Following the world wide Swine flu scare, Egyptian police officers were deployed to a slum in Cairo, with a mandate to slaughter every swine. However, the poor pig farmers will not give up their sources of livelihood without a fight.
The consumption and raising of pigs in Egypt is largely restricted to the country’s Christian minority, estimated at 10% of the population as Muslims consider pork unclean and generally do not eat it.
About 200 policemen surrounded the pig farmers neighborhood on Sunday backed by a half dozen police trucks. But a crowd of 1,000 irate Egyptian pig farmers armed with stones and bottles took positions in front of their pig farms, daring to protect their pigs. When the farmers blocked the road leading to their pig pens, they began to aim rocks and bottles at the police officers, who responded by charging down at the farmers in armored cars and firing tear gas.
However, nobody was shot, but sticks and stones flew randomly, as police utilized their batons and tear gas in dealing with the poor farmers who were predominantly Christian garbage collectors. After the altercations, fourteen demonstrators were arrested for resisting government efforts to slaughter the pigs to guard against swine flu. According to the Cairo security chief, Major General Ismail Shaer seven police were among the injured in the clashes that ensued.
300 000 pigs
This event comes a week after the Egyptian government ordered the slaughter of all the country’s 300,000 pigs even though no cases of swine flu have been reported in the country. Egyptian animal rights activist Amina Abaza deplored the slaughter of pigs and said “the decision to cull them was probably taken only because they belong to the Christians.”
In defense of the farmers, the World Health Organization has said the move to slaughter every pig in the country was unnecessary because the virus is however being spread through humans.
However, the rationale for killing all the pigs in the country has now taken a different cause. The Egyptian health authorities now say that the authorized killing of pigs is in a bid to campaign against unsanitary pig farming conditions, particularly in the Cairo slums where the garbage collectors live.
But the garbage collectors who engage in pig farming are all Christians, who make up the minority of the society, and with no other source of livelihood available to them, or assured them, observers have questioned the intent of the health authorities in Egypt, raising charges or religious persecution. According to Joseph*, in a country where “Egyptians who decide to convert from Islam to Christianity are faced with harsh state discrimination besides not being able to change their religious affiliation on national ID cards although converts from Christianity to Islam are not faced with the same legal issues (…) this decision from the government shows the disdain the authorities habour for Christians”.
* not his real name