Doctors Syndicate elections are set to begin on Friday for the first time in 19 years. Previously, judicial custody had frozen all electoral action within the syndicate.
Doctors will vote in 27 syndicate branches around the country.
Two main camps, referred to as lists, have emerged in the run-up to the poll. The Doctors for Egypt list is composed mainly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that currently dominates the syndicate’s board. The other list, known as the Independence list, is made up of members of lobby group Doctors Without Rights (DWR), the Tahrir Square Doctors group, and independent figures.
Many of the Independence list doctors have been active in protests and strikes over recent months, calling for better pay for doctors at state hospitals and increased spending on healthcare in the national budget.
Twenty-three candidates are running for the syndicate’s head position.
The Muslim Brotherhood is backing Khairy Abdel Dayem for syndicate head, though he is not a member of the group. “I’m getting support from the Brothers because they see that I’m the best for the position,” Abdel Dayem said. “I’ll work on making the syndicate independent. I won’t allow the Brothers or others to do political work inside the syndicate.”
Abdel Dayem said he has opposed the recent doctors’ strike. “I think the decision for doctors to strike was hasty and poorly studied. Our colleagues needed to wait until after elections and until an elected council could find solutions to their problems. I’m against a general strike,” he said.
The Independence list is not backing a candidate, but Abdel Dayem’s main rival is Tareq Ghazali Harb. “[The Muslim Brotherhood] would like to control the syndicate and to work through a syndicate head who’ll listen to them under any circumstances. This is what they did with the previous syndicate head, Hamdy Sayed.
“I wasn’t supported by anyone because everyone knows no one can control me. I only work for the sake of medicine and medics. I don’t have ideologies that I like to enforce on anyone.”
Several Independence candidates are standing for election to the syndicate’s board, including DWR spokespeople Mona Mina and Rashwan Shaaban Rashwan.
Several controversies have erupted in the run-up to the vote. The venue for voting in Cairo has been changed three times and DWR member Mohamed Shafik contends that the current one is not large enough to absorb the almost 50,000 doctors who are listed to vote in Cairo.
In addition, some 80,000 doctors are not registered to vote. Speaking on OnTV’s “Masr fe Osbooa” talk show, Dr. Osama Abdel Hay, a supporter of the Independence list, said that for the past 10 years doctors have been registered in the central Doctors Syndicate but not in branch syndicates – meaning they can’t vote.
Independence list supporters say that under-registration and limited voting areas benefit Brotherhood-affiliated candidates due to the Islamist group’s tight organizing.
But that assertion was challenged by Abdel Fatah Rezq, a current member of the syndicate board and supporter of the Doctors for Egypt list, during the show. He contended that of 80,000 unregistered doctors, 35,000 are abroad and 30,000 are retired.
Rezq added that it is the duty of individual doctors to register themselves and that the syndicate board cannot encourage them to register “because it would be accused of mobilizing its own supporters,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdel Hay also accused current syndicate board members of being “in league” with the previous regime, which, he said, undermined the syndicate’s independence and performance by putting politics ahead of doctors’ concerns.
Rezq rejected this claim, and asked how syndicate members could have been in league with the previous regime when “6 or 7 of them were tried in military courts and imprisoned.”
The current syndicate “has provided health insurance for doctors and established branch syndicates the length and breadth of Egypt,” he added.
“There’s no politics in that.”