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EGYPT: Tension over whipping of doctors in Saudi Arabia

November 13, 2008 |  9:24 am

Doctors_father In reprisal for the sentencing of two Egyptian doctors in Saudi Arabia to more than a thousand lashes for drug trafficking and sexual offenses, the Egyptian Labor Force Ministry announced this week Egyptian doctors are banned from signing contracts with Saudi private hospitals.

The ban appears to be an attempt to save the government’s credibility after harsh public criticism of Egypt's failure to protect its expatriates. According to the independent daily El-Masry El-Youm, the government decision was aimed at containing public outrage. The newspaper quoted anonymous sources as saying the labor ministry took the step after diplomatic talks with the Saudi government failed to set aside the lashing sentence.

Saudi Arabia recently sentenced two Egyptian doctors to 15 and 20 years in jail and 1,500 lashes each. The verdict has been condemned by Egyptian doctors and the media. Both doctors worked for private hospitals in the kingdom.

Egyptian doctors gathered Tuesday at the headquarters of the Doctor’s Syndicate in downtown Cairo in protest of the whipping of their colleagues. They raised banners reading: “Where is the dignity of Egyptians?” and called on the Saudi King to pardon the convicts.

According to the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh, the Saudi embassy in Cairo responded on Wednesday with a statement affirming that the first doctor, Shawki Abd Raboh, was accused of drug smuggling and raping his female patients. The second, Raouf El-Arabi, was suspected of importing and circulating drugs as well as turning a Saudi patient into an addict. The statement added that the verdicts fall under the category of mild punishments.

Mona Mina, an Egyptian pediatrician, expressed mixed feelings about the government’s decision. “It is a good start. It is a way of responding,” said Mina, “But it is not enough. We want the highest level of Egyptian diplomacy to interfere.”

“This incident constitutes an affront to the Egyptian State and to the dignity of all Egyptians,” added Mina. 

The number of Egyptian doctors working in Saudi Arabia is estimated between 10,000 to 20,000, according to a doctor’s syndicate spokesman. Low wages at home drive Egyptian physicians to fly to Gulf countries.

“It is not enough to take measures at the expense of doctors who are usually forced by the economic situation at home to travel,” said Mina, who has been active in a series of protests pressuring the government to readjust doctors’ salaries. “We have been struggling for more than a year to raise doctors’ wages and eventually we got a very little raise so Egyptian doctors are forced to travel.”

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian doctors and the father of one of the two convicts during Tuesday's protest at the headquarters of the Egyptian doctors' union. Credit: Associated Press

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