The Association of Egyptian Doctors in Riyadh (AEDR) was officially established on 21 March 2013, making it the first such entity to service tens of thousands of Egyptian doctors in Saudi Arabia’s nearly non-existent civil society.
The origins of this association date back to 2005. Yet since its initial foundation, and even before, tens of Egyptian doctors are reported to have been imprisoned — often without clear charges — and have reportedly been abused in detention.
Furthermore, Egyptian doctors employed in Saudi Arabia have reported a number of other grievances associated with contractual, legal and financial violations.
Established under the aegis of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Doctors Syndicate, the AEDR is not itself a professional syndicate, as no syndicates or labor unions exist in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The basic framework for the AEDR was established in the presence of 65 doctors at the Egyptian Consulate in Riyadh on 30 December 2005. The association was officially inaugurated on Thursday, and its first general assembly conference was held at a five-star hotel the following day.
According to the AEDR's Facebook page, the association currently has a registered membership of over 1,000 Egyptian doctors in Saudi Arabia.
Its aims include promoting the professional standards of physicians; increasing coordination between Egyptian doctors and consular staff in Riyadh; improving communications between the association and the Doctors Syndicate in Egypt; assistance in resolving doctors’ professional problems; assisting members in finding job opportunities; organizing social and recreational activities, and organizing programs for doctors’ children.
“This association is meant to protect the rights and freedoms of all Egyptian doctors working in Saudi Arabia,” says Dr. Khairy Abdel-Dayyem, chairman of the Doctors Syndicate and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the more important objectives is to provide up-to-date medical training programs and seminars for its members, he adds.
Abdel-Dayyem says that an estimated 50,000 Egyptian doctors work in the Gulf, mostly concentrated in Saudi Arabia. He could not provide exact figures of Egyptian doctors in Riyadh or Saudi Arabia as a whole, however.
Dr. Amr al-Shoura, media coordinator for Doctors Without Rights — an Egyptian protest movement — explained that while the AEDR is the first such entity to be established in the Gulf, there are similar associations for Egyptian doctors in Paris, London and Tripoli.
Egyptian doctors have a sour history in Saudi Arabia, experiencing unwarranted arrests, imprisonment, lack of due-process, physical abuse, corporal punishment and even torture. These grievances have led several Egyptian doctors to embark on hunger strikes in prisons and jails across the kingdom in the past.
Both Shoura and Abdel-Dayyem agree another chief problem facing Egyptian doctors in Saudi Arabia, and in Arab Gulf countries in general, is the kafeel (a sponsorship system of employment), whereby every foreign employee is strictly supervised by a native sponsor and cannot travel domestically or abroad without their consent.
The Doctors Syndicate in Egypt recently released a report indicating that the last five imprisoned Egyptian doctors were released from detention in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
The syndicate, which is dominated by members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, has issued statements indicating that these “wrongfully imprisoned doctors” were released in light of a royal amnesty, which was issued after President Mohamed Morsy recently visited the kingdom.
While there, Morsy reportedly presented Saudi authorities with a list of these “wrongfully detained” Egyptian physicians, some of whom had been languishing for years in prison without due process.
These exculpations have also been attributed to pressure applied by members of the Doctors Syndicate who staged numerous protests outside the Saudi Embassy in Giza.
Commenting on the arrests of Egyptian doctors, along with other professionals allegedly affiliated with the Brotherhood in December 2012, Shoura went on to add that “there was a swift and immediate response from the syndicate when it discovered that the detained Egyptian doctors in the United Arab Emirates were Brotherhood members."
"The speed and effort exerted to campaign for the release of these imprisoned Brotherhood doctors in the Emirates was unprecedented," he says.
Shoura argues this is a result of the so-called "Brotherhoodization" of the syndicate, which effectively caters to the Brotherhood-dominated board's s demands and ignores other more universal demands, such as an increase in the national health budget.
Abdel-Dayyem insists that “the Association of Egyptian Doctors in Riyadh, like the Doctors’ Syndicate, is a non-partisan and non-politicized professional association which works for the interests of all its members, regardless of their affiliations.”
Abdel-Dayyem declined to mention whether this association was appointed or elected.
However, Shoura stresses, “We have few details and little understanding about the Association of Egyptian Doctors in Riyadh. This is because the Brotherhood, with their near monopoly in the syndicate, has kept others in the dark regarding information relating to the establishment of such overseas organizations.”
“The Brotherhood refuses to establish any such association if it isn't under their direct control. This has paved the way for the further politicization of associations abroad," Shoura stresses.
Repeated attempts to contact members of the AEDR have proven unsuccessful.
*Photo by Namir Galal