Page last updated at 06:33 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 07:33 UK

Egypt pigs meet cruel fate in swine flu cull

Egyptian butcher removes young pif for swine flu cull
Many people have wrongly ascribed the cruelty to Islamic prejudice against pigs

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo

Pigs squeal loudly as they are thrown into the scoop of a bulldozer and dropped onto a mass of squirming animals which already half fill the back of a lorry.

After three hours on the highway they are offloaded in the desert, apparently to be buried alive in quicklime and other chemicals.

"We leave them for 30 to 40 minutes until they stop breathing and die," says an official at the disposal site in Qaluybia governorate, outside Cairo.

I felt as if they were killing me. But what am I to do?
Ayman Saed, former pig keeper

The video shot by the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper has renewed controversy about Egypt's cull of over 300,000 pigs - which is now more than half complete.

It is being carried out because of fears about swine flu - even though there has not been a single case in the country.

"I was shocked. It's horrible," says Ahmed al-Sherbiny of the Egyptian Federation for Animal Welfare which is suing the government for cruelty.

"These methods and practices are totally unacceptable. Everybody must speak out against them."

Religious objection

Other footage shows pigs being beaten with an iron bar and piglets being stabbed with a bloody knife.

The film has been viewed tens of thousands of times on the YouTube website and has attracted hundreds of angry comments.

Pigs being buried as part of cull
Animal welfare is a difficult cause to promote amid Egypt's human hardship

Many of those making the remarks are negative about Egypt and voice strong criticism of the Islamic religion which they blame for motivating the cruelty.

A number of critics wrongly assume that because pork products are haram, or forbidden, under Islamic law, ill treatment of pigs is condoned by the religious establishment.

In fact, Muslim clerics - along with many ordinary Egyptians - have strongly condemned the way the cull has been carried out in some areas.

"Islam has directives in such matters," says Sheikh Abd al-Moatti Bayoumi, former head of Islamic law at al-Azhar University.

"The Prophet Muhammad said if you slaughter, slaughter in a decent way, meaning that you have to be compassionate to animals even if you are killing them."

"Using chemicals to kill them is not permitted by Islam even if you treat the pig as an unclean animal," he said.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals says it is "extremely concerned" about the way pigs have been killed. It has offered expert help to relocate pigs humanely.

Like the World Health Organization, it points out that culling will be "ineffective" to protect people against swine flu, because it is not passed from pigs to humans.

Human hardship

The Egyptian Government continues to insist that the slaughter is a necessary public health measure.

Last week, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif issued new orders which strictly prohibited violent ways of killing pigs.

Police threaten pig farmers after anti-cull protests
Police cracked down hard on protests by pig farmers over the cull

But already many governorates have been declared free of the live animals.

For pig owners - who mainly come from the Coptic Christian minority - the cull has been devastating.

Many are zabaleen - rubbish collectors - who used the pigs to recycle organic wastes and they sold them for meat.

They say their livelihoods, already damaged by foreign refuse contractors, have now been ruined.

Ayman Saed, who lives in Batn al-Baqar, a slum on the edge of Cairo, owned 33 pigs and accompanied them to the slaughter house.

"I felt as if they were killing me," he says. "But what am I to do?"

"They gave me E£1,900 ($340). Since then I've been unemployed. I tried to find work, but I couldn't. Nowadays, foreign corporations are taking the rubbish."

In nearby Manshiyat Nasr, Adel Izhaq has 10 children to support. He used to rely on income from the 50 pigs that he kept.

"I hope God compensates us. We are making no profit. There is no work," he says. "I am sitting day and night in the cafe."

Activists in Egypt are campaigning for new laws against animal cruelty.

But they admit that while human suffering and hardship is so widespread it is hard to get their voices heard.

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