The news that Essi, a fluffy Persian, and Besso, a traditional Siamese, had clawed their way past the competition to secure the titles of Miss and Mr Cat at a Cairo cat show last week quickly went viral both on traditional and social media, provoking a mixture of scrutiny and sarcasm.
Last Friday’s cat show, organised by the Egyptian Cat Club, is not the first of its kind in Egypt, however.
This year’s show was actually the fourth to be held, one of the show’s main organisers, Nagla El-Masry, told Ahram Online, adding that “it is getting bigger each year.”
It was El-Masry who brought the idea of cat shows, and cat contests, to Egypt, having visited several while living in the Netherlands.
After returning to Egypt and starting her own cattery, she decided to bring the cat show to Egypt, and together with some others from the Egyptian Cat Club, she held the first show in 2011, and organised a national breed registry at the same time.
This year, 36 cats participated in the show and its contests, and El-Masry said that people came from as far as Alexandria to display their pets and their products. The three contest judges came from Russia and Ukraine.
There are no estimates for the total number of cats in Egypt, whether pets or strays, but one look at the streets attests to their popularity and presence.
What is measurable, however, is the reach of pet products.
According to official statistics agency CAPMAS, in a four-month period in summer 2016, Egypt spent $52 million on importing pet food, primarily dog and cat food.
El-Masry said the show is a popular event with cat-related businesses.
“Pet supply companies sponsor the cat show because they want to showcase their products; also cat owners and breeders show their cats if they want to sell them there,” she explained.
“Our main target is exotic cats, mostly if not all Persian cats,” she said, adding that Egypt is a top exporter of Persian cats to the Gulf. Although there are no official figures on the number of cats exported from Egypt, a quick glance at Facebook shows dozens of pages specialized in exporting both local baladi cats and Persian cats.
“A cat which participates in the show and wins in our contests gets higher prices if its owners want to sell them,” El-Masry said, describing how the price of Miss Cat rises as soon as the cat wins the title.
Despite the success of the cat show, El-Masry had some reservations about the media coverage the event received, and the mocking comments it garnered from some social media users.
“Some outlets published photos from the event ridiculing it and attacking the cat-owners, who are respectable people, mostly housewives,” she told Ahram Online.
Nevertheless, El-Masry said that she and her team have not been put off by the furore, and plan to hold another event in March.