King Morsi cracks down on psychiatrists
Last week, Dr. Manal Omar was summoned along with TV host Mahmoud Saad by the prosecution and questioned for seven hours over one of their TV episodes on Nahar TV. She is accused of insulting the president. A lawyer from the presidency filed the case on Morsi's behalf. In this video she made indirect references to Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and their number two, Khairat el-Shater.
Dr. Omar is a psychiatrist specialised in child and adolescent psychiatry. She started to appear on TV following the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes last year to inform the public about trauma, psychology and psychiatry in general. During my early training in psychiatry I used to attend her clinic. As trainees we used to consider ourselves lucky when we had time during our rotations to do so.
She was explaining why some victims of trauma may play the role of the victimizer. This is a very important and valid topic in psychology. As many violent criminals were originally abused during childhood, victims may feel the compulsion to harm themselves or others. This can be due to a number of psychological, social or biological explanations. For instance the traumatised individual may feel the compulsion to harm others as a way to have control over their lives, even for a brief period of time. This happens without total insight and may or may not be followed by guilt.
She was refuting the common misconception that victims will not perpetrate what they have experienced because they have seen how bad it is. This is again a very valid point and she meant to address the Muslim Brotherhood.
I am not a big fan of diagnosing or psychologically profiling public personalities from a distance. There are hundreds of articles and tens of books describing the abnormal psychology of world leaders, dictators or terrorists. Perhaps one of the best known works in this field is The Psychology of Dictatorship by Gustav Gilbert where he used testimonies by those close to Hitler in the Nuremberg trials to create a psychological profile of the man after his suicide.
In that episode, she was clear that someone who suffered trauma shouldn't be in a position of great power so soon. That there should be time for healing and rehabilitation. Broadly, this makes sense. She didn't breach confidentiality as Morsi isn't her patient.
The point for me that was sloppy is when Mahmoud Saad asked her, what if a patient came to her with such presentation, what should he do. She said he should step down. First, this meant that she really thinks Morsi was traumatised by his prison experiences, which is something she hasn't verified in person and secondly this is when the boundaries between her political and professional positions may have been compromised.
Insulting the president
Famous writers were sentenced, like Mostafa el-Manfalouty, Bayram el-Tounsi and Abbas el-Akkad for insulting the khedive or king at the time. After the monarchy was overthrown by the Free Officers Movement in 1952, laws related to the monarchy were removed, except for insulting the majesty. It was changed to insulting the president. Poet Ahmed Foad Negm was imprisoned in 1978 by Sadat using the new version of this law for calling him crazy in one poem.
Mubarak used this repeatedly. Journalist Ibrahim Eissa was found guilty of damaging the national economy and publishing false information after he wrote about Mubarak's health problems in 2007. Mubarak pardoned him as the case was high profile. Blogger Kareem Amer received a one year sentence for insulting Mubarak and three years for contempt of religion.
During Morsi's reign, Tawfik Okasha and Dostor newspaper journalist Islam Afify are currently being tried for insulting the newly elected president. Islam Afify's case created an uproar as the promises of the newly elected president of a free media were still fresh in people's memory. As a result, Morsi issued a decree to ban pre-trial detention of journalists.
This is probably not the first time a psychiatrist criticises a president. I remember Dr. Ahmed Okasha appearing on TV and giving newspaper interviews discussing the psychology of Arab leaders and dictators. With some slight indirect references to Mubarak. May be far more diluted than this. But as a man with wealth and connections to those in power at that time I doubt he would have been touched anyway.
There are currently no details on exactly why the presidency filed this case against Dr. Manal Omar. What exactly did she say that upset them so much isn't yet public. However, it's obvious that it's not for any ethical mistake she may have committed in their view as this is the role of the medical syndicate and her peers to discuss.
Additionally, there can't be a justification for this unequal response. Insulting the president is a serious charge that may carry up to one year in prison. It's outrageous to know that an elected executive who is essentially a public servant is still acting as a king and still has the power to imprison anyone whenever he feels insulted. Not to mention that the head of the prosecution that is investigating this case was directly appointed by Morsi in his latest power grabs and wars against the judiciary.
Perhaps the president feels insulted because of his very strict Islamic background where the view that mental illness is sign of weakness and the faithful is protected is common. Or just because the stigma of mental illness in our culture is strong like when Sadat threw Negm in prison for the word 'crazy'.
What I am sure of is that there is a fantastic psychiatrist threatened by a prison sentence for what she said in public. This hostile response is yet another clear attempt by Morsi to silence any criticism and a clear attack on free thought.