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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this April 14, 2020 file photo, people crowd a street a few hours ahead of curfew in Cairo, Egypt. As Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

A doctor arrested after writing an article about Egypt's fragile health system. A pharmacist picked up from work after posting online about a shortage of protective gear. An editor taken from his home after questioning official coronavirus figures. A pregnant doctor arrested after a colleague used her phone to report a suspected coronavirus case.

As Egyptian authorities fight the swelling virus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi's handling of the crisis.

At least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus hit Egypt in February, according to rights groups. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face punishment. One foreign correspondent has fled the country, fearing arrest, and another two have been reprimanded over "professional violations."

The coronavirus is surging in the country of 100 million people, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. As of Monday, the Health Ministry recorded about 76,000 infections, including 3,343 deaths -- the highest death toll in the Arab world.

"Every day I go to work, I sacrifice myself and my whole family," said a doctor in greater Cairo who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "Then they arrest my colleagues to send us a message. I see no light on the horizon."

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In 2013, el-Sissi, as defense minister, led the military's removal of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, after his brief rule sparked nationwide protests. El-Sissi has stamped out dissent, jailing Islamist political opponents, secular activists, journalists, even belly dancers.

Now the clampdown has extended to doctors who speak out about their working conditions.

A government press officer did not respond to requests for comment.

In recent weeks, authorities have marshaled medical supplies to prepare for more patients. The military has set up field hospitals with 4,000 beds, scaled up testing and ordered companies to churn out masks and other supplies.

But health workers are sounding the alarm on social media. Doctors say they are forced to purchase surgical masks with their meager salaries. Families plead for intensive care beds.

The pandemic has pushed the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, a nonpolitical professional group, into a new role as the sole advocate for doctors' rights.

Last month, the union released a letter to the public prosecutor demanding the release of five doctors detained for expressing opinions about the virus response.

Another syndicate member, Mohamed el-Fawal, landed in jail last week, after demanding online that the prime minister apologize for comments that appeared to blame health workers for a spike in deaths.

Incensed doctors hit back, saying they're undertrained, underpaid and underresourced, struggling to save patients. So far, 117 doctors, 39 nurses and 32 pharmacists have died from covid-19, according to syndicate members' counts. Thousands have fallen ill.

Security forces shut down a syndicate news conference that was to respond to the prime minister's comments and discuss supply shortages, said former leader Mona Mina.

"These doctors have no history of activism, they were arrested because they offered criticism of their very specific professional circumstances," said Amr Magdi of Human Rights Watch, which has confirmed the arrests of eight doctors and two pharmacists. Two have been released, he said, while the rest remain in pretrial detention.

In one case, security agents burst into the home of Hany Bakr, an ophthalmologist north of Cairo, according to his lawyer and Amnesty International, over his Facebook post that criticized the government for sending aid to Italy and China while Egypt's doctors were short of equipment.

In March, public prosecutors accused 26-year-old Alaa Shaaban Hamida of terrorism charges after she let a colleague call the government coronavirus hotline from her phone instead of first reporting the case to her managers, according to Amnesty International. Three months pregnant, she remains in pretrial detention.

Doctors in three provinces say administrators threatened to report them if they publicly expressed frustration toward authorities or failed to show up for work.

The suppression of criticism in Egypt is hardly unusual, analysts say, but the government has become more jittery as the pandemic tests its capabilities and economy.

FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, Tahrir Square, which was the focal point of the Jan. 25, 2011 Egyptian uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is closed off by police during curfew hours as a prevention measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, Tahrir Square, which was the focal point of the Jan. 25, 2011 Egyptian uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is closed off by police during curfew hours as a prevention measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2015 file photo, Egyptian security forces stand guard outside one of the entrances of Tora prison, in Cairo, Egypt. Since the coronavirus first hit Egypt in February 2020, At least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested according to rights groups. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face punishment. One foreign correspondent has fled the country, fearing arrest, and another two have been summoned for reprimand over their reporting of “disinformation" and other “violations.” (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2015 file photo, Egyptian security forces stand guard outside one of the entrances of Tora prison, in Cairo, Egypt. Since the coronavirus first hit Egypt in February 2020, At least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested according to rights groups. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face punishment. One foreign correspondent has fled the country, fearing arrest, and another two have been summoned for reprimand over their reporting of “disinformation" and other “violations.” (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker wearing protective gear prepares to take swab samples from people lining up in their cars to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through COVID-19 screening center at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker wearing protective gear prepares to take swab samples from people lining up in their cars to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through COVID-19 screening center at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, a street is empty during curfew hours due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Rights groups say at least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus first hit Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, a street is empty during curfew hours due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Rights groups say at least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus first hit Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - This March 30, 2020 file photo, shows the empty Giza Pyramids and Sphinx complex on lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt. In July, fearing further economic fallout, the government reopened much of society and welcomed hundreds of international tourists back to resorts, even as daily reported deaths exceeded 80. Restaurants and cafes are reopening with some continued restrictions, and masks have been mandated in public. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - This March 30, 2020 file photo, shows the empty Giza Pyramids and Sphinx complex on lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt. In July, fearing further economic fallout, the government reopened much of society and welcomed hundreds of international tourists back to resorts, even as daily reported deaths exceeded 80. Restaurants and cafes are reopening with some continued restrictions, and masks have been mandated in public. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, hospital beds are prepared to receive COVID-19 patients at Ain Shams University Field Hospital in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Rights groups say at least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus first hit Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, hospital beds are prepared to receive COVID-19 patients at Ain Shams University Field Hospital in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Even as Egyptian authorities fight the swelling coronavirus outbreak, security agencies have tried to stifle criticism about the handling of the health crisis by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Rights groups say at least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus first hit Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, Egyptian security forces cordon off roads during curfew hours as prevention measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm Egyptian hospitals. Egypt has the highest death toll in the Arab world. Yet even as authorities fight the swelling outbreak, they have also tried to stifle nearly all criticism about the government’s handling of the health crisis. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2020 file photo, Egyptian security forces cordon off roads during curfew hours as prevention measures due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm Egyptian hospitals. Egypt has the highest death toll in the Arab world. Yet even as authorities fight the swelling outbreak, they have also tried to stifle nearly all criticism about the government’s handling of the health crisis. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - This April 3, 2020 file photo, shows used medical gloves thrown on a street in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - This April 3, 2020 file photo, shows used medical gloves thrown on a street in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker wearing protective gear prepares to take swab samples from people queuing in their cars to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through COVID-19 screening center at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. The government has scaled up testing within all general hospitals and ordered private companies to churn out face masks and other gear for front-line health workers. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker wearing protective gear prepares to take swab samples from people queuing in their cars to test for the coronavirus at a drive-through COVID-19 screening center at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. Coronavirus infections are surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. The government has scaled up testing within all general hospitals and ordered private companies to churn out face masks and other gear for front-line health workers. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
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