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Egypt's extreme attempts to prevent a swine flu outbreak lead to accusations of ulterior motives.
Rebutting claims that the government may have a political motive behind canceling the moulds, Ministry of Health spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shaheen said that the moulids do pose a serious health risk in the age of H1N1.
“If you have 5 million people rotating in an area for five or 10 days,” he said, “you have a massive exposure.”
Banning the moulids, though, is not the only arena in which critics have slammed the government for using H1N1 to push a social agenda.
Earlier this year, the government announced that it would slaughter the country’s entire pig population, dealing a blow to Egypt’s 10 percent Christian population.
Pigs are viewed as unclean under Islam, and many Muslims in Egypt continue to view the animal with disgust.
“There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products,” the World Health Organization said in an April 28 statement.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has been careful not to refer to the virus by its common moniker, swine flu, as part of an effort to distance the disease from the pork industry.
Despite the science, Egypt has now completed its pig cull, leaving some Christian communities in economic disarray.
In the face of claims that the mass slaughter was a hasty, exaggerated move targeting the country’s Christians, the government continues to stand by its actions.
“It was not a simple decision. It was a painful decision,” said Shaheen. “Some people view this as a form of discrimination because the pigs are eaten by Christians. But I will tell you that under bird flu, the decision was made to kill millions of chickens,” which affected both Christians and Muslims.
Many Egyptians still remain distrustful. After rumors circulated that government-issued vaccines would be used to infect, rather than aid, the population, the minister of health received the vaccine in a public setting, in front of the Egyptian media, to quell fears.
When that failed to quash the rumblings, a handful of the minister’s aides also publicly received injections. This time, though, they did it in the offices of one of the country’s leading religious authorities, hoping the Sheikh’s presence would add credibility to the affair.
“This has something to do with trust,” Shaheen said. “It’s an accumulated issue that they don’t trust what the government says.”