He is a prominent lawyer accredited internationally. He’s also a TV talk show host, and a very popular one at that. Khaled Abou Bakr co-hosts the Egyptian TV show, Al Kahera Al Youm, with veteran Amr Adeeb, adding a dose of calm deliberation to Adeeb’s heated, and occasionally theatrical, nightly monologue. eniGma’s Samia Farid Shihata sat down with Abou Bakr to find out more about his unlikely life journey.
Khaled Abou Bakr’s name first appeared on the Egyptian radar on the occasion of the murder of Egyptian Marwa El Sherbini in a courtroom in Dresden, Germany. The case grabbed Egypt’s attention and the trial was followed very closely by the Egyptian public. Since Abou Bakr was the lawyer who represented El Sherbini’s interests, the previously unknown lawyer, based in Paris, almost immediately became a household name in Cairo.
Abou Bakr’s career path is an interesting one. After graduating from Cairo University’s Faculty of Law in 1999, he headed straight to Paris. “I didn’t go there to pursue my post graduate studies, like other Egyptian graduates did. Instead I applied to the Academy of the French Lawyers’ Syndicate, where foreign lawyers had to study in order to acquire French accreditation,” he explains. “But unfortunately I was told that the French and Egyptian Lawyer’s syndicates did not have an agreement for reciprocal accreditation, a necessary condition for me to enroll in the Academy. Of course, I was very disappointed, but I didn’t give up. Instead, I worked hand in hand with the Head of the Paris Lawyers’ Syndicate to draft an agreement and to have it signed by the two national syndicates. Once that was done, I was actually honoured by the French for my efforts, and I promptly enrolled in the French Academy. When I finished my four years of study, I got my accreditation, and began to practice law in France and the rest of Europe.”
That was just the beginning of this Egyptian lawyer’s unique professional journey. In 2009, he was immersed in his successful practice in Paris, when he received a call from a prominent legal figure in Egypt asking him to take up the case of Marwa El Sherbini, the Egyptian woman who had just been murdered in Germany. Realising the magnitude of this case and its importance to Egypt, he put his regular work on hold and headed to Dresden. The case was a milestone for him in many ways.
For one thing, he became a regular on Egyptian television which constantly called on him to ask about progress in the case. Soon enough, his name and his face, became very familiar to Egyptian audiences. Coincidentally, a new law was passed in Germany, allowing foreign lawyers to represent non-German victims and to do so in the language of the victim’s country, with the court providing official translation. Until then Abou Bakr was handling El Sherbini’s case as a French lawyer. He quickly submitted a request to be her Egyptian lawyer and to address the court in Arabic. He thus became the first Arab lawyer to address the German courts in Arabic. That was another milestone which was followed by yet another, also related to this court case: for the first time in a German court, the murderer was sentenced to the maximum prison time possible under German law.
Following this much publicised trial, Abou Bakr spent more time in Egypt and by the end of 2010, had moved his legal practice to Cairo, while also maintaining his Parisian practice. Recalling his move back to Egypt, he explains, “My focus was firmly on my work, but once the political unrest began in 2011, I would occasionally be approached to comment on ongoing political developments and I always would express very frank, hard hitting opinions.” His candid views caught the eyes of both TV viewers and media professionals, and soon enough, he joined the famous Amr Adeeb on Al Kahera Al Youm as part-time co-host, achieving much success right away. Thus was launched Abou Bakr’s second career as popular TV talk show host. Another milestone.
Abou Bakr insists that his first priority will always remain his legal practice, while admitting he appreciates having the opportunity to express his views on TV on a variety of public issues. Not surprisingly, one such issue close to his heart is the reform of the legal system. Abou Bakr notes with fervour, “We have great independent judges. We have great legal principles. And we are very proud of our Court of Cassation, which is recognised as one the most respectable courts in the world. However, we have to realise that our judges work in very difficult circumstances. They lack many of the tools they need to help them work efficiently.” He adds, “How can a judge perform optimally when he has to read thousands of pages written by hand, often in illegible handwriting? Or when he has to deal with 500 misdemeanor cases in one day? Or when there is not even an electric fan in his courtroom where the temperature reaches 40 degrees?” We must improve the working conditions of our judges. It is also essential that law school graduates appointed to the district attorney’s offices are provided with special training before they take on their jobs. The Judges’ Academy should also provide extensive training to prospective judges to prepare them for the heavy burden they will carry.”
When it comes to the betterment of Egypt, Abou Bakr’s enthusiasm seems to have no bounds. His list of causes includes providing greater opportunities for women, strengthening the bonds of Egyptians living abroad to the mother country, and mobilising the many talented and well educated young Egyptians to play their part in rebuilding Egypt, just to mention a few.
Abou Bakr is chock full of ideas. He passionately communicates them to anyone who will listen and he does his best to make things happen. And he’s not waiting for any trophy in return, he just wants Egypt to be all that it can be.