Below we publish an article on the struggle of Egyptian doctors against low pay and an interview conducted by a CWI reporter about the struggle of Egyptian fishermen against repression
Doctors’ and fishermen’s protests
Egyptian doctors protest at low pay
Doctors protested outside the Ministry of Finance in Cairo on 31st March after the government broke a promise to raise their pay. Doctors on the protest spoke to a CWI reporter about the issues.
The basic pay for a newly qualified doctor is only LE250 a month (US$44) while a consultant gets US$250 a month. To be able to live, they have to work long hours in private practice – often a 16-hour day. Many doctors are demanding a basic wage of LE1200.
After protests last year, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif promised a pay rise in two instalments. Some doctors have received the first, but the government now say that due to the world economic situation, it does not have the funds to pay the rest.
The doctors’ syndicate (official trade union) is led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Their strategy is to ask for gradual pay rises until an acceptable level is reached. Other doctors on the protest, from the group Doctors Without Rights, felt the MB leadership were just organising a token protest and that strike action for the minimum of LE1200 was needed.
Doctors protest in Cairo
One doctor spoke to the CWI about the general situation: “In 2005 there were lots of movements. Kefaya (‘Enough’) was launched as a broad democracy campaign. The government held a referendum for constitutional changes which were very restrictive. It was the first time in nearly thirty years that there had been such protests on the streets, under the umbrella of Kifaya. This ended in 2006 after the protests by judges. Mubarak was re-elected. The movement went into hibernation.
“It started again in 2007/8 with strikes by workers and movements of the professions, such as tax collectors, doctors and pharmacists. Doctors wanted to strike last year but the Syndicate didn’t approve. In 2004/5 more of the protests were with general demands – against the inheritance of power by Mubarak’s son, Gamal. Now they are more related to economic questions.
“The protests have been quite successful in bringing the out the difference between the professions and the government, but limited as to real change. There are barely 50 doctors here today, with five trucks of security forces (about 120 men) intimidating the protestors. The idea of resisting the state is quite scary. Doctors will be questioned by their hospital managers when they return about why they went on the protest.”
Egyptian fishermen fight police cover-up
“I am a Marxist lawyer from Alexandria. The situation in Alexandria about the fishermen’s cause is a tactical alliance between ‘liberals’ and Marxists. The Marxists had split from the Communist Party and Tagammu (former mass workers’ party) because they believe the low left wing level in Egypt is a conspiracy between the leadership of the left in general and Egyptian capitalism, because they are organically the same. We have chosen to abandon the choices of the leadership and take a strategic decision to be with the real people.
“A police boat deliberately crushed a fishing boat trying to shelter near an out-of-bounds harbour wall in Alexandria on the 27th January, killing one fisherman and badly hurting the other. They left both bodies in the water, but another fishing boat found the injured man and took him to hospital. The police tried to make it seem like it had just been an accident.
“Although the judicial system is not independent, they couldn’t ignore a crime like this. The media couldn’t ignore it either. That put pressure on the security forces and their investigation.
“This part of Alexandria is a very close-knit community, like a ghetto. The fishermen’s families don’t trust strangers, especially activists. But when they saw protests and media coverage, they started to trust us. I explained to them what would happen in the courts if they didn’t protest. The police officers would only be punished lightly.
“Poor people here have nothing to lose. They can’t take revenge in the traditional way so they rely on the law, which is controlled by the government. We have no democracy in Egypt. Since modern government was formed 200 years ago, it has never been trusted by the people.
“We convinced them to make a protest and when they saw the result they started to tell us, “We need to make a protest today or tomorrow.” The first protest was short, with about 100 fishermen and their families. There were no arrests. Usually the security forces always know about protests in advance, but this took them by surprise.
“Two weeks later on the 5th March there was a second protest of between 100-150. The police officers had been called by the judge to explain their case. We marched to the court and stood there two hours. About 90 then entered the building and went up to the 11th floor. We occupied and liberated the court for half an hour, hanging big banners out of the windows. The court security was very surprised and helpless. We got newspaper coverage.
“We took the fishermen to the official lawyer to ask him to make a more thorough investigation, and came back with no-one arrested. That made the security forces very angry and anxious about us. An alliance between socialists, ‘liberals’ and people are moving, not the elite politicians. That makes them worried – it’s not under control. There’s no connection between the campaign and the security forces – they can’t negotiate about it.
“Then there was a third protest on 28th March. This was because the police arrested two brothers, one from each of the fishing families. The fishermen decided to protest in front of the court when they learnt that the police had made a fake case against the two brothers. The activists were surprised how the fishermen’s political consciousness had developed.
“We had leaflets about the whole case, but the police guessed we would be there and ambushed Ahmed Gaber, one of the main activists. The judge decided to keep him in jail. The Political Security is the most powerful police force, that controls everything. We are planning to continue the campaign to get Ahmed Gaber released. The fishermen and the activists are in the same boat now.
“Step by step we are trying to convince the fishermen to organise themselves in a committee to protect themselves from the cat and mouse game with the police. They are trying to feed their families – they’re not criminals. Drug dealers have no action taken against them. They have learnt that injustice was not their destiny and that their prayers were not enough.”