Celebrations of World Animal Day on 4 October have become more widely followed in Egypt over recent years, something that can be attributed largely to the dedicated efforts of animal rights NGOs and activists, including Amina Tharwat Abaza, founder of SPARE, the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt.
Abaza has left no stone unturned in promoting animal rights in the country and in combatting the abuses that are still sometimes committed by farmers and citizens alike.
This year’s conference to mark World Animal Day was attended by many leading figures, and those participating were shown videos documenting atrocious practices committed by camel herders and beef producers on animals.
What is worse is that one camel-herding centre in Birqash is listed as a tourist area where visitors can pay LE100 to watch the camels.
However, a shocking video shot in the Birqash Camel Market included atrocious scenes of sometimes intentional violence towards the camels.
One might even say that this place resembles a concentration camp for camels more than a tourist attraction.
The site’s operators are not shy about displaying their sadistic treatment of the animals, and some of them even appeared to be proud of it.
Animal rights activists including from SPARE and other groups are now quite rightly urging the authorities, especially the ministries of tourism, health, agriculture and the interior, to take steps against the operators of this market as it has shamed Egyptian tourism and is a black spot on Egypt’s image as a tourist destination.
Such things are happening even as the country is promoting its tourism packages successfully worldwide and witnessing significant hikes in tourism rates.
Yet, any tourist who is unfortunate enough to visit this so-called tourist attraction will likely be stunned by the abuses being carried out by herders who seem to be devoid of any compassion towards animals.
Even more alarmingly, activists such as Abaza have been threatened by camel herders who apparently could not care less about the abuses they commit against defenceless animals as long as their businesses continue to make money.
Animal rights activism in Egypt is still to a great degree perceived as a luxury and is overlooked by many.
What rubs salt into the wound is that even dedicated efforts by activists are sometimes met by uncooperative attitudes from the authorities and the media, which can consider animal rights activism as an elitist activity.
During this year’s conference, Egyptologist and physician Wassim Al-Sisi delivered an inspirational speech in which he elaborated on ancient Egyptian attitudes towards animals and the need to conserve them as part of the respect due to all beings.
Ancient Egyptian behaviour towards animals, Al-Sisi said, was a very far cry from today’s sometimes horrific treatment of animals.
Moreover, animal rights breaches are a breeding ground for radicalism
and violence of other kinds. People who engage in them are unlikely to be voted as model citizens, and their violence towards animals may even translate into criminal activity of other kinds.
Yet, ironically a 1938 law protects animal rights and threatens severe punishments for anyone found guilty of deliberately harming animals.
It punishes by prison sentences and fines anyone found guilty of deliberately abusing an animal. However, this law like many others has been largely shelved, and its application is limited, explaining the attitude of impunity adopted by violators unconcerned by law enforcement.
It is noteworthy that the law was passed at a time when Egyptian society was free of the Salafist and Wahhabist influences that have since influenced many people’s behaviour.
For decades, the Salafis and other Islamists have been urging people to perform the Eid Al-Adha sacrifices in public as a way of displaying their piety.
However, this spiritual ritual aimed to spread compassion between the rich and the poor has been turned into some kind of barbaric ceremony as a result, stripping it of its true content and purpose.
This topic was discussed during the recent conference by Egyptian writer Fatima Naoot, who thanks to her dedicated efforts, drawing a smear campaign against her and lawsuits claiming blasphemy, was able to draft a law in 2016 that bans all forms of public animal slaughter.
These comments are not meant as a call for everyone to become an animal rights activist or to become vegetarian.
Instead, they are a call to awaken people’s caring nature and human conscience towards all living creatures in the country.
They are also meant as a call for the authorities, especially the Ministry of Tourism, to act now to stop the brutal violations of the law and to ban visits to camel markets in particular until their operators abide by the laws governing the treatment of animals and accept monitoring by the authorities.
It is up to the Ministry of Agriculture to monitor herding camps and slaughterhouses in order to halt the present brutalities that are taking place against animals by individuals devoid of compassion.
Furthermore, the media, which has taken the issue of animal rights too lightly for decades, must now launch an awareness-raising campaign in cooperation with animal rights NGOs such as SPARE to make people realise that even if they do not care about animals such acts of savagery are finding their way onto the Internet and are harming the Egyptian tourism industry and the country’s image abroad.
Some tourists who have witnessed these atrocities have called for bans on visiting Egypt.
Civilised societies are measured by their members’ attitudes towards others, whether human or animal. It is not a coincidence that the countries with the best animal rights records share the same respect for human rights, seeing these as largely one and the same.
Humans who care about animals are likely to care about their fellow human beings, and from here comes the importance of instilling animal rights fundamentals in Egyptian educational curricula and dedicating media time to them.
Undoubtedly, the 7,000-year-old nation that blazed the trail of human civilisation and founded animal rights through charters on the walls of temples can restore these rights through the strict application of the law and greater public awareness.
* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 11 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Animal rights and tourism