Egypt’s medical staff face arrest if they protest the handling of covid-19

Egyptian authorities have cracked down on criticism over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly also blamed medical professionals for the country’s outbreak. 

Egypt has arrested several doctors who protested over the country’s fragile health systems and poor working environment. In another case, a pharmacist was picked from work after posting an online video over a shortage of protective gear.

The Associated Press reported a cumulative arrest of 10 doctors and 6 journalists since the initial outbreak in February. The report alleges that health workers are muzzled by administrators to remain silent or face punishment. 

Medical workers who voice their concerns publicly are arrested on grounds of “spreading false news” or “terrorism” related charges. 

Also read: 

Ruth Michaelson, a reporter for the Guardian, questioned the accuracy of the official tally of confirmed cases only to be expelled from the country.

Michaelson’s report was conducted alongside the infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto, indicating a higher number of covid-19 cases across Egypt.

On March 17, Michaelson’s press accreditation was revoked and Egyptian officials demanded a retraction of the story and a public apology. 

According to Al-Monitor reporting doctors across Egypt have requested for more bed space and supplies in hospitals.

Instead, authorities have subjected them to a "campaign of harassment and intimidation," according to Amnesty International. Many are between a rock and hard place - risking covid-19 infection or punishment by the authorities. 

Official figures shared by the Associated Press show 188 medical workers across Egypt have succumbed to coronavirus.

The country of 100 million is experiencing a surge in new cases, now threatening to overwhelm their hospitals. As of July 11, reported cases had exceeded 80,000 with over 3,700 deaths - highest in the Arab world.

As the most populous country in the Middle East, some have criticized the authenticity of the low number of infections arising from official government tallies.

Prime Minister shifts blame to doctors

At a July 13 press conference, AP reported Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly attributing “negligence and mismanagement” by doctors as the leading cause of covid-19.

That prompted a harsh response from the Egyptian Medical Syndicate union. Mohamed El-Fawal, a treasurer of a local branch demanded for an apology through a Facebook post. Al-Monitor reported that El-Fawal was detained and held for 12 days. 

To offset the PM’s statement, the government spokesman praised the medical profession as "Egypt's White Army" a badge of honor for the doctors. A scheduled meeting by the medical union group to discuss working conditions was scuttled by security forces.

Intolerance towards medics

There are cases of medical workers being arrested for pointing out a positive case. Amnesty gave the following instances:

  • Alaa Shaaban Hamida, a 26-year old doctor arrested by the National Security Agency (NSA) after her phoned was used to report a case to the government hotline.
  • Ophthalmologist Hany Bakr, arrested for challenging the wisdom behind the government sending medical aid to China and Italy. 
  • Security officers raiding the home of a doctor who published articles adversely affecting the government’s response to the crisis.