Repository logo

Beyond Medical Humanitarianism - Politics and Humanitarianism in the Figure of the Mīdānī Physician

Accepted version



Change log


Roborgh, SE 


This article explores the complex position of local physicians at times of political unrest or conflict, conceptualizing local medical voluntarism as a form of collective action. It analyzes the evolving interpretation of medical neutrality among Egyptian physicians who provided medical assistance to injured protesters in the Egyptian uprising (2011-2013). In-depth interviews with 24 medical and non-medical volunteers on their perception of medical neutrality were matched with their mobilization and participation history, showing the extent towards which political considerations influenced their voluntary medical engagement. The results firstly show that revolutionary political considerations played a central role in the physicians’ mobilization into medical networks active in the protests, as well as in their interpretation of their medical and non-medical activities. Secondly, I argue that the interpretation of medical neutrality among Egyptian physicians evolved significantly over time. A special type of medical volunteer took shape, the mīdānī physician. This physician openly expresses his/her political convictions and adheres to (self-defined) humanitarian principles through a conscious reconciliation of the two. The article details the increasing difficulty of this task after the revolutionary movement splintered into competing factions and citizens ended up fighting each other instead of authoritarian rule.



Egypt, Humanitarianism, Medical neutrality, Medical personnel, Medical sociology, Mobilization, Social movements, Altruism, Egypt, Human Rights, Humans, Medical Assistance, Physicians, Political Activism, Volunteers

Journal Title

Social Science and Medicine

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



The PhD on which this article draws, was supported by the Derek Brewer PhD Studentship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and supporting scholarships from Studiefonds Ketel 1, Prins Bernhard Cultuur Fonds, and Hendrik Muller Vaderlandsch Fonds.