CAIRO: Pharmacists say they will continue the strike which they began yesterday and have said that they will escalate their action if the government fails to respond to their demands.
During a general meeting of the Pharmacists’ Syndicate held yesterday, Dr Mohamed Abdel Gawad, deputy chairman of the syndicate, told members that 95 percent of Egypt’s 45,000 pharmacies have responded to the strike call.
“This is something we have never witnessed before. Pharmacists are sending the government a message: that the Egyptian people are aware of what is happening and will fight to win their rights, Abdel Gawad told the hundreds of pharmacists attending the syndicate meeting.
According to Abdel Gawad the government is “sympathetic to pharmacists’ grievances.
“[Head of the Doctors’ Syndicate] Dr Hamdy El-Sayyed spoke to me and said that [Prime Minister] Ahmed Nazif sympathizes with us. He understands that you can’t change a law overnight, Abdel Gawad said.
Pharmacists are protesting the annulment of an August 2005 agreement under which pharmacies were treated as small businesses, and its replacement with a tax arrangement which they say is less equitable.
They also object to the way in which it was annulled, alleging that they were not consulted before the changes were announced at the end of 2008 by Ashraf El-Araby, chairman of the Tax Authority.
“We are opposed to the fact that they cancelled the agreement without notifying us, Hussein Mesellem, a striking pharmacist from Cairo told Daily News Egypt.
“Simply as a matter of courtesy they should tell us in advance that they plan to annul the agreement and that a new agreement is being studied, so that we can put our affairs in order beforehand, Mesellem continued.
Abdel Gawad announced that a lawyer and an accountant have been appointed by the syndicate to review the accounts of pharmacists who have already submitted their accounts under the new tax arrangements.
Pharmacists also strongly condemned the “humiliating treatment received by a delegation of four syndicate members in El-Araby’s office.
“A delegation from the syndicate went to El-Araby’s office at 1 pm on Sunday, Abdel Gawad said.
“We explained to him that the 2005 agreement is equitable because it treats pharmacies like small businesses. El-Araby then referred to the People’s Assembly and said that it had approved the agreement.
“When I suggested that neither he nor we are legal experts and that we shouldn’t discuss matters of law he asked us to leave his office.
El-Araby denied these allegations during an appearance on TV program “90 Minutes on Mehwar Channel on Sunday.
Pharmacists voted on and approved several proposals during the heated general assembly, including a decision not to deal further with El-Araby.
Several calls for El-Araby’s removal were made by pharmacists.
They also voted to announce the start of an open-ended sit-in, and to hold a meeting on Thursday during which possible escalatory measures starting Saturday would be discussed.
Saturday is National Pharmacists’ Day. Abdel Gawad said that the strike would be “the best way to celebrate it.
While syndicate branches will decide the length of strikes in each governorate, Abdel Gawad said that it had been decided during Friday’s emergency general assembly that within Cairo the strike would be held from 10 am to 6 pm every day, and that it would last until Saturday.
This prompted objections from some pharmacists who shouted, “24 hours is enough.
Pharmacists also voted for disciplinary measures to be taken against pharmacists who fail to follow syndicate orders to strike.
Abdel Gawad said that their name would be struck off the syndicate membership list “after an investigation.
Many of the pharmacists who spoke during the meeting supported strike action, and urged that it be expanded to include state-owned pharmacies which are currently not on strike.
Pharmacists said their exclusion from the call to strike weakened their cause.
“Strike action must include government pharmacies in order to unite our forces, said Ashraf Abdallah, a pharmacist from Daqhileyya.
“An organized strike like the one carried out by the real estate tax collectors reap results, pharmacist Gamil Abdel Fatah told the meeting.
Mesellem commented on the government’s reliance on state-owned pharmacies during the strike.
“The state has been privatized or on its way to being privatized; so it’s strange that the government is forced to seek recourse to government-owned pharmacies in these circumstances. … This is a reminder that they shouldn’t sell off state assets, Mesellem said.
Another speaker called for a sit-in outside the Ministry of Finance.
The sit-in is currently being held in a garden shared by medical syndicates in Cairo.
Pharmacists predict that their strike will heavily reduce revenue from medicine sales.
Farid Ismail, a pharmacist and member of the People’s Assembly, told Daily News Egypt that he predicts roughly LE 12 million a day will be lost.