Amidst the unacceptable assault on civilian protesters in Egypt, reports indicate that those responsible for the brutality, that has so far left more than 500 dead, are also preventing access to medical care that the thousands of injured will need to survive.
Actors including the Egyptian military and police have attacked medical professionals and facilities as part of the country’s recent anti-government protests and resulting crackdown on dissent, preventing health care providers and treatment centers from serving their function. As a result, the death toll rises. Commentators compare Egyptian streets to “hospital corridors,” with photographs of demonstrators wearing surgical masks in an effort to protect themselves against tear gas. Yet, at the same time that rights groups decry Egypt’s authorization of live ammunition against pro-Morsi protesters, they also condemn the Muslim Brotherhood’s violence and incitement to violence against Christian citizens and their political opponents.
"We had to leave the hospital. We had to leave casualties. We had to leave bodies. It was horrible. It was barbaric. I saw with my own eyes one person shot in front of me on the steps of the hospital," The Guardian reported an eyewitness as saying. During assaults on protesters, paths to hospital buildings were either blocked or vulnerable to sniper fire from above, and human rights groups reported that as a result, ambulances could not reach hospitals.
Medical care must not be politicized. Globally recognized principles of medical neutrality – rooted in ethics of medical practice that date back at least 2,300 years and include Islamic tradition – protect the right of medical providers, facilities, and transport to operate without interference and the right of the injured to access nondiscriminatory and humane treatment.
Violations of medical neutrality are just one aspect of the gruesome crackdown on civilians in Egypt this week. Attacks against unarmed protesters demand a strong international response, as does recognizing – as a coalition of regional NGOs has recently said in a joint statement – that non-peaceful assembly does not justify collective punishment. The United States should immediately suspend its military assistance to Egypt and make continued U.S. aid conditional on the protection of civilians and respect for the human rights of all.