A decision to remove six lawyers from their professional syndicate due to their placement on the state terrorism list was upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court on Saturday.
If the lawyers are “removed from the syndicate’s list,” it would effectively ban them from practicing law in Egypt, a move that legal experts describe to Mada Masr as setting a new precedent to remove workers from their unions by placing them on a disputed terrorism list that has attempted to reformulate aspects of political and economic life in Egypt in the aftermath of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ouster in 2013.
However, the implementation of the decision remains open to the interpretation of the Lawyers Syndicate, as the terrorist entities law only makes provision for the suspension of workers from their professional syndicates for the duration of their listing on the terrorism list. To build their case, the courts have relied on a nebulous feature in the law regulating the legal profession that mandates that all those practicing law must maintain a “good reputation.”
The case originated when lawyer Samir Sabry filed a lawsuit demanding the expulsion of Saleh Soltan, Essam Soltan, Osama Morsi (the son of the late president Mohamed Morsi), Hatem Abdel Samei al-Gendy, Mohamed al-Omda, and the Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud from the Lawyers Syndicate in 2020, after they were listed on the state terrorism list. Sabry won the case he brought against the six lawyers, who then submitted the appeal that was turned down on Saturday.
The ruling sets a dangerous precedent, according to independent lawyers critical of the move.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights lawyer Aziza al-Taweel argued that the ruling opens the door for the union to disqualify members over their opinions and political beliefs, explaining to Mada Masr that, in this particular case, the lawsuit was not filed by the syndicate, but rather by another lawyer. “This would mean that any person can file similar lawsuits against any syndicate member, and, based on this precedent, the court can rule to expel them.”
Worse, according to Taweel, the ruling was based on the provisions on adding people to terrorism lists, which are not justified, not based on specific facts, and usually not subject to appeal.
Lawyer Ahmed Saad shared the concern over using the terrorist entities law as the basis to remove workers from their syndicates, as there are people on the terrorist list who have not been convicted of criminal offenses and have not been imprisoned. “They are put on these lists based on investigations, and the decisions are temporary,” he said, adding that the ruling leaves these people unemployed and deprives them and their families of any income.
For Saad, the lawyers’ case may be the tip of the iceberg, pointing to a number of lawsuits filed by private companies in areas such as pharmaceuticals and telecoms against some of their employees, as well as the possibility of similar rulings being issued against members of other unions.
Inclusion on the terrorism list, which is requested by the Public Prosecution and approved by criminal courts, carries a number of consequences, according to the terrorist entities law, including: “suspending” membership in professional syndicates, boards of directors of companies, associations, institutions, and any entity in which the state or citizens contribute a share for a period of five years. However, the law does not specify the entity entrusted with implementing this measure or the mechanism for its implementation, nor does it provide for the expulsion of workers from their syndicates.
Thus, the Lawyers Syndicate Council will have to interpret how to enforce the ruling, according to council member Abu Bakr Dawah, who stressed that the syndicate will not take politicized action against lawyers affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in general but will be tasked with finding a way to implement the court’s rulings.
While Dawah told Mada Masr he had yet to receive an official copy of the ruling, he understood that the decision to expel the lawyers was based on a statute in the lawyers law, rather than the terrorist entities law, which mandates that lawyers must maintain “a good reputation.”
In this grey area, the lawyers plan to continue to fight against the decision, according to one of the lawyers who spoke to Mada Masr.
The lawyers plan to file several lawsuits and motions to annul or stay implementation of the administrative court’s ruling, contesting the judge’s capacity to make the ruling as well as citing a Lawyers Syndicate defence memorandum and a State Council commissioners’ report that argued that the lawsuit filed by Sabry was outside his professional capacity.
Since the ouster of the the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, the state has made various pushes to use judicial and extra-judicial bodies to reshape Egypt’s political and economic landscape using the terroism list designation as an adminstrative tool. However, it has faced challenges from the State Council and appeals courts.
Through a series of laws and amendments, the latest of which was passed by the House earlier this month, the government has expanded the legal framework it can use to go after individuals and organizations it deems to be terrorists, widening the definition of “terrorist entity,” broadening the government’s power to seize assets, and effectively eliminating any basis for appeals courts to object to criminal court terror list rulings.