Cairo's trash-filled neighborhoods are the proud home of nearly 70,000 Coptic Christian zabaleen people and the majority of Egypt's pig population.
For decades, the zabaleen have earned a living off of collecting trash in Cairo's slums. In an average day, the zabaleen collect almost 6,000 tons of trash. Food scraps make up more than half of the trash and are fed to the pigs. Most of what remains is then recycled by zabaleen men.
Even though there are no reported cases of swine flu in Egypt — and you can't catch the virus from contact with pigs — the government has decided to slaughter all of Egypt's pigs as a preventative measure. Some think there there may be ulterior motives behind the mass slaughter as well. The New York Times reports that the government claims that getting rid of the pigs would force the zabaleen to clean up their neighborhoods.
The Egyptian government has promised to humanly butcher the swine according to Islamic law and freeze the meat. It is uncertain whether or not this meat will be consumed by Egypt's non-Muslim population. In compensation they will pay about $180 per pig.
Pigs importance goes beyond money for the zabaleen community. Along with the income their meat brings in they also play an important role as a cleaning crew of sorts, and the zabaleen feel targeted by the government. The Coptic Christian zabaleen are a minority in Egypt — 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Since it is against Islamic law to eat pigs, the zabaleen question whether or not the mass-slaughter in the name of swine flu is merely a disguise for religious motives.
More pigs are being slaughtered by the day and the zabaleen continue to plead with the government to not destroy their livelihoods. Ayman Saed told the BBC that when the government officers took his pigs it felt "as if they were killing me."
In a last ditch resort to save their pigs and their livelihoods, The New York Times reports that the zabaleen are now trying to get the government to let them keep their pigs on farms outside of they city. The zabaleen could cart out the organic waste to the farm and keep making a living off of collecting trash. So far, the government hasn't come around.