“Mr. Karam, please stay away from the union for the next four years. This is not your time; the state is going through difficult circumstances. Choose someone else to run,” a National Security Agency officer instructed Karam Abdel Halim, who relayed the conversation to Mada Masr.
Abdel Halim, the incumbent head of the independent union committee for Suez Canal Authority clubs, was intending to run in phase two of nationwide labor union elections.
Since the lead up to the elections, the first phase of which began on May 16, the security body has taken steps to intervene and prevent certain candidates from running, according to a number of hopeful candidates who told Mada Masr they were warned off running, were prevented from obtaining candidacy papers or, after successfully submitting their candidacies, found themselves excluded from the final candidate rolls.
“My workplace prevented me from obtaining candidacy documents, including employment status documents,” a National Postal Authority employee told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity. “The police department also refused to file my complaint stating that I was denied these papers.”
The same employee said that an NSA officer told them, “We do not want you to run. This is for your own sake.”
Dozens of candidates were also excluded from the first phase of the elections despite having secured permission to run, according to Kamal Abbas, coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, which documented the incidents.
Without a status of employment statement issued by the employer, said CTUWS researcher Hussein al-Masry, candidates are not eligible, according to the candidacy terms set out in the 2017 trade unions law. “But this allows management to withhold that document to block the candidacy of whomever it wishes.”
One trade union committee member at a state-owned oil company, who was running for reelection, told Mada Masr that their name was removed from the candidate list announced before the first phase of the elections. “Due to previous disputes,” said the committee member, speaking to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, “management, and the current head of the General Trade Union for Petroleum Workers probably pushed for the exclusion of my name.”
Excluding candidates in this way is “certainly” illegal, said Abbas, the CTUWS coordinator, predicting that the candidates were likely sidelined for “security reasons.”
Abdel Halim, a member of the opposition Bread and Freedom Party who got through the first round of the elections, explained that his workplace, the Suez Canal Sports Club, refused to stamp his candidacy papers for the second phase of the elections, claiming this was per instructions issued by a security body and directing him to visit a National Security Agency branch.
Abdel Halim was ultimately unable to run in the second phase, for which the candidacy period concluded on Sunday. In solidarity, his colleagues in the trade union committee and all members of the union’s general assembly decided not to run in the elections, he said.
With no candidates in the running, it would fall on Abdel Halim, as the current head of the committee, to invite the general assembly to choose new members, but he anticipates that the Manpower Ministry might not recognize such a committee.