Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year of Animal Headlines in Egypt

Mada Masr
Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jano Charbel 

Animals proved to be veritable news-makers in Egypt in 2015: From monkey antics on the streets of Nasr City to aggressive airport cats, and from calls to give up meat in protest at rising prices to calls to take up camel meat as an alternative, animals made headlines throughout the year.

Local residents chasing monkeys in the streets in Cairo’s eastern district of Nasr City came to public attention in March. Over a dozen moneys escaped from a veterinary hospital, wreaking havoc, jumping onto ledges of buildings, windowsills, and into trees.

Some outlets reported that 14 monkeys – with others reporting 18 – escaped together from a clinic into a highly populated urban landscape.

Some residents of Nasr City reported that these monkeys rampaged through their urban gardens, eating and destroying some vegetation.

Some users of social networking sites in Nasr City called for poisoning the monkeys while others proposed non-lethal ways of capturing them, such as luring them into cages.

A local resident tweeted: “We should welcome the monkeys and let them live among us like the street dogs do.”

How these monkeys were ultimately captured or apprehended was not subsequently reported on.

Then there was the donkey who made his way to Cairo International Airport on April 27. After breaching fences and several lines of security, the donkey reportedly found its way to Terminal 3. For two days, the donkey lingered around the parking lot as talk-show hosts discussed the issue.

“The donkey was chased out by the police and security personnel at the airport,” a statement by the airport police force's general directorate read, adding that the donkey is believed to belong to one of the garbage collectors who frequent the area surrounding the airport.

A source at the airport described the incident at the time to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm as an “unprecedented scandal,” that can only be an indication of “serious flaws in the performance of the Ministries of Interior and Civil Aviation.”

According to the anonymous source, it was not the first time this donkey had breached security surrounding the airport.

Photos and videos of the donkey wandering through the parking lot at the airport were widely circulated on social media platforms. Several users suggested that even donkeys want to leave the country. “Donkey emigration … The donkey headed to Terminal 3 in hopes of leaving Egypt and its problems behind.”

In a separate incident in Terminal 3 of Cairo Airport, the chief quarantine officer there told media outlets that four EgyptAir employees were injured when a male cat violently attacked them on September 30. This cat had been sheltering in a storage room, and reportedly pounced upon the employees as they were attempting to remove some items from storage. Scratching and biting them, this aggressive kitty left his mark on the four employees.

Associated Press reported that authorities and staff were trying to capture a “rebellious feline” running around through the airport – ahead of a visit by representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organization. AP reported that as of October 28, airport staff were still chasing the cat around, unable to catch it. Passengers and airport staff had reportedly been feeding it.
AP added that airport authorities had declared the cat to be “persona non grata.”

Camels also captured headlines this year. An escaped camel ran loose through the new campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC) in May after jumping out a vehicle and then running through the campus gates.

When American porn actress Carmen De Luz posted a photo of herself in skimpy underwear on a camel during a visit to the Giza Pyramids, local media outlets reported that she was shooting an erotic film by the historic site.

An investigation ensued and De Luz apologized on her Twitter account for any inconvenience that her actions may have caused.

In other news, camel meat — which is not widely consumed as a source of protein in Egypt — is being promoted as an alternative to beef and other red meats, which is growing increasingly costly and beyond the means of many Egyptians. The state-owned Al-Gomhuriyya has recently been encouraging the expansion of the camel meat industry, indicating it currently represents just 2 percent of domestic meat consumption.

Some nutrition specialists have even been questioning the use of donkey meat as a source of protein. Speaking on a talk-show broadcast on Al-Assema satellite channel in June, Hussein Mansour, president of Egypt’s National Food Safety Agency, commented that donkey meat is indeed mixed-in among other meats and sold at some markets and restaurants in order to cut their expenses.

The only way to ensure that donkey meat — or that of cats or dogs — was not being mixed into minced beef was to conduct DNA tests on samples, he said.

With the cost of beef ranging between LE35 per kilo (for lower grade meat) and LE100, a popular campaign emerged in August to boycott red meats altogether.

The campaign dubbed ‘Balaha Lahma,’ which loosely translates as “Let’s forget about meat,” encouraged consumers to refrain from purchasing meat with the aim of forcing the meat industry to bring down its prices to affordable levels. While this campaign picked up steam prior to the Eid al-Adha holiday when sheep are traditionally slaughtered, and even received mainstream media attention, it does not appear to have made much of an impact on the market prices of meat, or the population’s dietary habits.

Also related to the Eid al-Adha holiday and the consumption of livestock, poet Fatima Naoot stood trial this year on charges of blasphemy due to her critical online postings regarding the ritual slaughter of animals on this Islamic festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep rather than his son.

Naoot’s trial began in January, after a lawsuit was filed against her by a conservative lawyer. In late 2014, Naoot had written, “Millions of innocent creatures have been driven to the most horrible massacres committed by humans for ten and a half centuries,” Naoot wrote. “A massacre that is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.”

The blasphemy charges leveled against Naoot were subsequently referred to another court - for which she could face up to three years imprisonment.

During the last week of this year, the appointment of a new governor in Alexandria has reportedly led to a policy of killing street dogs after complaints from residents about the dogs’ growing numbers and their barking.

The governor denied these allegations while municipal veterinary employees also denied their involvement claiming that they had stopped the practice of killing street animals with shotguns since the year 2011.

A hashtag emerged on social networking sites denouncing the new governor, “The Governor of Alexandria is a Butcher.”

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that some animal rights activists even sent photos of these dead dogs to Vladimir Putin’s Facebook page as the Russian president is apparently a major dog-lover.

In March, a rare verdict against an act of animal cruelty was issued, in which the Shobra al-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced four men to three years imprisonment in association with the brutal killing of a street dog.

Another act of animal cruelty — resulting in the deaths of several cats — was not referred to trial. In November, cats that had previously roamed throughout the grounds of Cairo’s Ahly Sporting Club were found dead at the entrance.

The club’s media spokesperson initially denied the incident, claiming that a contracted company had only drugged the cats, but protests by club members and animal rights activists against Al-Ahly Club’s management ensued.

According to media reports, after samples from two of the dead cats were sent for veterinary forensic analysis, the results revealed that poison had been put in their food. An official complaint was filed at the local police station, and the Qasr al-Nil District Prosecutor was notified of the vet’s findings, but the incident has not been referred to trial.

Cat killings, reportedly on a larger scale, have also taken place at Cairo’s Gezira Sporting Club in previous years. Similarly, this has resulted in outrage and protests, but no trials.

However, a cartoon animal – Mickey Mouse — did result in a trial and sentencing this year. In October, a military court sentenced 22-year-old army conscript Amr Nohan to three years imprisonment after he digitally altered an image of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, putting Mickey Mouse ears atop his head, and posted it on his Facebook account.

Nohan was then charged and reportedly found guilty of defaming the president and conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime.

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