the syndicate's subcommittees in the October elections.

Although the Brotherhood-backed list took the syndicate's chairmanship and won 18 seats on the syndicate's board, observers believe that what the Independence List has achieved in subcommittee elections is considerable and paves for the emergence of other non-traditional powers to be a part of the Doctors Syndicate's future.

As typical before elections, recently the two competing engineer lists have traded accusations against, questioning each other's ability to improve and develop the syndicate.  

Some engineers believe that the platforms of both groups are almost identical and political affiliations will determine voting.

"Our list is comprised of candidates who have experience with syndicate activities, as well as 12 candidates who had formerly won board seats in the 1990s and know very well what members need," Maged Kholousy, the Coalition of Engineers for Egypt list's candidate for syndicate chairman, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Kholousy refuted the Engineers Against Guardianship's claim that the Coalition of Engineers for Egypt aims to control the syndicate for the Muslim Brotherhood. He argued that only 30 percent of his list are Brotherhood members, and the rest of the candidates are independents or belong to other political movements.

Kholousy believes his opponents are inexperienced, which will increase the Coalition of Engineers for Egypt's chances for victory.

On the other hand, Tarek al-Nabrawy, the Engineers Against Guardianship's candidate for the chairmanship, said his list's slogan is "No to control or exclusion," noting that he fears the political agenda of the Coalition of Engineers for Egypt.

The Engineers Against Guardianship list comprises candidates from different political backgrounds, including those from liberal parties such as the Adl Party, leftist parties such as the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, and parties with a moderate Islamist bent such as the Wasat Party.

Nabrawy believes that this proves that his list has no intention to politicize the syndicate.

Khalil said that the Engineers Syndicate is in utmost need of a board to maintain the syndicate's professionalism and help it provide medical and recreational services to its members, as was the case in the judicial protection period.

The two lists' representatives stressed that their platforms are designed to improve engineers' living standards and regulate the relationship between engineers and their employers, not limiting the syndicate's activities as before.

Observers fear that the military and public sector engineers might be directed by the government to a vote for certain candidates.  

The Engineers Syndicate election this year also may have a strong impact on the writing of Egypt's new constitution, which explains why so much energy is being poured into the upcoming syndicate election.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is set to choose a 100-member constituent assembly after the upcoming parliamentary elections that will write Egypt's new constitution. While the assembly is expected to be mostly comprised of elected members of parliament, it will likely also include representatives from other communities, including religious institutions, political parties, unions and syndicates.

This Engineers Syndicate election comes ahead of parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to begin on 28 November.

Observers reckon that the syndicate elections can be seen as a microcosm for the upcoming parliamentary ones. In both, the Brotherhood is contesting on a large number of seats and striking agreements with other political forces to create joint electoral lists.

Khalil ruled out this possibility of the military pressuring voters, saying the Mubarak regime and the National Democratic Party (NDP) followed the same tactics which eventually led to the revolution.

The Brotherhood has already won a lion's share of seats in Teachers and Pharmacists Syndicate elections this year, and has nominated many candidates for the Lawyers Syndicate elections scheduled for 20 November.

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