By Joseph El-khoury
"Saudi Arabia previously pardoned a Philippine housemaid, sentenced to jailing and flogging after intervention from its government," said Ebrahim Al Zafran, a representative of the Arab Doctors' Union in Cairo.
"Are the Egyptian doctors inferior to the Philippine maids?"
It is with these enlightened words that one leading Egyptian doctor protested against the flogging and jailing of two Egyptian doctors in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In October, Drs Rauf Al Arabi 53 and Shawki Abd Rabuh were sentenced to 1500 lashes and 15 years jail for their alleged role in ‘facilitating the addiction’ of a Saudi princess. Very little is available online on the exact nature of their offence. Facilitating addiction is a vague term as it could mean anything from supplying a prescription to a patient in genuine pain to chasing the dragon with her in a crack den. Opiate painkillers (Morphine being one of them) are prescribed on a daily basis to millions of patients across the world. They are highly addictive and caution is required beyond a few weeks of chronic use. Ideally consumption should be closely monitored and capped by health professionals. Despite these measures, a small number of patients develop dependence. Although they do not necessarily fit the profile of the ‘addict’ their overall level of functioning is frequently affected.
Given the opaque and archaic nature of the Saudi legal system, the evidence on which the two doctors were convicted has not been disclosed. In the event that they were actually intentionally supplying Morphine to the lady in the absence of symptoms then they are in breach of their Hippocratic Oath and the ‘do no harm’ principle. In this context the term then ‘facilitating’ is misleading, these boys were dealing drugs! This would be very difficult to prove and solid specialised medical expertise should be consulted by the court. I would still argue that 1500 lashes and 15 years in jail is disproportionate, even throwing in their supposed lack of morality (Having illicit affairs pales in my mind next to drug dealing) and even for Saudi Arabia. In the event that the doctors’ sole crime was that they failed to monitor the care of the princess properly, then they are guilty of negligence and flogging them becomes gratuitous. It is interesting that few in the Arab media chose to explore the issue at hand from a scientific fact based approach. Instead, the focus was on the typically Arab styled settlement that followed: My one Camel for your two goats. In the interim, the news outraged Egyptians, who make up a high proportion of the workforce in KSA in a variety of fields. For years, they complained of being ill treated, underpaid and undervalued. Following a temporary move by the Egyptian government to ban their doctors from working in the KSA, Saudi Authorities paid lip service by promising that Egyptians workers would be given full rights. It is unlikely this promise will be extended to Philippine maids.