The Performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian Syndicates: An Alternative Formula for Reform?

By Fahmy, Ninette S. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

The Performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian Syndicates: An Alternative Formula for Reform?


Fahmy, Ninette S., The Middle East Journal


This article examines the role of both the state and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian professional syndicates. It shows that the ascendancy of the Muslim Brothers in the syndicates came at a time when the latter had been weakened by both external and internal factors. The article attempts to demonstrate that the performance of the Muslim Brothers in the syndicates reflects their inherent inability to manage the affairs of the syndicates efficiently, and also reveals their unethical conduct that is no different from that of their predecessors.

The development of professional associations in Egypt has mirrored the various phases of Egypt's twentieth century history, reflecting the relationship between the regime in power and civil society. Egyptian syndicates, which date back to 1912, have fluctuated between being pluralist or being corporatist organizations depending on the prevailing political conditions. Despite their professional basis, most Egyptian syndicates were, until the early 1980s, under the control of either the government or of a number of liberal forces in society.

After 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood began to develop a strong presence in professional syndicates. Members of the organization even came to dominate some syndicates, including those that were once politically liberal. The aim of this article is first, to explore the factors that contributed to this development; second, to assess the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in some of the Egyptian professional syndicates; and third, to examine the government's attempts to block the influence of the Brotherhood in the syndicates.

THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERS IN THE SYNDICATES

There are 22 professional syndicates in Egypt with a total of 3.5 million members.1 The ascendancy of the Muslim Brothers as a controlling majority took place in the five most politically active syndicates, representing doctors, engineers, pharmacists, scientists, and lawyers. In addition, the Muslim Brothers attempted to control other syndicates through affiliated syndicates outside of Cairo, or through the activities of the syndicates' Liberty and Islamic Law committees.2

The doctors were the first to witness the ascendancy of the Muslim Brothers in their syndicate. In 1984, the Muslim Brothers managed to win seven out of 25 seats in the Doctors Syndicate's governing council, and in 1992 they won the majority of the seats in the Doctors Syndicate's general council and the majority of seats in the affiliated syndicates of Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, and Daqahliyya.3 In 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood won 54 out of 61 seats in the Engineers Syndicate's general assembly and all the seats in the syndicate's council elections held in 1988.4

Muhammad `Abd al-Quddus, the son of the famous Egyptian writer, Ihsan `Abd al-Quddus, and an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood,5 rose to prominence in the Journalists Syndicate after its 1985 election. He then became a permanent member in the syndicate council and has remained a member to this day. It should be noted that despite `Abd al-Quddus' affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood, he has run as an independent in the syndicate's council elections five consecutive times.6 In the 1995 Journalists Syndicate council's elections, another Muslim Brotherhood member, Salah `Abd al-Maqsud, won a seat in the syndicate's council, raising the Brotherhood's representation in that syndicate to two out of 12 council members.7

In the Lawyers Syndicate, the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded for the first time in winning the majority of seats in the syndicate's council elections in 1992, under the presidency of the government-endorsed candidate Ahmad al-Khawaja.8 In an interview, Usama 'Asfur, son of Muhammad 'Asfur, a prominent Wafdist lawyer and the leader of the anti-government faction within the Lawyers Syndicate, described to this author how the Muslim Brothers rose to power in the Lawyers Syndicate. …

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