A senior police officer at the Matariya station denied the assault took place, saying the doctors in question were members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. The accusation is commonly used to shed doubt on the motives of any dissenters in Egypt. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Abdel-Azzem said on his Facebook page that initially he filed an official complaint at the police station but later withdrew it for fear of detention inside Matariya police station, after officers filed a counter-complaint against him, accusing the medics of assault.
The withdrawal of the doctor's official complaint added fuel to the syndicate's anger. The union shut down the hospital for eight days and doctors threatened mass resignations if officers weren't held accountable.
The general prosecutor ordered an investigation into the incident and on Wednesday, 13 days after the assault, nine policemen were questioned and two were detained. All were released on Thursday pending further investigation, but the Interior Ministry announced Friday that the two police officers have been temporarily suspended from work.
These measures have not been enough to stem doctors' anger, and medics gathered in the thousands outside the syndicate calling for strikes and "dignity for doctors."
"I am the doctor, who is going to stitch my injury?" read one sign held by a young female doctor. Next to her a medic raised a banner that depicted a rifle shooting at a white doctor's coat together with the caption: "Police are thugs." Others held posters for detained doctors including Ahmed Said, a rights activist and a surgeon detained since November for political activism.
Meanwhile, syndicate members voted to offer free services in public hospitals and to call a partial strike in two weeks' time unless the officers involved are held accountable, measures are taken to protect medics from police intimidation and the health minister submits his resignation. The union said that any hospital in which doctors are assaulted will be closed.
"This is a turning point in our union's history," said Hussein Khairy, the chairman of the syndicate, addressing a crowd of doctors so large it filled all three floors and the roof of the building. "We want the rule of law. Assaulters, whether they are a doctor or a policeman, must be punished."
Pro-government media outlets painted the protest as politically-motivated. Al-Assema, a private TV network, questioned whether Mona Mena, deputy head of the syndicate and a Christian, is an Islamist. Mena had urged doctors during Friday's gathering not to chant political slogans.
Yet others saw in the doctors' revolt echoes of Egypt's January 2011 uprising against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. "The January revolution hasn't died and today is a new chapter," Egyptian writer Mahmoud Mohamed Hegazy wrote on his Facebook page.
Outside the syndicate, Rashwan Shaaban, a doctor and a union official, addressed a cheering crowd, saying, "I can't treat a patient while a gun is pointed to my side or a knife at my neck."
The Associated Press