Saturday, May 30, 2009

sectarian flu, achoo achoo achoo (and other nasty things)

While almost all governments have taken some degree of precaution to protect from the "H1N1" influenza, most have limited preventive action to increasing medicinal stockpiles and raising awareness, the Egyptian government stands alone in its decisions to confiscate and kill all of the 300,000 Egyptian pigs. dumb, you say? Well yes, partly, but its much more evil and idiotic than that..

"Sectarian Flu" and Economic and Social Rights

With almost a quarter of a million Egyptians, primarily Christians, involved pig farming, and by extension garbage collection (pig farmers also act as the major garbage collectors in the city, relying on the animals to eat what cant be recycled of the collected refuse) - the move to slaughter hundreds of thousands pigs will in turn leave hundreds of thousands of Egyptians without their source of livelihood and without compensation.

It is difficult to separate the flagrant disregard by the Egyptian parliament who pushed for and passed this decision, to the fates of the affected citizens, from the fact that the overwhelming majority of those citizens are Egyptian Christians. While some see this as a convenient opportunity for the advancement of forced Islamization in Egypt, the fact that Egypt took similar measures when cases of the bird flu were reported, a move which resulted in the extinction of the "farkha fayoumi" breed, also severely damaging the economic prosperity of the many Muslim families who raised them serves as a somewhat disturbing redemption for the Egyptian government.

While it is undeniable that the "precaution" has gained some support from pro-Islamic or simply disinterested parts of society, in effect, those who see the move as production also stand a lot to lose. The fact that all sectors of the Egyptian society are equally vulnerable to such degradation of economic rights is alarming. Girgis Youssef Boulis, the head of pork producer Ramsis Meats, said pork accounts for about 30 percent of the country's total meat production. Although he is a Christian involved in the pork industry, Boulis is far from the image of impoverished families surviving in the slums by driving donkey-carts around the city collecting garbage. Having invested millions of Egyptian pounds in his prestigious farms (in the country- far from the "hygiene" concerns used as justification by the government), Boulis gives a different picture of the effects of killing all the pigs in Egypt.

"If this continues, one of the first things that I will think about is layoffs," he said. "But more than that, there are the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people at stake in this industry, from the farmers, to the producers, to the workers and the drivers who deliver the meat."

"I've invested millions of pounds in equipment, including buildings, fridges, etc. Who will compensate me for these millions in investments?"

The move is already having an impact on the market for other meats, he said. Domestic fish prices have surged about 100 percent as people turn to other lean, protein-rich meats in place of pork.

"If beef prices haven't gone up now, they will in a week," Boulis predicted


Whether Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, this severe whip to the food market comes at a time where the WFP already estimates food will become the most challenging obstacle for all countries, especially developing states, in the coming years.

Whether Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, individuals who have been directly affected by this widely criticized (even ridiculed) action will receive no compensation given instead justifications like that, since the meat will still be sold- there is no need to compensate the farmers (even though purchases have gone down dramatically). There have even been some allegations that farmers have even been charged by the slaughterhouse for the occupancy of their livestock. Meanwhile, other types of farmers, beef and veal, who have been forced to vacate the slaughter houses, will also find themselves in precarious economic situations.

The violence of the decision, and the lack of foresight associated with the move (from massive inflation of food prices to massive mounds of rotting garbage with no pigs to eat them, to massive discontent from diverse segments of the population) is paralleled by a violent and shocking method of implementation. Farmers who resisted the confiscation of their pigs were allegedly beaten and intimidated into compliance. The cruelty suffered by the pigs themselves is also entirely unacceptable. Mass burial sites often included still live piglets, carelessly thrown in with their slaughtered parents to meet the same fate- but slower.

On the issue of "mass graves", to add insult to injury, the government's total ill-preparedness for crises, demonstrated in its failure to effectively contain the bird flu and the resulting related deaths, was not only displayed but even paraded by recent statements: the government's request of municipal authorities to prepare mass graves- for humans this time- in preparation for the fatalities of the epidemic. The fact that before a single case has been reported in Egypt, and no parallel statement has been made about, for example, preparing hospital capacities and medicinal stockpiles in case the flu hits- has further traumatized the Egyptians' faith in the competence and frankly, concern, their government actually has. The Egyptian Minister of Health, Dr. Hatem Al Gabaly who has become a recent superstar, is quoted as saying that when the swine flu hits Egypt the government will "hit a great mess at first, but will eventually get things under control". Meanwhile, Egyptians will remain in disbelief that such a "mess" as is already underway may only be the calm before the storm.