Interview with Soha Bayoumi

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Soha Bayoumi is a Senior Lecturer in the Medicine, Science, and the Humanities Program at the Johns Hopkins University. She is presently completing two book projects, one (with Sherine Hamdy) on the work of doctors in the Egyptian uprising, and the other on the social and political roles of doctors in relation to health and justice in postcolonial Egypt. 

What is your article “Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Medical Mobilization in Post-revolutionary Egypt” about?

This article explores the links between medical practice and expertise, on the one hand, and nationalist discourses, on the other, in the context of the 2011 Egyptian uprising and the years that followed, which witnessed a consolidation of political authoritarianism. It investigates how doctors played a significant role in countering political regimes’ acts of violence and denial. It traces the trajectory of the doctors’ mobilization in the 2011 uprising and beyond and demonstrates how the doctors drew on their professional expertise and nationalist sentiment in their struggles against a hypernationalistic military state. It contrasts activist doctors’ idea of nationalism with the state’s and shows how medicine has served as a site of awakening, conversion narratives, and building of bridges in a polarized society where the doctors were able to rely on their “neutral” expertise to present themselves as reliable witnesses, narrators, and actors.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.

I work at the intersection of the history of medicine, science and technology studies, and political theory. My work is informed by postcolonial studies, gender studies, and social justice, and centers the ways in which medical expertise is shaped by and deployed in different political contexts.

What drew you to this project?

This research is part of a book-length project that I have been working on for the good part of the last decade with Sherine Hamdy. We were both amazed and intrigued by the different roles played by doctors in the Egyptian uprising and its aftermath and felt compelled to document that episode of the Egyptian revolution and ask questions related to what motivates doctors to engage in politics, especially during such volatile political moments.  

What was one of the most interesting findings?

We were really struck by how doctors reliance on their “neutral” expertise and their attempts to efface the political in their work actually reinscribe the political in different ways, in ways that both allow doctors to either resist state violence or abet it.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I’m currently watching the Netflix show, Mo, which is, as far as I know, the first mainstream show about a Palestinian-American to ever make it to streaming screens in the US. I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ first memoir, A Leg to Stand On, which is focused on an accident that caused him to lose the use of one of his legs and his reflections on being patient, after a long career of being a doctor. And I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah. I love Trevor Noah’s style of comedy, and I think his autobiography book, which contains a lot of comedy, is best enjoyed performed by Noah himself.

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

I think it is the idea that very few things in life are actually politically “neutral”—that what we take for granted as apolitical or technical or neutral has so many ramifications on politics, writ large. Many of the daily actions we take and the statements we make are inscribed in a political context and often function to reproduce and perpetuate that context or to subvert and change it, if we so choose.

Thank you for your time!

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