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Lost in a legal maze
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 03 - 2015

On 1 March the Administrative Court suspended Press Syndicate midterm elections, due to be held tomorrow, at which six of the Syndicate's 12 board seats were up for grabs. The court ruled that any vote should cover all 12 board seats, and ordered that law no 76 for the year 1970, which regulates syndicate affairs, be amended.
At an emergency board meeting of the Press Syndicate it was decided to contest the first-degree ruling before the Higher Administrative Court. The Higher Administrative Court began hearing the first of five appeals filed by the syndicate's legal team on Tuesday.
The initial Administrative Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit, filed by several syndicate members, arguing that elections should cover all seats on the board. Sayed Abu Zeid, the Press Syndicate's legal advisor, says that until the Higher Administrative Court has had time to issue a final ruling, all syndicate elections are on hold.
The first-degree ruling, argues Abu Zeid, contradicts Article 43 of the Syndicate Law. “The court, in issuing its ruling, has in effect assumed legislative power,” he says. “The judges do not seem to realise they are not legislators. Any legal amendment has to come either through parliament or a presidential decree.”
Syndicate officials are confident the Higher Administrative Court will overturn the lower court's ruling. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to print, the ruling had not been issued.
Abdel-Mohsen Salama, a member of the board of Al-Ahram who has ambitions to replace Press Syndicate chairman Diaa Rashwan, welcomed the lower court's ruling, calling it “a victory for journalists.”
At the heart of the problem is confusion over which law regulates the workings of the Press Syndicate. Currently, the Press Syndicate is operating under the provisions of the syndicate law passed in September 1970, suspended in 1996 and reapplied in 2011.
In the period between 1996 and 2011, professional syndicates were subject to Mubarak-era law 100. When that law was ruled unconstitional in 2011, the Press Syndicate reverted to the earlier legislation.
But according to Salama, the current syndicate law is null and void. “It was suspended for more than 20 years. Journalists should not conduct their elections based on a law that was suspended in 1996,” he says.
Yet it is the law under which the 2011 and 2013 Press Syndicate elections were held.
“Those who filed the original case have their own agenda, which is about serving their own interests and has nothing to do with strengthening the position of the syndicate or improving the lot of journalists,” says Rashwan.
Salama, who disagrees with Rashwan, revealed that the law stipulates that elections should take place for the 12 seats of the syndicate's board, as well as the syndicate's head every four years; and the midterm for half of the board's seats and the head as well every two years.
“Unfortunately, elections are all the way taking place every two years. This is unconstitutional and illegal,” argues Salama, adding there is an intention to change the election day.
“Elections on Friday discourages journalists from voting because it is an official holiday. Elections are better done on any day other than Friday,” he says.
Khaled Meri, a veteran writer at Akhbar Al-Youm who is seeking election to the syndicate board, is critical of the ruling. “The court's verdict violates regulations governing the syndicate though it is not the first time we have faced such a problem,” he says.
In February 2013, the Administrative Court suspended Press Syndicate elections in response to a lawsuit, only to have its decision overturned in March of the same year by the Higher Administrative Court.
Meri is confident the same will happen now. “We are used to this kind of palaver. I am sure we will win the case before the Higher Administrative Court and its rulings are final.”

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