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Does Egypt need an animal welfare law?

The Egyptian Veterinarians Syndicate is drafting the first animal welfare law in Egypt, but some worry the parliament won't take it seriously and will disregard it as an unnecessary luxury.

CAIRO — The Egyptian Veterinarians Syndicate announced in a press statement Oct. 30 that it is in the process of drafting provisions for what it hopes will become Egypt's first animal welfare law. Many Egyptians wonder whether parliament will even entertain the idea of such legislation or dismiss it outright as one of the luxuries that Egypt can do without, despite there being some economic repercussions.

In 2015, news reports and video footage emerged of a restrained dog being killed by a group of butchers, who attacked the dog with knives. The incident came to be known as Dog al-Ahram. Due to pressure by social media users and animals’ rights groups, the offenders were tried and sentenced to three years, sparking wide controversy. The incident also shed light on the absence of a law regulating animal rights in Egypt.

According to Tarek Misk, a syndicate board member and chairman of the organization's Animal Rights Committee, several provisions governing behaviors that for years were considered controversial have been agreed on for inclusion in the bill. He told Al-Monitor that the syndicate started working on the draft three months ago and is expected to submit it to parliament by July 2018.

“The law includes articles prohibiting murdering stray animals, except in life-threatening cases [and then only] on the condition that the animal is not shot or poisoned,” Misk said. “There are also conditions for transporting animals humanely and provisions regulating animals' exploitation in accordance with their health situation. The draft also regulates the use of animals for research and puts conditions on euthanasia at slaughterhouses.”

In fact, the proposal includes all animals, and the bill would allow the slaughter for food under certain conditions and circumstances. However, it bans the killing of other animals unless in the case of legitimate self-defense. The law also puts conditions on the treatment of lab animals.

Misk added, “The draft law is not a luxury as some may claim. Egypt’s reputation for animal abuse has caused severe economic losses. Countries have suspended the export of livestock to Egypt due to cruel and brutal handling. Australia took this decision in May 2013.”

The draft law, Misk said, designates the General Organization for Veterinary Services (GOVS) as the only authority responsible for animals in Egypt, despite allegations that it uses internationally banned poisons to kill stray dogs.

He confirmed that the syndicate is currently reaching out to parliamentarians who sit on the Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation, Food Security and Livestock with the hope that one of them will adopt its provisions and sponsor them as draft legislation.

Tawheed Tamer, a member of the committee, told Al-Monitor that such a draft is a waste of time. “Egypt has many problems compared to which the problem of animal rights seems trivial,” he said. “There is a fabricated fuss over animal rights in Egypt.”

As Tamer sees it, animal rights groups are creating a fuss in an attempt to receive funding from international animal rights associations. Tamer called on the GOVS to explore ways to separate veterinary services from the Ministry of Agriculture. The syndicate is calling for the separation of the GOVS from the ministry, so that it can become an autonomous body enjoying more privileges in the area of livestock, rather than drafting useless draft laws.

The only time animals are mentioned in Egypt’s constitution is in Article 45, which notes that the state commits to "the protection of plants, livestock and fisheries; the protection of endangered species; and the prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Moreover, only three articles of the Egyptian Penal Code penalize animal abuse. Article 355 reads as follows: “Shall be punished with penal servitude: First: Whoever deliberately and unjustifiably kills a beast of the riding, drawing or carrying animals, or any kind of cattle or causes enormous harm to it. Second: Whoever poisons a beast of the animals mentioned in the previous clause, or fish that exists in a river, canal, puddle, swamp or basin. Felons may be placed on parole by police for a period of at least one year and at most two years. Any attempts of the foregoing crimes shall be punished with detention with penal servitude for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 200 pounds [$11].”

Article 356 of the Penal Code calls for hard labor as a penalty if such crimes are committed at night, while Article 357 states, “A penalty of detention for a period not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 200 pounds shall be imposed on whoever willfully and unjustifiably kills or poisons one of the tame animals other than those mentioned in Article 355, or causes a grievous harm to it.”

These articles do not, however, include punishment for animal abuse targeting stray animals, for whom the definition of a "tame" animal does not apply.

Amina Abaza, the director of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE), the first Egyptian group founded to defend animal rights in the country, told Al-Monitor that the draft law is a step long overdue, as Egypt suffers from the absence of a culture of animal rights.

“Having the first draft law on animal rights issued by the Veterinarians Syndicate is a source of pride, especially given that the faculties of veterinary medicine [at Cairo University and Zagazig University] are among the places accused of abusing animals in Egypt,” Abaza said. “SPARE and all animal rights activists in Egypt are ready to stand by the Veterinarians Syndicate whether in drafting the law or pressuring the parliament to discuss the proposal.”

The final version of the syndicate's proposals is expected to contain provisions that animal rights activists have long demanded. Whether parliament will act to protect animals is another matter.

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