As some of you may know I used to have a Dutch blog about my life with horses in Egypt. I used to write about all the things that are so completely different to European horse culture. Of course much was about the fact that horses are kept differently, with an entirely different diet. The completely different approach to riding was also a favorite topic among the readers. But what I found most important was discussing the state of animal welfare in the Middle East, not just Egypt in general.
People don’t have as many pets in the Middle East as in the rest of the world. Even my Egyptian friends who are animal lovers complain from the terrible behavior towards animals displayed by fellow Egyptians. A failing garbage system caused street populations of cats and dogs to grow exponentially and many “purebred” animals destined to become a pet are kept in horrific conditions in literal pet-stores.
Of course as a horse-girl I felt I should speak out about the situation of many donkeys and horses that are called “working-equines” in Egypt. Many of them live hard lives, eat little and work hard. Very few charities are actually doing something to support the poorest of Egyptian society instead of just pocketing money. (Yes, sadly I have to report that some charities are basically earning big money by scamming Europeans into thinking they are financing sick and weak Egyptian animals) But those charities that actually do something for those animals and their owners deserve all the attention in the world. (please contact us if you want to be pointed in the direction of one of those charities)
The key word in this situation is education. Of course we can join in the “Middle Eastern people bashing” rituals I encounter on Facebook. But having lived in the ME for 8 years has opened my eyes. In the eyes of a European animal lover, there is no excuse for a donkey with overgrown hooves, a horse with improper tack resulting in wounds and the lack of good fly spray. But what many of us fail to realise is that we have grown up very privileged and everyone around us taught us how to treat animals.
Egyptians and many others in the Middle East (and perhaps the world?) lack this ‘normalness’ when it comes to the topic of animals. They are not growing up in homes with pets, they are not taught at school that animals are souls that deserve respect. And they are not very frequently exposed to animals other than the starving street populations that run away as soon as you approach them. Cockroaches, gecko’s, mosquito’s and flies… oh the millions of flies… are the only animals an Egyptian generally encounters.
But what about Islam? I can hear you think it. And yes, the Qur’an tells Muslims to respect animals and treat them well. But here is the thing, it brings us back to education, which is lacking. A whopping 20% of Egyptians are illiterate. That is FOURTEEN million individuals! So now you understand culture rules, and if culture is lacking emphasis on animal welfare, there is still a long way to go. Poverty does not help. I always tell people who are bashing another horse owner for bringing his horse in a terrible state to one of the charities that they should praise him for seeking help. Most of that class of people (yes Egypt has a class-society) are depending on their horse or donkey for daily income. I ask online criticisers: “What would you do, if you made a dollar a day? Would you buy your barefoot child a pair of shoes, or would you get a farrier to visit?”
It is so easy to judge from behind ones computer. But there are those who step up and they deserve some extra attention. My friend Iris has observed this situation for a long time and decided to make a real change. She wrote a book for children, about animal welfare. It is both in English and in Arabic and is to be distributed across Egypt. Such a project is going to make a real difference because it addresses the roots of the problem: Education. So thank you Iris, and all the other people involved in helping animals in Egypt and across the Middle East, know that we support you and encourage you!
Do you also want to help make this world a better place and support Iris and her fabulous book? check out the Facebook page!