Egypt’s doctors vow to escalate against police abuse

Doctors call for nationwide protest on February 20 to end police brutality against professionals.

Doctor protest Egypt
'The Egyptian society backs the doctors and does not oppose them, as the media claims,' said Mena [Amr Nabil/AP]

For many Egyptian activists, February 12 has been hailed as the day ‘the anti-protest law’ has been ‘killed publicly’ in downtown Cairo as hundreds of Egyptian doctors defied the infamous law and gathered in front of the doctors syndicate to hold an urgent general assembly session. The gathering discussed recent abuses by police officers against a number of Matariya Hospital doctors. 

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Hundreds of protesting doctors chanted slogans calling for prosecuting the police officers who had attacked the doctors. About 60 public figures and syndicates’ representatives expressed solidarity with the doctors.

The syndicate’s general assembly vowed to carry out escalating measures by holding nationwide protests on February 20 in hospitals across the nation if its demands are not met.

The doctors syndicate has demanded the sacking of the Health Minister Ahmed Emad due to his failure to protect the doctors on duty.

The protesting doctors have assured they won’t end their strike unless the minister resigns. Activists expressing solidarity with the doctors have initiated the Hashtag #I_support_Doctors_syndicate in Arabic that was trending in Egypt on Friday with over 40,000 tweets.

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Late last month, two police officers assaulted two doctors at the Matariya Hospital after the doctors refused to falsify medical reports in the officers’ favour. The doctors were taken from the hospital and dragged into a microbus, handcuffed and taken to the Matariya Police Station.

The doctors filed a complaint against the police, which they later dropped due to intimidation from the interior ministry.The police officers have since made a counter complaint against the doctors, accusing them of assault.

If it weren't for the security cameras, I wouldn't have managed to prove my case when police officers took me away.

by Momen Zakariya, director of Matariya Hospital

On February 1, the Matariya Hospital was closed for two days due to these reports of police intimidation and threats against the two physicians.

The general assembly has affirmed it would announce an emergency closure for any hospital that comes under attack and urged the parliament to issue deterring sanctions against assailants, including interior ministry officers. The assembly has also rejected the “privatisation” of Egypt’s health sector and new health insurance system. 

Addressing the general assembly, chairman of the Egyptian doctors syndicate, Hussein Khairy, stressed that the protests are merely professional and not politicised.

Meanwhile, the syndicate’s deputy head Mona Mena said the doctors had gathered on “a day of dignity”, adding that “hospitals must be a decent, safe place for patients and doctors as well.”

“The Egyptian society backs the doctors and does not oppose them, as the media claims,” she added.

“The doctors’ union is paying the price for opposing policies that are harsh on the patients and resisting the infiltration of multinational companies.” 

Amid loud slogans calling for a doctors’ strike, Mena assured that “the coming escalating measures are legal and influential, but not against the citizens or the patients”. The doctors demanded the installation of CCTV cameras in ER sections and hospital passages.

Also, doctors demanded that no armed person other than security personnel enter any medical facility. The assembly also agreed to give the rights to doctors to strike if they or their medical workplace is being attacked.

On the other hand, director of Matariya Hospital, Momen Zakariya, who was among those attacked by police officers, has called for banning police officers from arresting a doctor on duty. “If it weren’t for the security cameras, I wouldn’t have managed to prove my case when police officers took me away,” Zakariya said.

Egyptian doctors protest against police abuse

Zakariya has called for a ban on entry of any armed person into hospitals “so I wouldn’t be surprised by a knife pointed at my back or a gun at my head”. 

Meanwhile, Egyptian doctor Hatim Talima told Al Jazeera: “We miss our colleagues who are behind bars, such as Dr Taher Mokhtar, who defended the rights of millions of patients.”

He is held at Tora prison and faces daily oppression because he had exposed the violations committed by interior ministry officials inside detention centres, while the police officers who had attacked doctors were freed.

Activist Ahmed Abu Zeid has confirmed to Al Jazeera that “the revolutionary coalition of professional movements” supports the doctors’ decisions.

“We hope that this strike will be a real beginning to put an end to the police’s abuse against all professionals.”

Source: Al Jazeera