Egyptian Doctor Hunger Strikes in Protest of Mubarak's Treatment

Doctor Ayman Abouzaid is on hunger strike, seeking quick public trial of former President Hosni Mubarak

Ayman Sharm.jpg

CAIRO, Egypt -- Crazy times call for crazy gestures, and Ayman Abouzaid has found himself playing an increasingly high-risk game of chicken with the Egyptian regime. The young cardiologist jumped out of his apolitical cocoon right into the roiling waters of revolution in January. When he wasn't on call at the Qasr Ayni hospital, he spent his nights sleeping under the treads of Egyptian army tanks to prevent them moving into Tahrir Square.

That sentiment kept him on the streets for weeks then, and kept him shouting and railing about all the enduring injustices of his system, from the impunity still enjoyed by Hosni Mubarak's coterie to the petty corruption that he says allowed supervisors at Qasr Ayni to falsify autopsy results on protesters murdered by the police.

Ayman Abouzaid's rage might yet make him a bellwether of where Egypt's revolution is headed now.

At 25, he had given up on a future in Egypt and was looking to continue his medical training in Germany. But the revolution watered anew his love for country. When I first met him, arrayed with a few dozen men beneath a tank by the Egyptian Museum, he was nearly euphoric. It was a few days before Mubarak acceded to people power and resigned, but Abouzaid already was convinced it would happen.

"The people here will only leave in two situations," he told me. "When Hosni Mubarak and the National Democratic Party are judged and executed, or we all have to be dead."

Ayman Feb11.JPG

His determination hasn't flagged in the months since. The ruling military council had straggled and obfuscated on all the major revolutionary demands, but one angered Abouzaid more than any other: the lagging prosecution of Mubarak.

On Monday, July 11, Abouzaid began a hunger strike in Tahrir Square, demanding a quick public trial of Mubarak, to be followed by the former president's execution.

"We are talking about a revolution," Abouzaid told me that night, his sentences come out fast and breathy. "Fast trials, please!" He was roaming the square after midnight, telling anyone who would listen about his quest. In the polyphony of the Tahrir sit-in, his was just another frenetic, freshly politicized voice.

On Saturday he finally collapsed, his blood sugar and acetone having risen to dangerous levels. At the nearby Mounira Hospital he refused treatment. He had only one demand: to be transferred a 360-mile drive away to the luxurious seaside Sharm El Sheikh hospital, where indicted former President Mubarak reportedly has lived in comfortable detention since April, with an entire floor to himself.

"I want to be treated just like Hosni Mubarak," he told the doctors, insisting with a touch of madness, humor, and political theater. "I am prepared to die."

His request struck a cord. The minister of health visited Abouzaid in his hospital and agreed to the transfer if Abouzaid would accept some medicine so as not to die in transit.

The Democracy ReportA week after he began his hunger strike, Abouzaid found himself in a shared room on the second floor of the Sharm El Sheikh hospital. He was taking intravenous fluids but no food.

"I am continuing my hunger strike," he said by telephone, his voice faint and halting. "I need to be treated just like Hosni Mubarak. I need an entire floor to myself. It doesn't matter which floor, any floor will do."

Abouzaid's hunger strike didn't attract any attention from the Egyptian media, but he says it's already exceeded his expectations. He never expected the government to move him to Sharm El Sheikh, and he hopes to draw more focus to the former dictator's continuing life of privilege.

"I am tired and happy," he said.

Photos: top photo courtesy Ayman Abouzeid, bottom by Thanassis Cambanis

Presented by

Thanassis Cambanis, a columnist at The Boston Globe and a regular contributor to The New York Times, is writing a book about Egypt's revolutionaries. He is a fellow at The Century Foundation, teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and blogs at thanassiscambanis.com. He is also the author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel.

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