Unemployment key issue in Actors Syndicate elections

Elections for the Actors Syndicate will begin on Wednesday at el-Salam theatre. Three nominees will compete for the position of chairman, with another 50 candidates seeking board membership.

The competition for top position in the syndicate is relatively calm, with most predictions saying that the current chairman, Ashraf Zaky, will remain in office. On the other hand, the battle over membership of the board is heating up, with seven female candidates vying for seats this year.

As with last year’s elections, candidates’ platforms revolved around certain issues such as the right to perform in public, actors’ day celebrations, life and health insurance, pension increases, and housing projects for junior actors. The problem of unemployment also remained a key concern on all levels.

Ashraf Zaky boasted his success in driving up the employment rate by 70 percent, but other candidates stressed that the issue is a ticking bomb that might explode at any time.

The problem of unemployment plagued more than two thirds of members during the term of the last syndicate board. The syndicate includes 1500 actors, of whom only 500 manage to work every year, the rest falling victim to unemployment. This has prompted many to take work in Gulf states or to take up employment as hourly-paid teachers.

Although more than 100 films and TV series are produced annually, many producers depend on new actors who are not syndicate members, a crime which successive boards have been unable to tackle. Article 106 of Law 35/1978 (the acting professions law) imposes a jail sentence and/or a fine of LE10,000 on any person who practices a profession mentioned in Article 2 of the same law without being bound by syndicate rules or without obtaining a temporary practicing license, based on Article 5 of the law. The same penalty may be imposed on any employer who contracts with non-members or with persons who do not hold a license from the syndicate.

Most of the candidates, whether running for the first time or those who have previously run for elections, consider the problem of unemployment to be a priority, and offered solutions to the crisis.

Samy Nawwar, syndicate secretary during the last term, obtained 332 votes in the last elections and has been nominated for a second time. He attributed the problem of unemployment to the fact that the state does not pay enough attention to artists’ trade unions, and the latter consequently find it hard to abide by the law.

"We have previously taken legal action against producers and non-professional actors, but only five percent of any legal action yielded positive results, though we always demand a prison sentence. The judge always replies: ‘How can I imprison someone for only being an actor?’ despite the fact that the punishment can be found written in law," Nawwar said, adding, "No syndicate board will be able to solve actors’ problems until the state recognizes the role of art in society, and ceases to treat it as a tool of entertainment." He explained that this was the reason Zaky had demanded that the state devote a day to celebrate actors, and that this will be implemented within the next term, with the goal of helping the problem of unemployment to diminish.

Hassan el-Ezaby, board member during the last term, gained 445 votes in the last elections and is also nominated as board member for the new term. He clarified that the problem of unemployment affects all trade unions, but it is more obvious at the Actors Syndicate due to the large number of drama and theater departments at faculties of arts, in addition to the many graduates coming from the Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts. According to el-Ezaby, this has caused the number of syndicate members to increase year by year, and there are now more than 3000 members, most of whom do not have a talent for acting, placing themselves and the syndicate in a dilemma.

The crisis was exacerbated when Egyptian TV followed the pattern of private production firms, focusing only on big stars and denying opportunities to syndicate member actors, with producers in turn breaching the law which limits the number of licenses that can be granted to non-member actors in any artistic production to ten percent.

Moataz el-Meghawry, another board member candidate, said that unemployment is a long-term problem which needs a combination of efforts to find a way out. He also emphasized the necessity of enforcing the law.

Salwa el-Oraby, who gained only 97 votes in the last elections, claimed that 80 percent of syndicate members are without work because the board ignores the law and favors producers at the expense of its members. "I previously confronted the board over this issue, and I was attacked on the basis that I did not have the authority to talk since I was not a board member," she said. "That’s why I decided to run for the elections this term, to bring an end to the sad reality."

El-Oraby said that unemployment is more severe in other sections of the syndicate, such as set design, folk arts, circus and ballet, which suffer due to the ignorance of board members and the chairman, even though members in these departments are also graduates from the Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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