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Egyptian state media accuses doctors of treason for speaking up on coronavirus crisis

Egyptian doctors are speaking out against health authorities over increasing coronavirus infections and deaths among medical staff across the country.
A medical staff member wearing face mask  to prevent the spread of the  coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walks in front of hospital in downtown Cairo, after Egypt's government made wearing masks mandatory in public places and public transport, in Cairo, Egypt May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh - RC2RZG9JH91S

Egyptian doctors have expressed anger in recent days, accusing the authorities of neglecting them and failing to protect and provide them with the protective equipment they need. In response, media outlets close to the government accused the doctors of treason, not sacrificing for the sake of the nation and even taking part in plans by hostile foreign countries or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Within one week, 12 Egyptian doctors died of the novel coronavirus. On May 26, four doctors died, followed by eight others in the same week, leading to mass resignations by doctors at al-Munira Hospital in Cairo.

Since the coronavirus crisis began and up until June 1, 33 doctors have died from COVID-19, while 372 have tested positive for the virus. Of that number, about 80 have recovered, Karim Mesbah, member of the Doctors Syndicate Council, said in a June 2 press statement.

On May 25, the syndicate issued a strongly worded statement accusing the Ministry of Health of failing to protect medical staff.

The syndicate held the Ministry of Health fully responsible for the increase in cases and deaths among doctors, threatening to take “all legal and union measures to protect the lives of its members and to prosecute all those involved in this failure that could even be considered murder.”

The Egyptian government responded with skepticism, threats and intimidation, followed by arresting some doctors. Dr. Hani Bakr, an ophthalmologist, was arrested for writing an April 4 Facebook post about the pandemic in which he denounced the performance of the Egyptian government in dealing with the crisis, criticizing the authorities for sending medical masks to China and Italy while he was unable to obtain them, Bakr’s lawyer Aisha Nabil told Al-Monitor.

The authorities are still holding Bakr, one of at least three doctors who were arrested during the pandemic, Nabil noted. She added that he is accused of spreading false news, misusing social media and joining a terrorist organization, pointing out that the last charge is often used in political cases.

Media outlets close to the Egyptian regime accused the doctors who protested and resigned over the deaths of their colleagues of treason, saying they were members or sympathizers of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Gate Ahram reported May 25, “What happened in the wake of the death of Dr. Walid Yahya at Mounira Hospital due to COVID-19 raises many questions about the role of the terrorist Brotherhood in the crisis, especially after the doctor who submitted his resignation was proven to be affiliated with the Brotherhood.” It went on, “Brotherhood members and their supporters are doing their best to quash the society’s will in confronting the coronavirus crisis or any other crisis by attempting to ignite sectarian conflicts. Today it’s the doctors; tomorrow they will target workers, and so on until the country that banned this group collapses.”

The front page of Al-Dostor on May 28 included pictures of doctors including Dr. Mona Mina, the undersecretary of the Doctors Syndicate and former member of the Doctors Syndicate Council, as well as politicians, journalists and other prominent public figures over whom a banner read, “All Members of the Brotherhood.”

The pro-government camp in Egypt took the conflict between the Ministry of Health and the Egyptian Doctors Syndicate a step further. Notorious lawyer Samir Sabry submitted a criminal complaint against Mina, accusing her of “spreading false news and inciting division and strikes among doctors.”

Mina is known for fighting for doctors’ rights and had previously called on the government to provide them with protection.

Doctors in Egypt denounced the arrest of their colleagues. Dr. Mohammed Awad told Al-Monitor over the phone, “I’ve known Bakr since the January [25] Revolution [in 2011]. Back then, he used to join us in field hospitals, save the injured people in the protests and when things settled in Egypt after the revolution, we worked together at the Tahrir Doctors Society and went on medical convoys to Cairo and other governorates. Bakr was always present and even went on convoys to remote areas such as Halayib, Shalateen, Siwa and Marsa Matruh.”

Awad added, “Bakr was arrested for merely publishing his opinion on his personal page and was charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, although he only pointed out the negligence that everyone can already see. Bakr was never a member of the Brotherhood, nor did he even like the group. As proof, he used to join the demonstrations in protest against the Brotherhood when it was in charge.”

On May 28, head of the Doctors Syndicate Hussein Khairy met with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly for the first time since the beginning of the crisis to discuss the problems that doctors are facing during the pandemic such as the lack of personal protective equipment, training for medical teams assigned to work in new quarantine centers, testing for medical staff who come in contact with COVID-19 cases and places to isolate medical workers who contract the virus.

Following the meeting, Madbouly announced that testing will be immediately increased for medical staff and that isolation rooms for doctors will be created in each hospital. He also vowed to provide the necessary protective equipment to medical teams and all hospitals. 

Egyptian Minister of Health Hala Zayed defended her management of the crisis and said in a May 25 statement that the ministry “has been keen to allocate a section in every hospital with a capacity of 20 beds for the treatment of medical personnel with COVID-19.” She said that her ministry observes all precautions and procedures to protect medical staff, as all staff members are checked upon entering the hospitals to work for shifts of 14 days straight and again before leaving.

More from A correspondent in Egypt

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