On Friday, Egypt's doctors agreed to hold an open strike, which will exclude emergency medical treatment and some other key areas, until their demands relating to pay and working conditions are met.
"For a doctor to treat patients, he must have fewer things to worry, or at least must worry less about having food to eat," Ahmed Khalifa, an ear, nose and throat doctor in Tanta told Ahram Online.
Khalifa has been practicing medicine for four years. He earns a fixed income of LE 345 per month, along with a bonus of 555, which is not regularly paid.
Thousands of Egyptian practitioners who work in the public sector earn less than a thousand Egyptian pounds a month. They frequently work in difficult conditions and in unsafe hospitals. Doctors have tried several ways of realising their demands for better salaries and working conditions, including hunger strikes, protests, and a one day strike, with little success.
On Friday, thousands of doctors attended a general assembly meeting of the medical syndicate in Cairo, where they agreed to hold a semi-open strike starting on 1 October. The committee that will organise this strike was also agreed upon.
However, it took at least 5 hours, some minor clashes, the departure of the head of the syndicate and some minutes of turning off the lights to agree on these decisions. The doctors are planning to include in the strike external clinics and non-urgent operations. Medical treatment related to emergency cases, renal dialysis and chronic disease will not be included.
The main demands of the striking doctors are a minimum wage for medical practitioners of LE 3,000 per month, the provision of security guards inside hospitals, and the raising of the portion of the state budget for healthcare to 15 per cent.
One controversial point discussed during the meeting was whether to punish those who do not take part in the strike. Some attendees argued that the right to protest is a human right and protesters should not be subject to any form of punishment, and the decision not to take part in this strike is a personal one and should also not receive punishment. The head of the medical syndicate, Khairy Abdel Dayem, was against punishing those not participating.
The crowd, however, seemed to disagree, with many arguing that submission to the general assembly’s decisions is a legal requirement. After many debates, Abdel Dayem announced the closure of the meeting and left the room. Accordingly, the debates increased and many attendees became agitated. The conference center administration tried to end the meeting, explaining that the reservation had been made in Abdel Dayem’s name, and he had left. The lights were also turned off for a couple of minutes.
In response, member of the medical syndicate high board Mona Mina, who is an activist and a member of pressure group ‘ Doctors without Rights’, intervened and said that the meeting would continue. The meeting was resumed, voting on the strike was repeated and then voting on the committee which will organise the strike took place.
Some members of the syndicate expressed their anger with the interruption of the meeting. "This shows his [Abdel Dayem’s] intention of ruining the general assembly meeting," Khalifa told Ahram Online.
Another point raised during the meeting was the fear that as most high-ranking members of the syndicate committee, who were elected in 2011, are members of the Muslim Brotherhood group, and Egypt's president belongs to the same group, "they are not willing to voice the opposition of the doctors, and will take the side of the ruling group," Mohamed Faisal, medical practitioner in Mansoura told Ahram Online.
One speaker at the meeting challenged the Brotherhood members to leave the syndicate alone. "You wanted power and politics; now you have it, leave the medical syndicate to us, to solve our problems." He was grabbed from the stage and pushed away by another member. At time of publication, dozens of members were still protesting outside the medical syndicate, waiting for the decisions taken during the irregular general assembly meeting to be authorised.
President Mohamed Morsi will meet on Saturday with different members of the syndicate to discuss their situation.