Pig-slaughter clashes erupt in Cairo slums

12 injured as residents resist government efforts to kill animals to guard against swine flu.

egypt pig swine flu 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
egypt pig swine flu 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian police and armored cars charged into a crowd of a 1,000 irate pig farmers armed with stones and bottles, leaving 12 people injured as residents of a Cairo slum resisted government efforts to slaughter the nation's pigs to guard against swine flu. Cairo security chief Maj. Gen. Ismail Shaer said 14 people were arrested. Seven police were among the injured in the clashes with largely Christian garbage collectors who raise pigs on the refuse and live in the teeming slums of Manishyet Nasr outside the capital. The farmers blocked the road leading to their pig pens and hurled rocks and bottles at police, who responded by charging them with armored cars and firing tear gas. Some 200 policemen then surrounded the neighborhood backed by a half dozen police trucks. Egypt last week ordered the slaughter of all the country's 300,000 pigs even though no cases of swine flu have been reported here. The World Health Organization has said the move was unnecessary because the virus is being spread through humans. Authorities have now expanded the rationale for the slaughter beyond swine flu to a larger campaign against unsanitary pig farming conditions, particularly in the Cairo slums where the garbage collectors live. The campaign has been met from the start by protests and resistance from pig owners. The consumption and raising of pigs is largely restricted to the country's Christian minority, estimated at 10 percent of the population. Muslims consider pork unclean and generally do not eat it. "We were surprised by the tremendous objection by the garbage collectors. They fired guns, and they threw stones and bottles," Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nabawi, head of the Cairo Beautification Authority, told The Associated Press. He said that healthy pigs are being slaughtered for their meat while the pregnant and babies are being destroyed. Cairo's predominantly Christian population of garbage collectors, known as the zabaleen, roam the streets of the sprawling city's wealthier neighborhoods collecting its garbage. They bring the refuse back to their homes and dump it in their courtyards, sorting through it for matter to recycle. Pigs and other animals feed off the organic matter while the reusable material is reprocessed in crude workshops nearby. Isaac Mikhail, the head of the garbage collectors association, said 65,000 pigs live in the slum of Manishyet Nasr. The area has the city of 18 million's largest concentration of garbage collectors, providing a livelihood for some 55,000 people. He said farmers were enraged when the government slaughtered 600 of their pigs and then only paid them half of the going market rate of about $1.20 a kilogram. "If the government wants to slaughter [the pigs], they should pay a just price. How can people live?" he asked, estimating that a quarter of a million people in Cairo are involved in pig farming. Another pig farmer said the government came early Sunday to take the pigs without paying any compensation up front. "This is my bread and butter. My family, my sons and I all live off it. How can I give up easily?" said Isaac Rafib, 45. "We bring the garbage here and sort it and we feed the pigs," said Marzouqa Moussa, a middle aged woman dressed in a dark robe, surrounded by dozens of pigs. "We were born here and we live here," she added, gesturing toward her simple living area adorned with a picture of Jesus Christ next to a room piled high with reeking garbage bags. A third room of the house was given over to the pigs. The introduction of modern garbage services in many parts of the city over the last five years has already cost the zabaleen some of their livelihood. In 2008, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered all animal rearing, particularly pigs and chickens, to be moved out of populated areas for hygienic reasons. The order was never implemented, however, and authorities say the current crisis is a perfect opportunity. Pig raising will be restarted in two years at specially constructed farms in the countryside using newly imported animals, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture told Egyptian media. "Everything Egypt has decided to do - despite the noise it caused here and there - first and foremost aims at protecting human health, and the health of the Egyptian people which is worth all the efforts and the measures taken," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad said Sunday. He added that the measures had the full support of the leaders of Egypt's Christian community. The Egyptian government has come under criticism in past years for being caught flat-footed by crises. Egypt was severely affected by the outbreak of bird flu in 2006 with more than two dozen fatalities in the past two years. Some 25 million birds were slaughtered and the rearing of poultry in households largely ended. With the new flu scare, the government moved proactively, even in the absence of any cases.