CAIRO: Doctors held the third in a series of protests for improved pay Sunday, amongst doubts as to whether the two-hour strike planned for March 15 would go ahead.
The protest was originally going to be held outside the People’s Assembly (PA), as the previous two protests had been, but was moved to the steps of the Doctors’ Syndicate.
Daily News Egypt was told that the decision to change the venue of the protest was in order to facilitate attendance of a meeting between the main Syndicate and regional Syndicate branches.
However, Syndicate Head Hamdy El-Sayyed did not attend Sunday’s protest, and entered the Syndicate’s headquarters without acknowledging protestors or responding to journalists’ questions while demonstrators chanted “striking against poverty and hunger is legal.
This, together with the lower turnout than at previous protests fuelled speculation that the withdrawal of Syndicate support for the protest prompted the venue change.
Dr Mona Mina, a member of the Doctors Without Rights group which lobbies for improved pay and conditions confirmed this theory.
“This is the first protest we stage without the support of the Syndicate’s board and no doubt some doctors are worried about being involved without this backing, Mina told reporters. “We hope that the Syndicate will stand by its doctors, but we will have to take independent steps if it doesn’t do so, she said.
Last week, in a radio interview, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif delivered masked threats to doctors planning to strike.
He said, “Many people are perhaps unaware of the fact that public sector employees – in particular doctors – are prohibited from striking. Those who wish to express themselves have many alternative methods to stopping work.
Doctors are calling for a LE 1,000 minimum wage.
Dr Rashwan Shaaban Rashwan told Daily News Egypt that doctors remain resolute in the face of such threats.
“Striking is the only way to obtain our rights, nobody takes permission to strike. If it was up to the government there wouldn’t be any protests at all, Rashwan said.
“If Dr El-Sayyed reneges on the decision taken by the Syndicate’s general assembly to strike it will be a direct result of political pressure, he continued.
Mohamed Rakha, a demonstrator who graduated from medical school three years ago and whose monthly salary is LE 400, said that PM Nazif’s statements reflect a concern that strikes will spread.
“The doctors’ strike is the first strike by the middle class. Before this strikes were carried out by manual workers and so on. The government is concerned that if doctors strike, so will university professors and other white collar workers, Rakha explained to Daily News Egypt.
During a meeting planned today, regional Syndicate branches will tell the Syndicate whether or not they support strike action.
Mina told Daily News Egypt that out of 16 regional branches, 13 have expressed support for the action.
The results of the meeting were to be made public during a press conference following the meeting.