A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Criticism of Pig Cull Growing After Video

After Al-Misry Al-Youm posted a video showing the more unpleasant aspects of Egypt's attempt to eliminate pigs, the international and domestic uproar has intensified. Pigs were shown with quicklime being thrown atop them to cause a slow death, rather than the humane slaughtering normally required by Islam. I'm not going to embed the video here, as it's pretty strong stuff, but those with strong stomachs can find the version posted by Al-Masry Al-Youm here. An AFP clip covering the story is here.

Now Prime Minister Nazif has ordered that the cull be carried out humanely, And, almost predictably, the Governor of Qalyubiyya (the Governorate where the video was filmed) has blamed the messenger by criticizing Al-Masry Al-Youm for posting it. (Though as I've noted previously, Al-Masry Al-Youm has offered some pretty sensationalist stories on swine flu, including the one proposiing that President Obama be quarantined, so it's not entirely innocent in fanning the hysteria that it is now documenting.) And one official allegedly said the pigs weren't slaughtered by the Islamic method of slitting their throats because pigs don't have necks. (Believe me, pigs have throats. This kind of rationale does no one proud.)

What at first seemed an amusing overreaction now seems increasingly like one of the worst public relations disasters in recent years. Humane societies and animal rights organizations are up in arms, and increasingly there are efforts to portray the pig cull as a deliberate attack on the Coptic population, since the pigs are raised only by Christians. The fact that the government's own rationale for the cull has shifted (once it had to acknowledge that swine flu is not spread by pigs, it started to claim that unsanitary conditions created by raising pigs in the garbage dumps of Cairo was the motive) also tends to encourage such interpretations. From a PR point of view the logical thing to do would be to put an end to the massacre, but a combination of bureaucratic inertia and public hysteria over swine flu (which has still not been found in Egypt) seem to be keeping it going, as world outcry intensifies.

Meanwhile the total number of swine flu cases in the Middle East now stands at seven in Israel (no new cases there) and two in Turkey. Not one in an Arab country. WHO map here.

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