During the past week Egypt has witnessed widespread anger among doctors after the death of Waleed Yehya, a young gynecologist aged 31 years. Doctor Waleed died after days of suffering and searching for an ICU bed amid complete official negligence. Simultaneously, the minister of health intervened personally to provide a VIP unit for Ragaa al-Geddawy, an 81-year-old actress, despite the fact that she was stable, and is still stable until now.
The incident carried symbolic value that expresses the government’s neglect of the problems of doctors.
Doctors in Egypt have a list of long-lasting problems including low salaries, repeated assaults in hospitals, old equipment in public hospitals, dilapidated systems of training and postgraduate studies, and obsolete laws of occupational hazards and faults that could put doctors in prison.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 in Egypt, a new problem has been added; that is of the shortage of protection equipment and tests for health care providers. This shortage has already caused a high percentage of infections and deaths among health care providers. The COVID-19 death toll among doctors in Egypt has reached 19 doctors until now, representing three per cent of total deaths, compared to 0.5 per cent in Italy.
The secret word: Oppression
Instead of solving those problems, or even bargaining with the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, the official union of Egyptian doctors, the Egyptian authorities rapidly resorted to its preferable solution: oppression.
After the mass resignation of doctors at Moneira General Hospital, the hospital where Waleed was working, a general from the National Security, the secret police organ, met with doctors at the hospital. The general implicitly threatened the doctors to withdraw their resignation and warned them against announcing any complaint on social media, promising to provide them with the protection equipment they demanded. These threats or warnings were already circulated to all public hospitals either directly or through Whatsapp messages. However, the authorities weren’t content with that, as the Egyptian secret police launched a crackdown on every doctor or writer who blogs about the complaints of doctors. As in every crackdown by the Egyptian secret police, this campaign included even doctors who haven’t said anything.
The current crackdown may be the widest since the one launched last September against the background of the uprising inspired by the dissident contractor Mohamed Ali. The September crackdown included the arrest and detention of more than 2,ooo people, including children, according to Human Rights Watch.
Crackdowns against bloggers, lawyers, journalists and every group have become a periodic or seasonal practice used by the Egyptian authorities. Those crackdowns begin usually with a media bombardment against the targeted people or group accusing them of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Media figures such as Ahmed Moussa, Nashaat al-Deehy and Amr Adeeb, and daily papers such as al-Dostor and al-Ahram are used as organs to attack dissidents or any person or group targeted by the authorities labelling them “terrorists” which has proved to be a mysterious word in Egypt.
Even Coptic Egyptians or prominent secular intellectuals or activists are now subject to such charges if they did something the authorities do not like. Recently, a Coptic journalist called Sameh Haneen was arrested and accused of belonging to a terrorist group for just producing documentaries for Al-Jazeera TV. Moreover, he was forced to record a video confessing such charges before the court decision in direct violation to all laws and customs. This mess extended to Dr. Mona Mena, the prominent union leader in the medical syndicate, who was accused of being a Muslim Brother despite the fact that she is Coptic. Furthermore, she was a vigorous opponent to the Muslim Brothers when they represented the majority in the elected medical syndicate council for more than 20 years. Dr. Mona also supported the oppressive measures against the Muslim Brothers after the July 3 military coup.
Furthermore, al-Dostor Egyptian daily accused the mother-in-law of Dr. Waleed Yehya of being a Muslim Brotherhood member for writing a comment complaining about the negligence her son-in-law suffered. Al-Ahram did the same but targeting Waleed himself by reviewing some of his old posts on Facebook where he complained about the hard life in Egypt.
The oppression in Egypt appears endless because no one inside Egypt can confront it, and no one in the world cares to end it. Inside Egypt, the authorities use direct harsh violence, outside the law, to crush dissidence or any voice inconsistent with its discourse. The judiciary turned out to be just an organ of the authorities. As for the syndicates, although semi-fair elections are still held, the syndicates’ councils work under the threat of dissolution and putting the syndicate under the administration of the government through a court decision. Moreover, the members of the syndicates’ councils are under the threat of arrest and detention if they cross the red lines put in place by authorities.
These policies themselves contribute towards deepening public administration dilemmas because it buries any susceptible reform. This makes the situation worse and doubles the motivations to carry out a popular revolt. Because of this, protesters accumulate, waiting for any chance to form a unitary insurgency against authorities. This scenario carries hopes and promises but also carries a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity.