Animals are dear to my heart. I have five cats and am essentially one more cat away from being that woman who feeds 90 street cats and never talks to humans. I was thus really upset that cats living in the Gezira Sporting Club (GSC) had been poisoned to death. Other reports suggest that some had been both poisoned and beaten to death. Whatever the method used was, there were some awful pictures of dead cats on Facebook. Incidentally, this incident happened a week after someone in my own neighbourhood elected to poison street cats that live around our house.
Poisoning street animals is not unusual. Sometimes local authorities mix it up by shooting street dogs. During the pig cull, when in their wisdom the local authorities decided to tackle Swine Flu by killing pigs owned and bred by Christians for their meat, some of the poor animals were buried alive. In summary: street animals are in many quarters viewed as rodents and animals in general are not given the respect a sentient being capable of experiencing emotion and of feeling pain should be afforded. Neither are human beings I anticipate some readers will be thinking, but we’ll get to that later.
After this latest round of poisonings something unusual happened: GSC members organised a demonstration in protest at the killings, which had made first page news. I went to the protest this evening.
For those that don’t know the GSC is an exclusive institution in one of Cairo’s most affluent suburbs, Zamalek. Its prohibitively expensive membership fees mean that its patrons are drawn from the upper crust economically speaking, as this gentleman’s sign very gently hinted at:
It was a good turnout, some 50 – 60 protesters showed up. Their placards approached the issue from three angles primarily:
1. Religious – demonstrators held up ahadith enjoining kindness to animals. One woman held up a picture of an adorable kitten above which was written “you will meet her on the day of judgement”.
2. Mercy – some protesters simply urged people to have mercy on animals.
3. Legal – demonstrators urged the government to hold the GSC administration to account for violating the law (although which law? The 2014 constitution obliges the state to “guarantee humane treatment of animals”, I don’t know of any other Egyptian laws on animals other than laws concerning farm animals, and it is something I need to research).
At one point a scowling man who bystanders said is a member of the GSC administrative board (but who in an interview with a journalist described himself only as a Club member and who I think was called Hussein) came out to address the media. He alleged that the whole incident was a fabrication and was immediately shouted down by the formidable lady members of the GSC who shouted ra7ma (mercy) to drown him out.
Hussein was challenged by a man who said that a legal complaint had been filed with the police proving that a man had been hired by the GSC administration to poison and kill the cats. Hussein responded by alleging that he had read the complaint and that it only referred to poisoning and not killing of cats (??). He said that “when the cats were put in a sack they were still alive”. A journalist asked him what interest GSC members would have in falsely accusing the Club administration of poisoning animals.
“They are doing it to terrorise us,” was the memorable reply. Hussein skulked off. “Go on you sick man,” a woman shouted behind him.
There was lots of traffic going past the protest and numerous inquiries about what exactly it was about. Upon being told that it was about dead cats there were puzzled looks but not the guffawing or snorting that I thought such a demonstration would elicit, which was a small source of hope. In a moment of supreme irony a grinning police officer, one of six assigned to police the protest told a passing motorist that the demonstration was about a “humanitarian matter”. Hearing this word pass his lips was like listening to Hannibal Lector talk about vegetarianism.
And on the subject of humanitarianism, sort of, the standard response to any appeal to stop animal cruelty and promote animal welfare is that Egypt must sort out the rights of humans before it can address those of animals, as if the two things are mutually contradictory, or as if animals are competing with humans for resources. Even to bundle animals and humans together seems inconsistent when many of the people who make this argument regard humans as a higher species and animals as their inferior slaves/food/objects.
In practical terms animal welfare in Egypt could greatly (and easily) be improved through a comprehensive TNR (trap, neuter, release) programme in cities, criminalisation of animal cruelty and government/volunteer monitoring of animal shelters and pet shops. Anything state run in Egypt is vulnerable to corruption (inspectors can be bought off, for example) but there exist a bunch of animal enthusiasts who keep a close eye on such goings on. Unfortunately however the animal activist scene in Egypt is riven with in-fighting and clashes.
It is my dream that an inspection team of truly independent experts/vets be established with powers to order the closure of shelters or veterinary practices that abuse animals as well as e.g. confiscate neglected working horses and donkeys. The Egyptian Constitution obligates the state to guarantee the welfare of animals (amongst the other rights and obligations it lists which exist only on paper, or in politicians’ mouths). Even the fact that the constitution acknowledges this is progress, and a group of activists are currently drafting an animal rights law which they will present to parliament once it convenes.
Any approach in Egypt that relies on compassion will not work. People poison rats do they not, and nobody kicks up a fuss about that. (They also kill hundreds of humans in one day and there wasn’t much objection to that, either). Cats are viewed as disease spreading nuisances, just like rodents. The argument for the GSC situation should be that poisoning simply doesn’t work. A respectable animal protection group should be put in charge of TNR in the Club with zero interference from the administration. As someone pointed out in a FB group, members who like to feed the animals should be encouraged to do so in designated areas far away from places where people eat (the cats were apparently poisoned following complaints by members that the cats disturb them begging for food). Cats should also not be handled so that they remain frightened and suspicious of humans and do not approach them (thereby lessening chances of their being regarded as a “pest”).
In Egypt though, as the past three years have shown, the people who really care, and who really understand, are usually ignored by those in charge following the rule that shit always rises to the top. Judging from the stories going around about the administration, the GSC seems to be a microcosm of the Egyptian state in that regard. Ultimately what is needed is a long term education campaign, similar to the campaign against sexual harassment (which played a big role in the passing of a law against sexual harassment and the beginning of a change in attitudes to the problem). It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and to refrain from exerting energy to torture an animal. Until the law makes cruelty an offence, and until some of the (often repeated) suggestions listed here become a reality, animal welfare will unfortunately be at the mercy of human conscience – of which there is very little going around these days.
* I cannot resist wordplay, and I am in no way taking away from the seriousness of this issue which I hope you have realised keeps me awake at night.