The real catastrophe in Egypt is not the Covid-19 pandemic reaching its peak, but the peaking of stupidity and disregard for citizens' needs. The country is facing the coronavirus on less than 10 per cent of medicine and more than 90 per cent of security, militarism, quackery and sorcery.
Ordinary people as well as the key workers in the health sector trying to help them continue to die, even as the Minister of Information hints at violent measures to be taken, and the Minister of Health speaks about imposing more severe measures. If their titles were omitted from that sentence, anyone reading it would believe it to refer to the Interior Minister or the head of security agencies facing riots, civil unrest and thuggery. However, the reality places us in a situation so absurd that it could be make-believe. We are, apparently, about to see the Egyptian government adopt an innovative solution to the pandemic by firing more tear gas for Egyptians to inhale.
Given the increasing number of infections and deaths, the people are scared. Calls on social media for relief to be provided on the ground might lead reasonable people to assume that the Egyptian government will bring some humanity into its policies, behaviour and discourse. It needs, one would think, to appear more compassionate and respectful of the simplest rules of science and logic in the face of a public health disaster.
I imagined, for example, that some (probably fake) emotional rhetoric from officials would be forthcoming, as it is on less dangerous and serious occasions, in order to assuage the public mood, but we got exactly the opposite. Whenever the virus has demonstrated its ferocity, the Egyptian government has shown even more brazen opportunism and desire to reap the greatest possible financial and political rewards. It looks like a professional crisis trader, completely disregarding its own words in the early days of the crisis.
In the first week of April, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi appeared in a grand military celebration, presenting himself as the supreme commander of the coronavirus fighting forces. The official media outlets reported that the President had watched a documentary about preparations for the coronavirus outbreak; all military hospitals were equipped to receive officers and civilians alike; 22 of them were equipped with 4,000 beds; and four field hospitals had a capacity of 502 isolation beds.
This is was announced in a huge military event, but the fact is that after almost two months we have found the government profiting from the pandemic. The military and police hospitals are not open to civilians, who are dying because they cannot get into hospitals to receive treatment. If they do manage to reach a hospital, they are not allowed in. Moreover, doctors are facing official hostility and aggression from the authorities.
I have listened to recorded messages circulated by health sector workers wherein Ministry of Health officials threaten doctors with prosecution and state security courts if they conduct tests on those they suspect of being infected with Covid-19. These officials also stress the need for doctors to stop providing any other treatment, such as dialysis, and for them to force dentists and physiotherapists to treat coronavirus patients. One actually tells the doctors who are working themselves to death that there are surgeons, physiotherapists and dentists, "so make them work".
In addition to threatening doctors and treating them like slave labour, officials continue to churn out more statements that contradict science and disregard medicine. They use the words of the minister, who they made a doctor and then the Minister of Health by force, as she herself admitted in a televised interview. One newspaper quoted her as saying that the Egyptians' high immunity level has given the government room to treat coronavirus patients, reflecting the speeches that were publicised widely on television at the beginning of the pandemic. The result is that they put the people in the jaws of the virus, and then sat back and collected the profits.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet announced its categorical rejection of the demands to open army and police hospitals to treat citizens, and then announced the pricing for private sector hospitals to accept coronavirus patients. This is the state that places the chance of surviving Covid-19 entirely on the open market, just as investment opportunities are presented to the wealthy. Similarly, the government invested in the quarantine business for those returning to the country, and continue to do so with those looking to be saved from the deadly virus that lurks in their homes and workplaces.
I do not think that any country, in any natural disaster, medical or physical, has bargained with its citizens' lives by imposing the fees that they need to pay to stand a chance of avoiding an early death. Have you ever heard of firefighters demanding to get paid before they plunge into burning buildings to save their fellow human beings from the flames?
Respectable countries led by respectable governments are more concerned with providing beds in a hospital and seats in a classroom than with having more cells to accommodate the growing number of citizens arrested for protesting against the state's unjust policies. Only countries plagued with tyrants are keen to provide more prisons and fewer hospitals. The destruction of Egypt continues apace.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 3 June 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.