A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Afghanistan's Pig is Named "Pig" and Other News from the Swine Flu Front, Including a Pop Song

The Reuters news story I linked to in yesterday's post about how Afghanistan has quarantined the (reputedly) only pig in the country left out one bit that the BBC has added: the pig is named "Khanzir," which is just Arabic for pig. (Of course Arabic isn't spoken in Afghanistan, and I think Persian uses a different word (Afghan Dari is basically Persian) and I have no idea how you say it in Pushtu. So the pig is named pig.

Meanwhile, Egypt has still had no cases of H1N1 (swine flu), despite a scare with an Austrian tourist in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada. Hurghada is on the Red Sea coast and would be a pretty easy place to isolate from the Nile Valley if there were an outbreak, but it was apparently a false alarm.

The last time I saw press numbers on the great pig massacre the numbers killed so far were nothing like the 300,000 originally reported as targeted. I'm not sure if the Egyptians have backed off a bit following international protests and ridicule, or if they're just not publicizing it. The story linked above says they're proceeding with the cull. Then, from the same article, there's this to consider:
On Tuesday, a few hundred pigs were found in one of Giza’s main roads, reportedly left there at midnight. It turned out to be a failed attempt to smuggle the pigs.
And here are some numbers:
Meanwhile, the General Authority for Veterinary Services finished slaughtering 1,320 pigs and culling 5,138 out of 168,000 pigs in Egypt, according to Major General Abdel Salam Mahgoub, Minister for Local Development.
So the 300,000 to 350,000 seem to have become 168,000? Or were the original numbers wildly inflated?

And, continuing the overreaction, from the same article:

Meanwhile, pupils in some schools started wearing medical masks during their lessons as a preventive measure.

An official source at the Ministry of Education, though, said this was not ordered by the ministry, adding there was actually no need for such a measure at this time.

Education Minister Yousry El-Gamal said instruction had been given that doctors and female health experts be deployed in schools during the exams. He stressed the place and timing of the exams would not be changed, ruling off the possibility of holding them in open spaces.

Reading this, one has to keep reminding oneself that Egypt has not had a single case of swine flu. Neither has Afghanistan. Egypt has had serious outbreaks of bird flu in recent years, and I can understand a certain amount of overcaution, combined with the taboo on pork.

And finally, thanks to The Arabist for linking to a MEMRI TV posting of a new pop song in Egypt about the swine flu, including the immortal lines:
In every port and airport, we need to write in large letters:
You’re not allowed to enter Egypt and bring a pig with you.
Always good advice. And I had not realized until now just how easy it is, in Arabic, to find rhymes with khanazir (pigs, swine). The fact that there are not more Arab songs about pigs isn't for lack of rhymes, I guess. I like the interview with the singer, as well, in which he says that someone (his agent?) called him and said, "you have to immediately write a song about influenza." Ah, show biz. It adds to the surreal nature of the entire swine flu panic, which has seemingly disrupted countries without a single case in evidence.

For the video, I don't immediately see any imbedding codes and am not tech-savvy enough to post the video here without them, but you can watch it at The Arabist. He's thoughtfully provided an MP3 download in case you just have to have it for your Ipod.

AND AN UPDATE: I belatedly should mention for those unfamiliar with Egyptian popular music in recent decades that Sha‘aban ‘Abd al-Rahim, or "Sha‘abula" as he is popularly known, made his name with a song called "I hate Israel" and went on to make a reputation for political songs denouncing the US, the war in Iraq, and other stuff. He's a political singer, in other words.

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