Egypt's doctors in dismay

Mona El-Nahhas , Friday 18 May 2018

Doctors expressed their anger this week in the wake of a court ruling against a colleague

Medical syndicate protest
Doctors demonstrating at the medical syndicate on May 11, 2018 (Photo: courtesy of Egyptian Medical Syndicate official website)

The Doctors Syndicate this week initiated legal measures to contest a jail term recently handed down against Mohamed Hassan, a doctor working at a Sharqiya governorate hospital, on charges of insulting the judiciary.

On 9 May, the 10 Ramadan Misdemeanours Court convicted Hassan of insulting the judiciary and hindering the work of the prosecution authorities. The court sentenced him to a one-year jail term, dismissed him from his job, and gave him bail of LE5,000.

The Sharqiya branch of the syndicate paid the bail in order to suspend the ruling and to enable Hassan to contest the sentence before an appeals court.

The story started on 20 March, when Fathalla Radi, a member of the 10 Ramadan prosecution, headed to the hospital where Hassan worked and asked for data related to a case he was investigating.

The prosecutor asked Hassan, who was working on a shift in the emergency department, to accompany him to the prosecution offices to finish some legal procedures.

A quarrel was reported to have taken place after Hassan refused to leave in the middle of his shift. Hassan said he went to the prosecution office after he had finished his work, but he had been ordered to leave, he said.

On the following day, an arrest warrant was issued against Hassan remanding him for four days in custody pending investigations on charges of hindering the work of the prosecution authorities and acting improperly with a member of the judiciary.

He was then released on a LE10,000 bail, and 18 April was set for the judicial hearing.

Last week’s ruling against Hassan intensified the anger created by his arrest among his colleagues. The ruling is being viewed by many doctors as “shocking and biased” since the doctor was punished for being committed to his work.

Calls for a partial work stoppage, sit-ins, and collective resignations have been made. However, such measures have not been taken because the 11 May Extraordinary General Assembly of the syndicate, which was to have been held to discuss the case, was not held as the legal quorum required to hold the meeting was not complete.

Unlike the 2016 General Assembly meeting of the syndicate in which thousands of the country’s doctors protested against practices of the security services, only 500 doctors took part in the 11 May Assembly.

It ended with a symbolic sit-in in front of the syndicate attended by dozens of people holding banners. Syndicate members then held a meeting to discuss further steps to be taken in Hassan’s case.

The syndicate stressed its readiness to offer legal support to Hassan and to bear his legal costs. Its council called upon the prosecutor-general to establish a proper system for summoning doctors to prosecution offices given the nature of their work.

It also asked the prosecutor-general to investigate the complaint filed by the Sharqiya syndicate chairman against the prosecutor who had stirred up the crisis.

Some doctors blamed the syndicate council for foiling the meeting of the General Assembly.

Fewer than 24 hours ahead of the meeting, Syndicate Chairman Hussein Khairy and Deputy Osama Abdel-Hai met Health Minister Ahmed Emadeddin in an attempt to contain the problem.

Some doctors argued the meeting had weakened the General Assembly and given the impression that the council was ready to settle for a compromise.

Addressing the doctors present at the meeting, Khairy said that “maybe I made a mistake, but we all learn from our mistakes.” On 12 May, Abdel-Hai resigned his post without giving a reason.

Mona Mena, deputy secretary-general of the syndicate council who has temporarily taken Abdel-Hai’s place, said the meeting with the health minister was an “unintentional mistake”. She called on doctors to join hands with the syndicate council to defend their rights.

“We are not hostile to the judiciary. However, we are not going to abandon our colleague. Our support for him is professionally motivated,” she said.

 “Talk about the ruling should stop. Court rulings should not be criticised. They can just be appealed,” said judge Reda Al-Sayed, spokesman of the Judges Club, during an interview with the Dream satellite TV channel on Saturday.

“Rulings passed by the Egyptian judiciary are void of personal whims. The judges should not be accused of issuing biased rulings. The judiciary is an authority whose neutrality is above question,” he said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: Doctors in dismay 

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