A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Egypt and the Pig Cull: Now, Garbage in the Streets

Because I don't post on weekends I didn't comment on this New York Times article on the second thoughts in Egypt about the pig cull earlier this year. But since I posted plenty of comments on the absurdity of the cull at the time — a classic case of letting bureaucracy and public panic (about the name "swine flu") drive policy — it's worth noting the aftermath as the (Pig ghosts?) come home to roost.

The problem: the garbage in Cairo has always been hauled by the zabbalin, which just means garbagemen, who lived in slums out at the foot of the Muqattam hills. They hauled the garbage, fed it to their pigs, and raised the pigs accordingly. Without the pigs, they have no real use for the garbage. The zabbalin are Copts, naturally (no Muslim will deal with pigs) and not the most popular social group. But they performed an essential service.

Now, both in protest of the pig cull and for other reasons, the garbage collectors are not picking up the garbage. So we have poor parts of town drowning in garbage and the better quarters piling up with stink. We get headlines like "Cairo Schools Inundated with Refuse". I'm not even going to try to link to all the stories. Garbage is piling up in Giza, in Heliopolis, in the best neighborhoods, and the poorer neighborhoods are just swamped.

The NYT article has a picture of fat-tailed sheep (originally identified as goats; lovely NYT correction at the end of the story, though I think two of them are goats) who aren't doing nearly as good a job as the pigs.

Perhaps the world needs to ship a new resupply of pigs to Egypt, but oh, my, that would raise problems with the religious authorities.

Think before you act. Deeds have consequences. You cannot remove a species entirely from an ecosystem without effect. The pigs ate the garbage. Bureaucrats killed all the pigs. Nothing is eating the garbage. (Should we make the bureaucrats eat ... no, that would be wrong.)

I love Cairo. It deserves smarter governors.

1 comment:

Michal said...

without claiming any Cairo expertise of any sort, frankly the poor animals are not the only cause for the dirt and stink in the city. I see no reason why Cairenese could not use garbage cans or live without throwing all rubbish on the ground. Living in Mohandiseen, I've been shocked by the level of neglect people of all social strate show...
I've never seen anything like this anywhere else