Egypt has arrested at least 10 doctors and warned health professionals that they can be punished if they speak out since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
Security forces have tried to quell criticism of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and the way in which his government suppresses the pandemic, causing 76,253 infections and 3,343 deaths in Egypt – the worst death toll in the Arab world.
Doctors have expressed anger at protective gear shortages and a clear government effort to blame them for the spike in deaths.
According to rights organizations, at least ten doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus was first infected in February.
A health worker wearing protective gear takes a motorist’s cotton swab in a drive-through center at Ain Shams University in Cairo – as Egypt fights against a spike in deaths
President el-Sissi has eradicated disputes since leading a military takeover in 2013, detaining Islamic opponents, secular activists and journalists.
A foreign correspondent fled the country during the virus pandemic for fear of arrest, and two more were raped for “professional violations.”
The military has established field hospitals with 4,000 beds, scaled up testing, and commissioned companies to produce face masks and other supplies.
But doctors say they are forced to buy surgical masks with their meager salary, while families advocate intensive care beds.
Health workers in Egypt say they have been warned by drivers to be silent or punished.
A doctor in Cairo said, “Every day when I go to work, I sacrifice myself and my whole family. Then they arrest my colleagues to send us a message. I don’t see any light on the horizon. ‘
The pandemic has reinvigorated the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, a non-political profession, as a champion of physician rights.
Last month, the union issued a letter to the public prosecutor demanding the release of five detained doctors who expressed their views on the virus response.
Another syndicate member, Mohamed el-Fawal, was jailed last week after demanding an apology from the prime minister for comments that health workers have been blamed for a spike in deaths.
Angry doctors hit back, saying they were under-trained, under-paid and under-resourced and struggling to save patients.
So far, 117 doctors, 39 nurses and 32 pharmacists have died of Covid-19, according to syndicate members’ figures. Thousands have become ill.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government (pictured) has been criticized for addressing the pandemic, which has caused 76,253 infections and 3,343 deaths in Egypt.
Security forces are closing a syndicate press conference to respond to Prime Minister comments and discuss supply shortages, former leader Mona Mina said.
“These doctors have no history of activism, they were arrested for criticizing their very specific professional circumstances,” said Amr Magdi of Human Rights Watch, who confirmed the arrests of eight doctors and two pharmacists.
Two have been released, he said, while the rest remain in remand.
Doctors in three counties say administrators threatened to report it if they publicly expressed frustration with authorities or failed to show up for work.
In one voice recording, a health representative in a province in the Nile Delta is told, “Even if a doctor dies, he must continue to work … or face the most severe punishment.”
At least 15 people have been arrested for broadcasting “false news” about the pandemic, according to the UN human rights agency.
Four Egyptian journalists who reported the outbreak are still in prison, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, which Egypt, along with Turkey and China, has identified as one of the worst prison guards in the world.
Those who spread ‘false news’ online about the coronavirus could face up to five years’ imprisonment and heavy fines, Egypt’s top prosecutor has warned.
The corona virus is rising in the country of 100 million people and threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
The death toll of 3,434 is higher than in other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia (1,858) or Iraq (2,368).
With borders closed and flights halted, critical tourism revenues in Egypt have disappeared – a test of the economy and governmental authority.
Although el-Sissi opposed a total shutdown due to the economic impact, schools, mosques, restaurants, shopping centers and clubs were closed early in the outbreak and curfews were imposed in the evening.
Last week, the government reopened much of the society, welcoming hundreds of international tourists despite the spike in deaths.