Mass slaughter of pigs in Egypt

Press review – week from May 4 to 8, 2009

First victims of influenza A in Egypt: pigs. If what was initially called « swine flu » has not been contracted by any Egyptian and that contamination of the virus from pigs to humans has been refuted by the scientific community, the Egyptian authorities have launched a campaign of slaughter of pigs on the land. Health measure or political measure? Wonder the media.

A scientifically unfounded decision

« It was decided to immediately begin to kill all the pigs in Egypt, the slaughterhouse running at their maximum, » said to the press the Egyptian Minister of Health Hatem el-Gabali after a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, reveals the AFP. This decision was made despite the fact that pigs are not responsible for the epidemic of influenza, according to the Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health, Bernard Vallat.

250 000 pigs live in Egypt. On May 2nd, a hundred animals have been slaughtered in Alexandria while in Cairo 28,000 pigs were transferred to slaughterhouses, according to the official press agency Mena. This measure has been denounced in a joint statement by four international organizations the WTO, the FAO, the OIE and the WHO, RFI reported.

The authorities had originally introduced the measure as a precaution facing swine influenza, which had been strongly criticized by the international scientific community. Then, they started asserting that they were aiming at eradicating pigs’ unhealthy livestock. The slaughter of pigs would be « a measure of general hygiene, to transfer this type of livestock in real farms, not in landfills, » said Saber Abdelaziz Galal, director of the department of infectious diseases at the Ministry of Agriculture according to L’Express.

The Egyptian daily Al-Wafd felt that after the cases of influenza A in Israel, the pig farms had to leave Cairo.

Al-Masry Al-Yom has justified the measure to prevent the union of influenza virus A with the virus of avian flu and human classical influenza that would strengthen the virus before it spreads around the world. The independent daily considers that the movements of pigs should not occur without veterinary supervision.

Clashes around pigs’ slaughter

Clashes happened between the police coming to take the animals and livestock, in the region of Cairo and to Moqattam and Khanka (25 km north of Cairo) and resulted in 12 injuries among the police and at least 8 among farmers, according to security services, stresses theAFP. Gradually, the clashes between farmers and the police became systematized and divisions have earned the power sphere, reveals RFI. Indeed, the health minister has implicitly criticized the parliamentary vote on the eradication of pigs, indicating that the measure had no impact on swine flu and highlighted the limited capacity of slaughterhouses. The media which had first supported this measure are now more skeptical.

Furthermore, Al-Masry Al-Yom reveals that these movements of pigs will be difficult because of farmers’ opposition on the one hand but also because of the refusal of residents to see movement of pigs near their homes. La Libre Belgique reported that the Egyptian government has offered insufficient compensation for farmers of 250 pounds-about 30 euro -for an adult animal and 6.50 euro for a jack. Each pig carcasses will be examined to see if it is not carrying a disease and if healthy, the meat will be frozen and sold for the benefit of the owners.

However, according to Le Monde, the slaughter of pigs is a real headache. For Egyptian Veterinary heads, « less than a thousand pigs have been killed in four days. » Indeed, the country has only two establishments, one in Cairo and the other in Alexandria, dedicated to the slaughter of pigs. « In that case, the extermination of the herd will take several years, » says a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture in Le Monde. In addition, veterinarians eventually recognize that the capacity of cold stores is insufficient and the meat of pigs is now difficult to sell even among the Copts and tourists, unique consumers. The management of carcasses will therefore quickly become a new problem. Finally, the Coptic scavengers of Cairo do not hide their intention to hide their animals.

A political decision?

Since the justification of protecting the country from the spread of the virus quickly lost its credibility, the Egyptian authorities have gradually raised the reason of the reorganization of pigs’ farms. However, in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, the Copts are the only ones who breed and eat pork. The Coptic community represents 6 to 10% of the population and is therefore the only part of the population affected by such an initiative. The systematic slaughter of pigs in Egypt would be an « anti-Coptic » measure said on Sunday a renowned Egyptian activist of animal rights, Amina Abaza, Romandie news reports. « I wonder if this measure is not made because the pigs belong to the Coptic Christians, » she explained, recalling the hostility of the Muslim Brotherhood to pigs’ farms. Amina Abaza stresses what could have been an inconsistency of the authorities on the health issue. In fact, Egypt had been particularly affected by the avian flu but had launched no campaign of systematic slaughter of poultry and today while it is spared by the virus the authorities decided of the systematic slaughter of pigs.

For L’Express, there is no doubt it is a political measure which « reflects the rising community tensions in Egypt.” For the weekly magazine, Egypt is clearly uses the influenza A as a pretext: « We take this opportunity to address the matter of unauthorized breeding”, had stated a spokesperson of the Department of Health. The pigs are mostly raised in extremely unsanitary conditions by the Christian minority.
However, the scavengers of Cairo, who are often Christians and sometimes pig farmers, have been identified by some media as potential carriers of the virus. This kind of accusation is part of a « sharp increase in interreligious violence, both in frequency and geographical distribution, » said the defender of human rights Hossam Bahgat.

The New York Times refers to an « economic punishment » of the State imposed on the Copts in Egypt. Interviewing Coptic farmers in Cairo, the American newspaper noted that for this latter, the measure is the incarnation of the Egyptian Muslim resentment against the Copts, recalling last year’s anti-Coptic violence, including kidnappings and beatings of monks.

Another question now arises. The pigs were mainly fed with detritus especially in the poor neighborhoods of Cairo. « After the slaughter, who will collect the rubbish?” wonders a breeder of pigs in the New York times.

Surprisingly, Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of 95% of Christians in Egypt supported the initiative of the slaughter of pigs during a sermon, saying that the situation called for such an initiative.

Measure directed against the Coptic community and opportunity to get rid of an animal considered as unclean according to the precepts of Quran or opportunity to clean up a situation difficult to manage, the debate still persists according to La Libre Belgique.