The ancient Egyptians used to worship cats and impose severe penalties on anyone injuring or killing a cat. They portrayed the female cat goddess as half-feline, half-woman, calling her the goddess Bastet.
The situation has radically changed today, and across Egypt cats may be mercilessly removed from their favourite places. At the elite Gezira Sporting Club (GSC) in Zamalek in central Cairo some club members want to see all stray cats removed from the premises. However, there are other members who love them and want to see them stay.
Around 500 members of the GSC held a demonstration at the club recently to protest against the administration’s decree to evacuate all stray cats.
The decree was issued as the club’s board of directors had received numerous complaints, and some members had said that the cats were a source of nuisance, disturbing members and their children particularly during meals.
The concerns were focused on the safety of children, as it was thought that the cats could be a source of disease.
File Photo showing protesters denouncing the mass poisoning of cats in front Gezira Club in 2014 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
The club administration ignored the protest against the decree on 17 February, however. After some hours, one board member talked to the protesters in an attempt to calm them down. “It’s a board of directors’ decision, and we cannot change it. It is being taken for members’ safety,” she said.
The club’s board headed by Amr Gazarin convened earlier this month to try to find a solution to the escalating numbers of cats at the club. The majority of the board members voted for the cats’ evacuation as a fast and supposedly easy solution to the crisis troubling members.
Before the meeting, Gazarin arranged a symposium for the club members, to propose the scientific solutions, presented by specialised professional environmentalists, in collaboration with the animal welfare society experts to explain the nature of the stray cats at the club and to discover whether or not they were dangerous.
However, the meeting was cancelled as the members who attended started to argue with the environmentalists, who urged Gazarin to end the gathering in order not to escalate the arguments.
On the Gezira club official Facebook page, it was announced that the evacuation would take place on 1 March, and that the cats would be “humanely” collected by an English company and relocated in public gardens or elsewhere away from the club.
A two-week grace period will be provided for animal lovers to try to find an alternative solution to the evacuation of the cats.
According to Eman Asaad, one club member who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly, some animal lovers had voluntarily decided to collect the cats and offer them up for adoption. “We managed to collect more than 60 cats from the club, and these will now receive medical treatment, adding that the cats had been collected from the club’s baby garden, lido, tea garden and pergola area.
Asaad said that “Egypt should have laws protecting animals. We’re only asking for stray animals to have the right to life, and this is not a lot to ask. If we succeed in reducing the number of cats in the club, especially in the baby garden and lido, there is a possibility that the administration will halt its decision. We are working to accomplish this goal,” the volunteer said.
Animal lovers collected more than 60 cats and offerd them up for adoption
This is not the first time the GSC has tried to get rid of stray cats. In 2014, it even culled dozens of cats at the club, allegedly by using brutal methods. Some club members and animal lovers protested in front of the club on this occasion against the methods used.
Veteran club members recall the incidents and say that the GSC has in the past used brutal methods to cull stray cats. Many members have tried to negotiate with the administration, while reducing cat numbers by having them spayed, but no one has listened, they say.
Civil society groups have tried to reach an agreement with the club’s administration to find alternative solutions, but they have not received an appropriate response.
Club member and Energy and Environmental expert Salah Hafez has proposed a scientific solution to control the stray cats at the club, but this was not approved by the club’s administration. His proposal suggested photographing each, sterilising it using a trap-neuter-return (TNR) method, and then vaccinating the cats against disease.
“Female cats should be sterilised, whereas male cats should be vaccinated but not sterilised so they keep their territorial behaviour and prevent other cats from penetrating the area,” Hafez’s report said. All sterilised and vaccinated cats should be tagged by tipping their ears to keep records of the population and record any newcomers.
Hafez also suggested diverting food stations to make the cats move to areas with food. “This should be done gradually so the cats start moving gradually to areas close to their feeding stations.
Feeding would be carried out only at designated feeding stations at regular intervals. Members would not be allowed to feed the cats,” his report said.
Some members offer food to cats and dogs on the club’s outskirts (Photo: Hani Mustafa)
The plans should be regularly assessed for effectiveness and corrective actions implemented if required. The presence of new cats in the population would indicate that additional actions needed to be taken, for example.
Ahmed Hamdi, 80, a veteran club member, agrees with the administration’s decision to decrease the cat population at the club.
“Most of the time I stay at the main building, and I can’t stay for long in the tea garden or pergola without being irritated by the cats,” Hamdi said.
Afaf Suleiman, 61, another member, said that she had “heard about cats’ attacking children, but I never saw them doing so myself. If they are that aggressive, they should be safely and humanely removed to other areas.”
Club members have been vocal about the situation on social media, with member Shadia Al-Feki commenting that “I’m against the inhumane method of getting rid of the stray cats, but the administration should find a solution. Wherever you sit, you are surrounded by cats, which are dirty and full of disease.”
“Feral cats are a real problem at the club. They are almost everywhere, and they gather around us whenever and wherever we sit for food in the outdoor areas. We cannot enjoy our club. It’s our club. It doesn’t belong to the cats,” Al-Feki added.
Yara Idris, another member of the GSC, said that if the cat population were completely removed it would violate the club’s eco-system. “Mice will come in en masse. This has happened before when the club’s previous administration decided to eliminate the cats. The mice numbers increased, and they became a significant problem,” she said.
There have been claims that one of the cats attacked one of the club’s waiters, who had to be taken to hospital for medical care. A previous incident said that a stray cat had attacked a two-year-old child playing in the baby garden at the club.
Such behaviour is unlikely for cats, commented one member. “How could a cat attack a 20-year-old waiter and wound him to the extent that he had to be taken to hospital,” she asked. “This is fake news, and the documents prove it is not true.”
Social media users who are members of the GSC have launched hashtags on Twitter and Facebook, protesting against the decision by the club’s administration.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly