A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, May 4, 2009

Roundup on the Mass Hamicide

To my dismay — and as a lover of Egypt it really is to my dismay though I'll post on it anyway — the whole pig cull is becoming a real awkward situation. Over the weekend The Arabist posted a good links post (called "Pig Fever") that links to multiple commentaries on the subject. I won't repeat his links. Here's an update on the progress of the mass hamicide, but of greater concern are reports of clashes between the government and the zabbalin. The zabbalin, the garbage collectors of Egypt, are mostly Copts; they received a great deal of international publicity due to Sister Emmanuelle, a Belgian nun who worked among them for decades until her death at nearly 100. Being primarily Christian, they raised pigs among the garbage dumps in the Muqattam area and elsewhere. The government has now said that its crackdown on pigs is not aimed at the swine flu (since the world has been denouncing the pig cull), but at cleaning up the urban garbage dumps where swine were raised.

Once in the late 70s, while living alone in a Cairo apartment, my local zabbal, who had previously collected at Christmas and Easter, showed up for a tip on the Prophet's Birthday. I said, but you're a Christian, you asked for gifts on Easter and Christmas. He said, no, I'm a Muslim, and we celebrate Prophet Jesus as well, and pulled out a government ID card that showed his religion as Muslim. Maybe he was the rare Muslim zabbal, but most are Copts; maybe he had a fake ID.

Sister Emmanuelle has passed on now after nearly a century, and it sounds as if the zabbalin are facing a real challenge to their livelihood. It's hard to be sure, from outside. I hope they do well.

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