EGYPT: Doctor jailed and whipped in Saudi Arabia
Almost 20 ago, Dr. Raouf Arabi flew from his home in Egypt to Saudi Arabia for a job in the world's richest oil country. It never occured to him that he might end up whipped and in jail.
Several weeks ago, Egyptians awoke to the news that the doctor was sentenced by a Saudi court to seven years in prison and 750 lashes on charges he prescribed high doses of morphine to a Saudi princess, who eventually turned into a drug addict. Upon his appeal, the sentence was doubled to reach 15 years in prison and 1,500 lashes. Egypt then learned that a second Egyptian doctor in the same case was sentenced to 20 years and the same number of lashes.
"How can I breath or take a sip of water while my husband is being whipped in the middle of the street there?" Fatheyya Shehata, Arabi's wife, said in tears on a private satellite channel this weekend. Shehata denied the allegations brought against her 53-year-old husband.
The incident has provoked rage across Egypt, reigniting questions about the laxity of the government in protecting Egyptian expatriates against the need for Saudi petrodollars.
Human rights advocate Negad Borai was quoted in the local press as saying: "The Egyptian government feels inferior to Saudi Arabia, and this gives it and other Gulf countries the chance to humiliate Egyptians living there."
Whipping is standard punishment in the Saudi kingdom, whose judicial system follows fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrines. Such practices have long been a bone of contention between Riyadh and international human rights organizations.
"The tragedy of the two Egyptian doctors shows the level of humiliation that Egyptians have become subjected to in and outside Egypt due to the corrupt and unjust ruling regime; however, it also shows the brutality and hypocrisy of alternative religiosity," wrote prominent novelist Alaa Aswany in El Destour weekly.
He continued: "The allegation is valueless and imprecise and needs a specialized impartial medical investigation especially that the princess had been already addicted to drugs before she received treatment from the two doctors. Anyway, any suspect has the right to a fair trial but the Saudi authorities believe that the princess's complaint is the truth; the princess is held infallible.... If these two doctors were British or American, would the Saudi authorities dare to whip them or arrest them? Of course not, Westerners are treated differently from Arabs and Muslims in Saudi Arabia."
The Egyptian doctor's syndicate condemned the verdicts as worse than death and addressed a letter to President Hosni Mubarak calling on him to intervene in order to put an end to this tragedy. The association also called for a demonstration next week in protest of the verdict.
"President Mubarak should withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia to save the dignity of Egyptians and to respond to this bloody verdict that contradicts God's laws and logic. Otherwise, the president's s dignity as well as his people's would be easy to breach," wrote Mostafa Rashed in a comment posted on the website of the independent daily Al Masry al Youm.
— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo
Photo: Arabi's wife weeping on Dream TV this weekend.
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