Even in a Pandemic, Egypt’s Sisi Only Has One Gear: Repression
The new coronavirus field hospital, in a Cairo convention center, has enough space for 4,000 beds. Like so many things in Egypt, it was built by the armed forces. When President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who had once described the virus’s trajectory in Egypt as “reassuring,” toured its vast halls in late June, he didn’t look like he was worried about a surge of COVID-19 patients. Instead, flanked as usual by men in army fatigues, Sisi turned the hospital into another stage to project his authority.
But after calling any and all critics of his government’s handling of the pandemic “enemies of the state,” Sisi is now overseeing the worst response in the Arab world. More than 4,000 Egyptians have died, and cases are surging. Sisi has responded to the coronavirus the only way he knows how: by silencing Egyptians, including the health workers on the front lines. As the Associated Press recently reported, they include:
A doctor arrested after writing an article about Egypt’s fragile health system. A pharmacist picked up from work after posting online about a shortage of protective gear. An editor taken from his home after questioning official coronavirus figures. A pregnant doctor arrested after a colleague used her phone to report a suspected coronavirus case.
Egypt has joined the likes of China, Russia and Pakistan in trying to detain doctors and other medical personnel who have spoken out about inadequate pandemic responses, rather than listen to them. “Earlier this year Egypt’s government rejected calls from the Medical Syndicate to impose a total lockdown to stop the virus’s spread, arguing the country couldn’t afford the economic costs of a shutdown,” Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki noted in The Wall Street Journal. “The government instead adopted partial measures like a nighttime curfew, a halt to international flights, and the closure of schools and other gathering places.” ...