Egypt decided to slaughter the country's entire pig population on Wednesday in the hope of keeping the A (H1N1) virus out of the country. The measure has angered pig breeders, most of whom are Coptic Christians and see the issue as a religious affair.
The Egyptian pig population counts around 300,000 head, the majority of which are bred in the surrounding areas of Cairo by what can only be described as Christian scavengers. For these rubbish pickers, the pigs play an important role in recycling organic waste. They spend their lives grazing on open-air waste-piles and are then transformed into ham, a product often destined for the capital's major hotels.
On Wednesday, a group of farmers from the Khanka region, 25km north of Cairo, welcomed the policemen and vets who came to cull their pigs by hurling stones at them. In an attempt to calm the crisis, the Coptic Orthodox Church had to pledge its support for the government's decision.
Pig breeding is banned in several Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Libya. In other Arab countries, it's often minority religious groups, notably Christians, who produce hogs.
No case of the flu, neither animal nor human, has been reported in Egypt. The Web is divided over this radical measure to cull the country's pigs.
Footage of a pig killing (screen grab)
"A media campaign mistakenly made the link between the spread of the H1N1 virus and pork"
Mina Zekry is an Egyptian blogger.
This decision is irrational and poses a number of problems. The breeders have no certitude of getting any compensation and so have threatened to start protesting.
In Egypt pork production affects several economic areas. If they actually manage to fully follow through on this decision, then there would certainly be repercussions. However, I don't think it will happen. There are only two abattoirs that can deal with pig slaughter in Egypt - one in Cairo and one in Alexandria. They can each get through 1,500 pigs per day. So it would take a long time to kill the country's 300,000, unless the authorities start throwing live pigs into incinerators.
Stupidly a media campaign mistakenly made the link between the spread of the H1N1 virus and the presence of pork in the country, stigmatising by consequence the breeders, who are majority Copts."