Egypt's Christians See Bias In Pig Slaughter

May 5, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: CBS News

Wire Service: AP

The Egyptian government is using swine flu as an excuse to get rid of tens of thousands of pigs raised by garbage collectors who live amid the refuse in Cairo slums. But the move has prompted accusations Monday that Muslims are attacking minority Christians, who breed the animals.

The government last week ordered the slaughter of all the country's 300,000 pigs as a precaution against swine flu, even though no cases have been reported in the country. But after the World Health Organization criticized the measure as entirely unnecessary, the government expanded the rationale for the slaughter to confront a long-standing hygienic problem posed by pigs and garbage dumps in the midst of densely populated areas of the capital.

An estimated quarter of a million people in Cairo, primarily poor Christians, make their living from garbage collecting and raising pigs in city slums. They collect the refuse, dump it in the courtyards of their house and comb through it for material recycled in crude workshops nearby while the animals feed on food waste.

Islam forbids Muslims from eating pork because pigs are considered unclean. With pig raising and consumption almost entirely confined to Christians, some see the slaughter as having religious overtones.

The city's garbage collectors say destroying pigs is an attack on their livelihood that will only further impoverish them and they clashed violently with police on Sunday as government workers came to haul the animals away for slaughter.

"This is all because we are Christians. This is the only reason," said one middle-aged garbage collector in Cairo, evoking a common sentiment. He would not give his name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million and for the most part live in harmony with the country's Muslims, though they occasionally complain over discrimination.

The government denies the slaughter has anything to do with Muslim distaste for pork and maintains that new, hygienic pig farms using imported animals will be set up in two years time.