Mohamed Ali returns to slam Sisi on COVID-19 — is anyone listening?

Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian construction contractor who last year called for protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has recently appeared on social media, accusing the government of failing to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

al-monitor A woman who is in a contact with people who have contracted the coronavirus wears a protective face mask as she receives free medicines provided by the Ministry of Health, at a medical center in Cairo, Egypt, June 3, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

Jun 12, 2020

Egyptian artist Mohamed Ali, who is also a contractor who cooperated with the military, recently made a reappearance after announcing at the beginning of the year stepping away from politics and shutting down his Facebook page. 

In video footage posted on YouTube May 24, Ali accused Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime of burdening the Egyptian people with the cost of the economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus crisis. 

In May, the Egyptian government approved a draft law deducting 1% of the net income of Egyptians’ salaries in all public and private sectors to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. The measure includes workers whose employment is regulated by special laws or regulations and who receive a fixed salary.

In his video, Ali also lashed out at the Egyptian government for failing to address the coronavirus crisis and not showing transparency in disclosing the real number of infection cases, which aggravated the situation and led to the infection of a large number of citizens and medical staff.

“The Egyptian government has failed to manage the coronavirus crisis in a way that saves the lives of the Egyptian people,” he said, accusing the authorities of trying to find a scapegoat to be held liable for their failure.

Ali tried to explain his return to the public scene, saying, “There is a difference between retiring from political life and retiring from the love of my family and country because this is something I cannot do — or else I would be a traitor. I never said I was abandoning my love for Egypt and its people.”

In September 2019, Ali had released a series of videos reportedly exposing the existence of corruption in “sensitive” Egyptian institutions, accusing prominent officials of being aware of this — which Sisi repeatedly has denied. Ali subsequently called for protests against Sisi, and thousands took to the streets on Sept. 20, 2019, calling for the president’s departure. However, the protest movement failed to continue among a harsh government crackdown.

Ali had managed to sidestep the Egyptian government's crackdown on the media, by using his cellphone camera and livestreaming videos on Facebook.

Ali again called for protests on the ninth anniversary of the 2011 uprising, but few took notice — a sign his influence seemed to have faded.

Meanwhile, countries around the world struggle to mitigate the economic losses resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, including Egypt. Living conditions have deteriorated in Egypt, where the tourism sector has been badly affected and foreign remittances dropped dramatically, according to Finance Minister Mohamed Maait. In a May 14 statement, Maait stressed that Egypt is seeking to revive the economy by safeguarding the gains of the economic reform program, in a way that builds on the positive results achieved after the government adopted a proactive policy to manage the current crisis and mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic. As part of this policy, the government provided a financial package estimated at about 2% of the gross domestic product to support the Egyptian economy, while taking into account the balance between protecting the health of the citizens and the continuation of the production wheel, Maait added.

The coronavirus has so far killed 34 medical staff out of 372 confirmed cases, 160 of whom are still receiving treatment, and about 80 have recovered, according to June 2 statements of Karim Mesbah, a member of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate.

Commenting on video footage showing an Egyptian woman begging for her infected mother to be treated, Ali wondered where the funds allocated to the coronavirus crisis went. He lashed out at the authorities saying, “Where did the 100 billion Egyptian pounds [$6.17 billion] allocated to curb the spread of the coronavirus go? People are dying in the streets and cannot find treatment. Negligence is prevailing, even in hospitals. The blood of every Egyptian is on your hands.”

Kawthar Mahmoud, head of the Nursing Syndicate, reported 70 confirmed cases among nursing personnel, expecting this number to increase amid a lack of access to the tally kept by the Ministry of Health and Population. In an interview with El-Watan News May 30, she said that 10 nurses have died so far. 

On June 2, the Ministry of Health and Population set the prices for coronavirus treatment in private sector hospitals. The Cabinet had decided to set regulations for private hospitals that started treating coronavirus patients. It fixed the price of treatment per day for infected patients who stayed in isolation but did not need an ICU bed, after receiving a barrage of complaints of soaring treatment prices in nongovernment hospitals.

The cost of treatment per day for a patient in isolation ranges from 1,500 to 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($92-$185), while the cost of isolation on the intensive care with a ventilator ranges from 7,500 to 10,000 pounds ($462-$617) and without a ventilator from 5,000 to 7,000 pounds ($308-$432).

Egypt has about 35,152 hospital beds, 2,218 ventilators and 3,539 ICU beds. Health Minister Hala Zayed said June 3 that the ministry had equipped 36 additional hospitals to receive coronavirus patients, which raises the total number of hospitals treating these patients to 376 across Egypt.

Despite the minister's statements, many people complained, including officials, parliamentarians and journalists, demanding increased testing capacities and better health care. Dozens of videos posted on social media showing coronavirus-infected patients searching for a place in a hospital isolation unit or people looking for a bed for their elderly parent added to the unrest.

The government has been repeatedly confirming the hospitals’ ability to provide health-care services, reassuring the public that they have yet to reach their maximum capacity. However, the soaring number of cases prompted the government to take more measures, most notably increasing the test capacity and semi-isolation hospitals to more than 350. These measures also included the use of screening and testing services, self-isolation for minor cases with the delivery of medicine to the infected and those who came in contact with them, and the use of a phone app providing instructions to those infected.

A medical source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The health-care system in Egypt was not ready to deal with the pandemic. There is a buildup of patients in the isolation hospitals currently operating, resulting in the inability to isolate all patients, and a lack of providing tests for all patients and those who came in contact with them.”

The source noted that things have spiraled out of control, stressing the need for a change of plan and strategy to get through the crisis. “This is why Health Minister Zayed decided in a video conference with the directors of health directorates earlier this week [June 3] to turn all government hospitals into isolation hospitals.”

Commenting on the decision of the Ministry of Health that advises patients to self-isolate and not to go to hospitals except in severe cases, the source explained, “With no other cases being admitted to hospitals and the referral of patients with other illnesses to nearby small health-care centers, these centers have turned into temporary clinics — both public and private — which are not affiliated with hospitals. The minister had decided to close outpatient clinics in hospitals to avoid the spread of infection among noninfected patients visiting these clinics.”

As the coronavirus curb goes upward, attacks on physicians and nursing staff are likely to increase. The source warned that the police will not be able to protect them or to provide security at hospitals, especially in areas far from the capital.

Recounting a personal experience, the source said, “Years ago, when a man stormed into a hospital with a machine gun, security members fled the scene. He then entered the ICU and forced me and my colleague to treat his mother at gunpoint. No one helped us in this unfortunate situation, until the intruder’s mother — who later found out that her son was a registered offender in the area — regained consciousness screaming at him and asking him to take her back home.”

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