Depicted on ancient walls and glorified in the battlefields, working animals have historically been a significant component of the Egyptian economy. But religious misinterpretations, lack of education and nonexistent legislation result in an explosive combination of abuse and objectification.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) 2008 report, over 1.2 million animals are subject to labor activities throughout Egyptian governorates. Donkeys, horses and goats play a fundamental role in transporting goods in rural areas where farmers cannot afford vehicular costs. Pigs also play a major role in garbage disposal; such is their importance that Cairo drowned in garbage when all of the city's pigs were slaughtered in 2009 due to the swine flu paranoia.
Working animals are also essential in the tourism industry; aside from the stereotypical camel rides, camels and horses are sometimes the only means of transportation available for certain touristic attractions such as Tombs of The Nobles in Aswan. In some governorates, working animals are themselves a tourist attraction, such as Sharqeya, famous for hosting The Sharqeya Arabian Horses Festival which showcases purebred Arabian horses. Dogs are relied on in the security sector and combating drug trafficking, as well as hunting activities.
Considered a stalwart of agricultural activity in deprived areas and a green means of transportation in places where pollution is the rule, working animals can also point to a barbaric tradition of abuse and exploitation.
Beaten up and publicly abused, these animals often suffer exploitation or simply perish as they are left to starve when they can no longer perform the activity. While lack of education and lax regulations have been feeding this phenomenon for centuries, its roots are sometimes linked to structural poverty. In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, for example, many animals working in the tourism industry died of starvation as "people had no money to feed themselves, so they only gave the horses enough to keep them barely alive," explains Dr. Mohamed Hammad, a veterinarian specialized in horses and a former volunteer at the Brooks hospital.
The governmental body that is responsible for animal welfare in Egypt, The General Organization for Veterinary Services, plays no active role in terms of preventing animal abuse or providing treatment.
Faced with its inaction, several Egyptian NGOs such as The Brooks Hospital have started to make their own moves. The Brooks Hospital now treats about 250,000 working animal every year across Egypt. They have also created mobile clinics to reach more isolated rural areas.
The Society for Protection of Animal Rights In Egypt (SPARE) provides free treatment to working animals in cases where their owners do not have the financial means to pay for the treatment; they also run a donkey sanctuary. Among other NGOs taking the lead, Animal Care in Egypt (ACE) in Luxor stands out.
While the work of Egyptian NGOs is certainly praiseworthy, it is the role of the Egyptian civil society as a whole to protect and safeguard its animals; not only civil society organizations (CSO) but also the private sector—if anything, for economic reasons. Egyptians have traditionally known how to fill the gaps left by an abandoner state and to make the best out of the scarse. But they've done it on a microlevel. Will companies and CSO ever see the big picture and start collaborating?