Egyptian police wearing riot-gear clashed with a mostly Christian group of pig-owners in a garbage-infested Cairo slum, as the government tried to enforce a decision to destroy the country's pigs. Police fired tear-gas as pig-owners threw stones to defend their main source of livelihood.
The smell of tear-gas mixed with the scent of garbage as pig farmers battled Egyptian riot-police with sticks, stones and bottles in a Cairo slum. The pig farmers were resisting the government's attempt to slaughter all the nation's pigs to guard against Swine Flu.
Raising pigs is the chief source of livelihood for the predominantly Coptic-Christian farmers. The slum-dwellers also recycle garbage to make ends meet.
A few police and pig-farmers were reported injured in the bitter clashes.
The clashes have taken on a sectarian dimension since raising pigs is forbidden in Islam and Egypt's Coptic-Christian minority continues to do so, amid the mounting ire of their muslim countrymen.
The head of Cairo's Cleanliness and Beautification Authority, Mohamed Nabil, took part in the government pig-cull and describes the ugly situation.
"We seized 130 pigs, he says, with the intent of transporting them to the slaughter house, but suddenly the farmers became angry and began protesting". He said they began throwing stones and other debris, but the situation is under control.
A Coptic-Christian pig farmer, Adel Izhak, complained about the government-ordered cull, insisting that "they want to steal our livelihood."
Analyst Emad Gad of the Ahram Center for political and strategic studies says the controversial pig-cull is taking on a distinctly religious flavor.
"Lawyers, many politicians, many intellectuals, here [are] concentrating on this issue because it is a non-Islamic issue, so it is a chance to get rid of all pigs in Egypt," said Emad Gad. "So, I think they are trying to give the issue some sort of religious dimension, because many lawyers [are] asking for arresting the people who are responsible for pigs and refuse to get rid of their pigs. So, I think the Egyptian government is trying to use the issue to get rid of all the pigs in Egypt."
Egypt began the pig cull Saturday, despite insistence by the World Health Organization there is no evidence pigs transmit Swine Flu to humans and there have been no cases of the flu reported in Egypt.
Last year, 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 and authorities say the world flu crisis is a perfect opportunity.
Egypt's Ministry of Agriculture says pig raising is to be restarted in two years at specially constructed farms in the countryside using newly imported animals.
Egypt was severely affected by the outbreak of bird flu in 2007 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.