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SYNDICATES. Professional syndicates-like labor unions (which are not treated here)-have arisen in the Islamic world in the past century in new or significantly altered occupations which emerged in response to farreaching socioeconomic change. Although loosely influenced by earlier guild practices (such as calling their leader “nagib”), the syndicates took their main models from the West. Often subsumed in the “bourgeoisie” or “new middle class,” professionals have received scant study, and comparative crossnational study of them has hardly begun.

Professionalization is here taken to mean the emergence in an occupation of a significant number of fulltime practitioners-other than the clergy, one of the classic “liberal” or “free” professions in the Westtrained mainly through higher education. Establishing a higher professional school is usually a first step. Other indicators include the emergence of a critical mass of practitioners, self-consciousness as a profession, external recognition, recognized standards, specialized journals, and a code of ethics. Either the state-pursuing standardization and control-or practitioners themselves can take the lead in founding a syndicate.

In Islamic lands with large European colonies or protracted colonial domination, professions often developed separate branches for Europeans, indigenous Westernstyle practitioners, and traditional practitioners. Egypt had three lawyers’ syndicates (bar associations)–for the Mixed, the National (Ahliyah or “Native” to the British), and the Shari’ah Courts. The closing of the Mixed Courts (1949) and the merger of the Shari’ah and National Courts (1956) finally unified the lawyers in one syndicate.

Higher Professional Schools. Usually, Western practitioners introduced professions they considered “modern” into the Islamic world. Indigenous practitioners educated in Europe followed their example, and then graduates of local professional schools took over. Table I lists founding dates for selected professional schools. In Istanbul and Cairo, rulers facing Western challenges founded medical and engineering schools early on to service their reformed armies and, later, civilian needs as well. British India and French Algeria also set up medical schools early. Modern law schools-to bypass the traditional schools of shari`ah (the divine law)-emerged only after 185o, as European economic penetration, imported Western laws, new mixed and national courts, parliaments, and constitutions created a need for Western-style lawyers.

The Indian universities established at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras in 1857-examining bodies on the University of London model-awarded degrees in law, medicine, and engineering as well as arts. For some decades, however, few Muslims joined the Hindus in taking advantage of these opportunities.

Ottoman Istanbul competed with Cairo in opening professional schools; both founded medical schools in 1827. American and French missionaries founded the first higher professional schools in the Ottoman Fertile Crescent-colleges of medicine and pharmacy in Beirut. The Ottomans followed after 1900 with medical and law schools in Damascus and a law school in Baghdad. The professional schools of Algiers served mainly colons.

Where colonial rulers were absent, arrived late, or hesitated on higher education, modern professional education came later. Modern higher education took root in heavily tribal Libya and the Arabian peninsula only after 1950.

After the Ottoman collapse in 1918, Egypt furnished the main professionalization model for the Arabs. In their Fertile Crescent mandates, Britain and France contented themselves between the world wars with law and medical schools.

Founding the Syndicates. Ignoring unofficial societies and false starts, Table 2 lists founding dates of selected syndicates. The sequence of syndicate foundation in Egypt-lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers-was fairly usual in other countries. It also reflects the prestige hierarchy among the professions in the first half of the twentieth century.

The syndicate European lawyers founded in Istanbul in 1876 did not last, and Ottoman advocacy went largely unregulated until World War I. In contrast, the syndicate which European Mixed Courts lawyers founded in Egypt in 1876 on the French model became a prototype for later syndicates. It obtained a monopoly on Mixed Courts practice, oversaw lawyers’ qualifications and fees, regulated apprenticeships, elected officers and a board, aided needy colleagues, and issued a journal. The National Courts lawyers syndicate of 1912 followed its precedents, and shari’ah lawyers syndicate of 1916 in turn copied the National Courts syndicate.

Because Europeans skimmed off the wealthier clients and few could afford professional services, indigenous

‘Decreed in 1940. ‘Decreed in 1951. `Changed to Business Administration, 1973.

practitioners hesitated to leave state jobs for private practice. Lawyers were the first to do so in significant numbers, with doctors following, and engineers some way behind.

As in the West, internal divisions and a weak professional consciousness made it harder to organize journalists and teachers. Not until 1937 did the American University at Cairo offer the first journalism program in the Arab world. Newspaper owners and employees, printers and reporters, and writers and editors all had different interests. So did private and public school teachers and teachers on the university, secondary-school, and primary-school levels. Low-status press workers, teachers, and health workers often felt more at home in labor unions than in professional syndicates.

Women who wanted to share in these new professional opportunities had an uphill struggle, fighting successively for admission to professional schools, for syndicate membership, and for jobs. Women entered the lawyers syndicates in Lebanon and Egypt in the 1930s, in Iraq in 1943. Even in the mid 1980s there were only six women among 5o8 Palestinian lawyers in the West Bank.

Syndicates and Independence Struggles. The prestige of advocacy and its affinity for politics in the West carried over into the Islamic world. Lawyers seemed best suited to press the case for independence in the twilight of the colonial age; they were at home with parliamentary debate, parties, constitutions, capitalism, courts, and law codes. Many a national hero was a lawyer: Sa’d Zaghlul (Egypt), Bisharah al-Khuri (Lebanon), Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia), Shukri Quwatli (Syria), Mohammad Mossadeq (Iran), and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Pakistan), not to mention Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru among the Hindus.

Not just individual lawyers but lawyers syndicates were in the forefront of independence struggles. In Egypt the strike of the National Courts lawyers during the 1919 national revolt derailed the courts for weeks, and the nationalist Wafd party obtained a grip on the syndicate it would keep for over thirty years. British officials no doubt remembered this when they prevented Iraqi lawyers from forming a syndicate until after independence in 1932. National and professional issues intertwined in the lawyers’ strikes of 1925-1926 in Damascus during the Syrian national revolt. The strikers protested the French judges who inspected Syrian courts and presided over cases involving foreigners. In 1967 Palestinian lawyers in the West Bank began a strike to protest the Israeli occupation. The Jordanian lawyers syndicate paid them compensation and expelled those who broke ranks to return to work several years later.

Postindependence Syndical Politics. When authoritarian rule-colonial, monarchical, military, or Islamist-suppressed the press, parties, and parliaments, politics resurfaced in such institutions as syndicates, universities, chambers of commerce, and mosques.

In 1952 and 1961-1962 the failure of the mainly Maronite lawyers syndicate of Beirut to win two long strikes pointed up the fragility of Maronite dominance in Lebanon. In 1952 the strikers opposed expanding the power of Christian clerical courts, which Maronite clerics and Muslims mostly favored. The nine-month strike of 1961-1962 tried to close the Arab University of Beirut’s new law school. The strikers feared that the profession would be swamped with ill-trained lawyers, many of them Muslim. The Tripoli lawyers syndicate, more Muslim and Greek Orthodox, opposed both strikes.

In Egypt the lawyers syndicate became a source of cabinet ministers when the Wafd party was in, a Wafdist refuge when it was out. Nuri al-Sa’id’s inability to keep the lawyers syndicate in friendly hands during the 1950s was perhaps a harbinger of the 1958 revolution. Many officers of the Jordanian lawyers syndicate, founded in I95o, were West Bankers and opponents of the regime. In Turkey, Suleyman Demirel’s justice party drove the syndicates toward the opposition Republican People’s party by undercutting the architecture and engineering syndicates and relying heavily on foreign experts.

Syndical Politics under Military Regimes. From 1949 onward, military coups in the Arab world and Pakistan overthrew many of the regimes under which lawyers and landlords had flourished. Although few syndicate leaders wept for Iraq’s Nuri al-Sa’Id or Egypt’s King Faruq, they soon clashed with the new military regimes. Nasser purged the Wafdist nagibs of the lawyers, engineers, and agronomists and brought key syndicates to heel with army officers and cabinet ministers who doubled as nagibs.

In Iraq, procommunists took 81 percent of the teachers syndicate vote in January 1959. President `Abd alKarim Qasim broke with the communists thereafter, and by 1962 his pressure on state school teachers dropped the figure to 29 percent. The lawyers syndicate was more conservative and Arab nationalist, but in 1965 the `Arif regime purged it as well. In Syria the Ba’thist government purged the teachers syndicate in 1964, doubtless remembering the spell their own party’s teacher-founders had once cast over students.

Government rewards for cooperative syndicates could include pension funds, health and housing coops (Muhandisin [“Engineers City”] is now a major Cairo suburb), and paid vacations. Syndicate office was also a good place to cultivate patron-client political ties which might open the way to public-sector posts and lucrative government contracts.

Seeking increased legitimacy and faster economic development, military regimes recruited engineers, economists, and doctors into their cabinets. The three prominent medical doctors of the Syrian Ba’thist regime in 1966-1970 provided a useful facade for its military strongmen. Engineers and doctors displaced lawyers at the top of the civilian professional prestige ladder from the 1950s on, but military rulers often ignored their expert recommendations for political reasons.

As the League of Arab States was taking shape, a PanArab conference of lawyers met in Damascus in 1944 and one of engineers in Alexandria in 1945. Nasser picked up the Arab banner a decade later. A Union of Arab Lawyers was founded in Cairo in 1956. Other professions soon followed with Pan-Arab unions, but interstate rivalries undercut progress toward unified standards and procedures.

As Arab socialism also came into vogue in the 1960s, leftists wanted to abolish professional syndicates or merge them with labor unions. Military regimes tightened their control by swamping syndicates with state employees and higher and technical school graduates. Egyptian syndicate officers had to belong to the Arab Socialist Union. The agronomists syndicate had to admit technical secondary graduates. Half the teachers syndicate board had to be primary school teachers, and only the 1967 war derailed plans to admit school janitors. The doctors and engineers successfully kept technical secondary school graduates out, and journalists survived Gamal Abdel Nasser without admitting state broadcasting and information service employees.

Syndicates could also help topple military regimes, as the Damascus lawyers syndicate did in attacking Adib al-Shishakli in 1954. Protests from the Pakistani lawyers, doctors, and engineers syndicates contributed to Muhammad Ayub Khan’s fall in 1969. The Iraqi lawyers, doctors, and engineers syndicates cheered on student demonstrators celebrating Qasim’s fall in 1963.

Most syndicates struggled in vain against overcrowding and lowered standards in their professions. No matter how grim the job prospects, few governments could resist pressures to expand educational opportunities. Egypt’s lawyers syndicate began with 582 lawyers in 1912 and reached 7000 in 1967, when the engineers syndicate had 22,000 and the teachers 140,000.

Syndicates and Islamism. In 1977 in Iran, the Writers Association, the National Organization of Physicians, the Association of Iranian Journalists, the National Organization of University Professors, and the teachers syndicate suddenly emerged from long repression to challenge the shah. Mehdi Bazargan’s Association of Engineers (founded in 1941) also played its part. Although Paris-educated, Bazargan had insisted on the Islamic character of both the Association of Engineers and his Liberation Movement of Iran (1961). An ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he became the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic when the shah fell. Rejoicing among syndicate leaders was short-lived. Khomeini and Bazargan fell out, and the Islamists crushed their erstwhile secular allies.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution, led by ShN `ulama’ from the top, was unique. In Pakistan it was the military under Muhammad Zia ul-Haq which implemented islamizing measures. Standing in for political parties Zia had banned, the lawyers syndicate protested authoritarian rule, and professional women were in the forefront of protests against his islamization program.

In Syria, Hafez al-Assad’s secular military regime struggled to contain Islamist challenges. The Muslim Brotherhood had their base among urban Sunnis hostile to the once peripheral `Alawi minority who now dominated the party, the army, and the country. In 1980. Assad purged the lawyers and engineers syndicates for joining the Islamists in protesting his rule. Having a poorer and more provincial clientele, the teachers and agronomists syndicates were more supportive of the regime.

In 1984 Hosni Mubarak loosened the political lid Anwar el-Sadat had clamped on Egypt just before his assassination by Islamists in 1981. The Islamist heirs of Hasan al-Banna’s (d. 1949) Muslim Brotherhood surged into parliament (under the banner of other parties), student groups, faculty clubs, and syndicates. Islamists did best in the academically elite scientific and technical faculties, where they honed the organizing skills they later took into syndicate politics. Frustration with career prospects among bright lower-middle-class youth helped fuel the movement. With little organized opposition and only a fraction of those eligible voting, Islamists increasingly carried student, faculty, and syndicate elections. In 1990 they won board elections at the doctors syndicate for the third time, and in 1991 they swept elections in the engineering syndicate. In 1992 they even captured a majority of the seats on the board of the lawyers syndicate, the Wafd’s old stronghold.

In the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, syndicate and chamber of commerce elections offered rare tests of support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO dissidents, and Islamists. The Gaza Strip syndicate elections of 1992, for example, reversed the gains Islamists of the Hamas movement had made in 1990 in the engineers, lawyers, and doctors syndicates. The challenge of Islamism might well overshadow other political and professional issues in syndicates in much of the Islamic world for some time to come.


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, 1982. Example of the general works from which one must glean references on this topic for countries other than Egypt.

Bisharat, George Emile. Palestinian Lawyers and Israeli Rule: Law and Disorder in the West Bank. Austin, 1989.

Misra, B. B. The Indian Middle Classes: Their Growth in Modern Times. London, 1961. Contains considerable material on professional people, but little on their syndicates.

Moore, Clement Henry. “Professional Syndicates in Contemporary Egypt.” American Journal of Arabic Studies 3 (1975): 6o-82. Compares the politics of various professions within Egypt, picking up in time roughly where Reid (“Rise of Professions”) leaves off.

Moore, Clement Henry. Images of Development: Egyptian Engineers in Search of Industry. Cambridge, Mass., 198o. Excellent study of the Egyptian engineering profession and its politics.

Reid, Donald M. “The Rise of Professions and Professional Organization in Modern Egypt.” Comparative Studies in Society and History

16.1 (1974): 24-57. Compares the professionalization of lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists, and teachers in Egypt through the 1950s.

Reid, Donald M. Lawyers and Politics in the Arab World, 1880-1960. Minneapolis, 1981. Basic study of the pioneering modern profession and its politics.

Springborg, Robert. “Professional Syndicates in Egyptian Politics, 1952-1970.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 9.3 (1978): 275-295. Comparison of professions and their politics in Egypt, picking up in time where Reid (“Rise of Professions”) leaves off. Waardenburg, Jean-Jacques. Les universitis dans le monde arabe actuel. 2 vols. Paris, 1966. Statistics-packed, basic study of Arab universities.

Ziadeh, Farhat. Lawyers, the Rule of Law, and Liberalism in Modern Egypt. Stanford, Calif., 1968. Pioneering study of lawyers and politics in Egypt.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/syndicates/

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