In Egypt's biggest public protest in more than two years, thousands of doctors gathered Friday to demand justice for two physicians allegedly assaulted by police.
Their union, known as the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, announced that if the accused police officers are not brought to justice before Feb. 26, doctors will start providing free medical care for citizens at public hospitals across the country.
Outside the union headquarters near downtown Cairo, doctors carried banners reading "living, freedom and dignity" and chanted "We won't surrender! We won't bail out!"
"We have come in thousands today to call for dignity for doctors," said Dr. Yehia Abdel Shafy, a rheumatologist.
The protest was a response to an incident Jan. 28 at a public hospital in the northern Cairo. After an injured policeman insisted on jumping ahead of other patients waiting for treatment, several officers allegedly beat up two doctors.
Both doctors said that the policemen tried to intimidate them into not to filing a complaint.
Cairo prosecutors opened an investigation and charged nine low-ranked officers with "assaulting public officials." All nine officers were released on bail. The protesters want to ensure that the officers will be put on trial.
The protest flouted a law issued in November 2013 banning public gatherings that were not pre-approved by authorities. Demonstrators since then have faced arrests, jail terms and heavy fines.
In addition to justice for the doctors, the union demanded an end to privatization programs for public hospitals and better protection for doctors on the job. They called for more protests at hospitals across the country on Feb. 20.
The conflict comes amid local and international condemnations of alleged brutality by Egyptian police against dissidents opposing President Abdel Fattah Sisi.
More than 300 people have disappeared over the last six months and at least 16,000 have been jailed, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.
A statement signed by 13 local human rights groups affirmed their solidarity with the medical union. The hashtag "I support the doctors" was trending Friday in Egypt.
Hassan is a special correspondent.