Egyptian doctors on front lines against police violence

The murder of a truck driver heats up Egypt’s streets.

Alsalam hospital, Cairo (photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH)
Alsalam hospital, Cairo
(photo credit: ASMAA WAGUIH)
CAIRO – A newly chastened police force stood aside last weekend while hundreds of doctors in Egypt’s public hospitals staged a nationwide one-hour walkout to protest police violence, and thousands of Cairo’s inner- city residents turned out for the funeral of a 24-year-old truck driver shot by a transit policeman.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, ordering that legislative amendments be presented to parliament in response to the killing of Mohamed Sayyed Ismail, a pickup truck driver who was shot by a junior police officer after a fare dispute in the heart of the capital’s medieval Islamic city.
The politically independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm quotes an eyewitness claiming the police officer refused to give Ismail money in return for loading items into his vehicle and shot the driver in a quarrel over the fare.
The order to put an end to police force abuses and the penalties imposed on perpetrators was announced after hundreds protested outside the Cairo Security Directorate.
Last Friday the Interior Ministry said the police officer’s gun had gone off “by accident.”
“Once again in the same week the protest law is massively ignored and there are real demonstrations against the police the likes of which we have not seen in the past three years,” posted activist blogger Zeinab Mohamed.
Against the background of continued speculation that the country’s “deep state” is connected to the disappearance and brutal murder last month of Cambridge University graduate student Giulio Regeni, an Italian national, Egypt’s police and other internal security agencies face increased scrutiny as incidents of violence and abuse of power against the citizenry pile up.
Sisi’s directive to Ghaffar to tackle abuses came with a 15-day deadline, according to a statement from the president’s office. The officer involved in the fare dispute shooting has been detained pending investigation by authorities.
Last week’s 10,000-strong showing by the Doctors’ Syndicate in response to the beating of a physician at the hands of a policeman at Cairo’s Matareya teaching hospital blocked the major downtown thoroughfare of Kasr Al-Ain, effectively defying the anti-protest law issued in November 2013 by then-interim president Adly Mansour.
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights has documented 91 incidents of police violence against medical staff in the past three years which resulted in six dead and 80 injured in 53 attacks in 22 of the county’s 27 governorates.
Most of the cases involve police personnel demanding priority care and demands to “jump the queue” in the country’s overcrowded and underfunded public hospitals.
In the Matareya case, an officer assaulted a doctor after he refused to falsify a medical record to authorize the officer’s extended sick leave.
“Doctors are working in inhumane circumstances with below-minimum resources and getting paid a salary that can’t secure minimal life needs,” Akeem Ismail, a junior physician at a public hospital in the capital’s south-central Maadi neighborhood.
“Nevertheless they get attacked by the brutality of the police,” Ismail told The Media Line.
Doctors are demanding the referral of the incident to criminal court – which would be a rarity for an officer accused of assault in Egypt – and said doctors should be able to strike if they, or their medical facility, were the victims of assault.
Before the shooting of the truck driver, popular media were smearing doctors as incompetent, lazy and immoral.
The mass circulation Youm7 reported that police arrested “members of a prostitution ring, including a doctor” in the Delta region and the semi-official Al-Ahram ran an investigative report “about a physician whose surgical mistakes resulted in the death of a 97-yearold patient.
“Official narratives are going to have to change soon if the ruling group expects to maintain the acquiescence of the majority,” Muhammad Bichara, an internist at an Alexandria public hospital, told The Media Line.
“It takes massive levels of incompetence to turn taxi drivers and physicians into political allies.”
For more media line stories: