In Egypt, Cutting the Nose in Spite of the Face

Field Hospital, Egypt, 1914 (Irene Victoria Read Papers; Mitchel Library | Flickr)

Field Hospital, Egypt, 1914 (Irene Victoria Read Papers; Mitchel Library | Flickr)

Although the swift rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the last year and a half has been fraught with protests, counter-protests, and violent confrontation,  both supporters and opponents of the Islamist organization realize that the group provides an important array of services to the less fortunate in Egypt.

After the the Egyptian army deposed then-president Mohamed Morsi (of the Muslim Brotherhood) on July 3, 2013 following mass protests against his rule, the authorities subsequently suspended the Egyptian constitution, banned the Muslim Brotherhood from carrying out activities in the country, and ordered that the group's funds be seized. This crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by Egyptian state authorities has severely crippled the Brotherhood and the services they provide, affecting millions of vulnerable Egyptians who rely on its extensive network of charities, hospitals, and schools. 

When Egypt’s Central Bank froze bank accounts of over 1,000 non-governmental organizations they deemed to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, it also stemmed funding for a number of hospitals and medical clinics.  The Islamic Medical Association, an organization affiliated and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, manages between 24-30 hospitals.  In addition, some experts estimate that the Brotherhood controls more than 1,000 medical clinics, 300 of which are located in Cairo.  In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Muslim Brotherhood hospitals and medical facilities treated approximately 1.5 million patients.  These hospitals and clinics act as a reasonable alternative to expensive private hospitals and badly equipped public hospitals. 

A closer look at the workings of these institutions reveals the degree to which they support poor and under-served communities in Egypt.  One hospital affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Farouk hospital located in Cairo’s Maadi district, is a good example of the Brotherhood’s charity network.  The hospital has 200 doctors on call (many of whom volunteer their services). Al-Farouk hospital can house 75 inpatients and take care of 400 outpatients a day.  Services provided by this institution are much cheaper than other institutions in the country and the hospital offers treatments and drugs for free for patients who cannot afford to pay.  Tiba Hospital located in the governorate of Gharbia in the city of Tanta is another hospital associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  According to their promotional material, Tiba Hospital provides an intensive care unit with the “most modern equipment,” a pediatrics and maternity ward, and a surgical wing with “four fully equipped rooms,” among other services.  Like other facilities managed by the Brotherhood, they charge less than comparable state and private hospitals. 

National campaigns have also enhanced the Brotherhood’s profile.  In 2013 the Brotherhood launched a community program campaign entitled “Together, We Build Egypt.”  Dr. Ahmed Aref, a Muslim Brotherhood media spokesman, stated that the campaign’s achievement included the renovation of 2614 schools, 3908 medical convoys sent across Egypt to provide health-care services to 1.75 million Egyptians, and 1436 city cleaning and beautification initiatives.

While the Brotherhood's ideology and political activities are controversial, they have traditionally served a sector of society whose needs the State could not meet. Disrupting funding for essential social and medical services to the poor will do little to endear secular and liberal groups to segments of the population that have relied on services from the Muslim Brotherhood for decades.  Instead of allowing hard-line measures to hinder the work of various medical facilities, both public and private secular groups should look at ways to create viable models for funding, establishing, and administering essential medical and social services to the poor.  Increasing a grassroots profile among under-served and poor communities in Egypt will create a stabilizing element in the country, while cracking down on effective and essential Brotherhood run charities will only alienate a large segment of Egyptian society.

Warren Fahmy holds a Masters in Islamic Studies from UCLA. He is a research assistant and rapporteur for UCLA CMED.