Crowds began gathering at noon Friday in front of the Doctors Syndicate on Qasr Al-Eini street in downtown Cairo. At least 10,000 participants were counted by the syndicate.
The rally was organised ahead of an emergency public meeting, which doctors from all over Egypt attended, following a week of escalation measures undertaken by the syndicate to contest an alleged assault by policemen on two doctors at the Matariya Teaching Hospital in January.
At a time when protests are banned across Egypt, and attempts to demonstrate or call for public assemblies are firmly countered by the regime with unprecedented police brutality against different social factions, the doctors’ rally indicates a victory for those whose voices and sentiments of indignity have previously been silenced. The street was partially blocked by demonstrators, surrounded by security forces. They stood there for over four hours, chanting against police brutality and calling for human dignity, condemning their “thug-like behaviour”. The police silently took in the accusations.
On the other side of the road, high ranking police officers, along with the Central Security Forces (CSF), some masked and armed, stood as young people held posters in front of their faces, with slogans against the Ministry of Interior. Metal fences were deployed all around the area the night before.
Those participating were not only doctors, but many other parties supporting their cause, such as lawyers, journalists, and human rights’ advocates. Moreover, other syndicates announced their solidarity with the doctors, such as the Lawyers, Pharmacists, Engineers, Press and Actors syndicates.
“The rally was very significant, whether syndically or politically,” said Heba Morayef, Associate Director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). “To us, human rights’ defenders, the assault on the Matariya doctor illustrates two aspects of police brutality,” she added.
Morayef explained that the Matariya police station is one of the interior ministry’s facilities they have been tracking. “In fact, my colleague happens to be working on the case of a detainee tortured to death in there last October,” she said.
The station has become one of the most deadly police stations in Egypt, with at least 14 deaths in custody over the last two years, according to EIPR.
Several similar incidents have reportedly taken place at the Matariya police station, or “the slaughterhouse” as it is referred to by activists. They include the killing of lawyer Kareem Hamdy, for whom the Lawyers Syndicate had taken a similar stance to the Doctors Syndicate in escalating against security forces.“This is a classic situation, where victims of police brutality are pressured and intimated into giving up their rights, which often enables immunity for violators,” Morayef stated.
Perhaps it was the cause of police brutality that gathered different social and political factions Friday on Qasr Al-Eini Street, especially as Morayef believes that people have become more willing to talk about police violations in the last four months.
The rally remained powerful and peaceful. The crowds applauded syndicate leaders Hassan Khairy and Mona Mina, who challenged the pressure to which they have been subjected in order to defend doctors’ rights.
Among the many tactics of intimidation practices against the doctors by the media were accusations of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation, having political agendas, conspiring against the regime, in addition to focusing coverage on issues of medical negligence.
However, Morayef stated that she doctors saw far-reaching solidarity in this case. “I think that doctors received compassion owing to the tough circumstances of their work, and the daily hardships they face, just like policemen.”