In Egypt, doctors across the country are demonstrating solidarity by protesting against police abuses.
On January 28, two Cairo doctors, Ahmed Abdullah and Moamen Abdel-Azzem, were assaulted in the Matariya hospital after one of the doctors told a police officer that the cut on his forehead was “simple” and that stitches were unnecessary. This event prompted violence from the officer, and his partner responded by threatening the hospital staff with his gun. Seven more policemen arrived at the scene from the police station to arrest the doctors. One of the doctors tried to resist arrest, fell to the ground, and was stomped on the head by an officer.
On February 12, the doctors’ union, called the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, responded by staging protests outside of their building and calling for reform. The union protested the fact that the officers had only received a temporary suspension and called for proper retribution. Additionally, they demanded measures to protect doctors and nurses from violence and called for the health minister’s resignation due to his complacency about police brutality. The union decided to provide free services at public hospitals and threatened to go on a partial strike unless all of their demands were met.
On February 20, over 100 doctors in governorates throughout the country staged a one hour silent strike outside of their hospitals. “We want to send our message in a peaceful way and we will abide by all decisions made by the syndicate’s general assembly,” reported Dr. Mohamed Mokhtar, a participant in the silent stand, to Al-Ahram Arabic news. The doctors insist that their movements are apolitical and solely focused on resolving police brutality, while pro-government groups attempt to paint the union as backed by the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.
This strand of protests is unusual in the current Egyptian political landscape. In 2013, the interim president signed an anti-protest law with the ability to curtail large public movements. Ever since, large public demonstrations have become uncommon in Egypt due to the harsh response from current president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.
The public, however, has become more receptive to demonstrations in the past several months with a sharp increase in police brutality. Earlier in February, a nurse in the Al-Behira Governorate was slapped by a policeman, potentially causing the death of her unborn child. In October, a policeman assaulted a patient and nurse because his father’s surgery was postponed. In May, a nurse was admitted to a hospital in Beni Suef after being assaulted by a police officer for supposedly refusing to treat his sick wife. Most significantly, a taxi driver was killed by a police officer over a fare dispute, prompting demonstrations and an official response from el-Sisi. The president promised the public that he would introduce legislation to control domestic police abuse.
The Ministry of Health has responded to the syndicate by stating that the union has no jurisdiction to hold the minister accountable or strip him of a medical license. “Referring the health minister to the professional ethics committee is illegal,” said Khaled Megahed, the ministry spokesperson. The Ministry of Health has also rejected free medical treatment, claiming that it would violate the constitution and undermine more important expenditures in the state budget.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian police maintain that there is insufficient data and evidence about violations to necessitate change. The former president of the police academy claimed that violations of conduct are taken seriously and that human rights are taught to all police cadets in their first year.
The doctors’ union, however, remains unsatisfied, and the treasurer of the Cairo Medical Syndicate has indicated that there is a possibility of protests inside hospitals on March 5 if their demands remain unmet.