The New Terror in the Middle East: Swine

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt calls swine flu "more serious than a hydrogen bomb" during a symposium on the health scare. Egypt's parliament votes to "cull pigs immediately and one parliamentarian proposes criminalizing hog farming.

The United Arab Emirates bans the import of pork products as a precautionary measure and several supermarkets in the sheikhdom yank them off the shelves. Meanwhile, an Israeli health official calls for world health officials to change the name of the"Swine Flu" to "Mexican Flu," since Mexico is where the new flu allegedly originated and pigs are offensive to both Jews and Muslims. That, however, did not sit well with Mexico's ambassador to Israel.

There is hysteria about swine flu in the Middle East, yet only two confirmed cases were found in the entire region: in Israel.

For the past three days, swine flu has become the lead story on many Arab and Israeli networks. Reports about attacks in Iraq and other hot spots seem to have all but vanished for the time being. The new terror in the Middle East is swine.

In Lebanon and neighboring countries, Arabs are being told to dispense with their traditional peck-on-the-cheek greeting to avoid contracting swine flu. However, there are also rumors circulating in East Beirut that swine flu was invented by Muslims to reduce the global Christian population. In the Algerian newspaper, Echourouq al-Yawm, an editorial appears accusing the U.S. of inventing swine flu and blaming Mexico for being the source.

"A quarter century after it terrorized and kept us busy with Human Immunodeficiency Virus [HIV], the United States now offers us "swine flu." The writer says. But nowhere in the Middle East are swine more impacted than in Egypt. Although Egypt has no reported cases of swine flu, it has nevertheless ordered the slaughter of all pigs in the country. The decree affects as many as 400,000 heads. Because Muslims don't eat pork, most of the pigs are owned by Coptic Christians, and many Muslim clerics in the county have taken advantage of this opportunity to warn against them spreading the disease, raising tensions between Muslims and Egypt's minority Christians and re-igniting racism.

"They [the Copts] live in the midst of garbage and amongst pigs," warned Sheikh Nageeb Fahmi during a Friday sermon.

Known as the Zaballeen, or "garbage collectors", many poor Coptic Christians live off the recycling of the 9,000 tons of garbage generated daily in Cairo.

"Garbage-collectors could multiply the spread of the virus because they raise pigs and enter most Egyptian homes," warns Mohammed Seif, a professor at the University of Beni Suef.

Here is a bit of good news: the stalled peace talks between Arabs and Israelis have now been replaced by "Swine Flu Talks." Yes, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will be meeting to discuss cooperation in dealing with swine flu.

In my hometown, Jerusalem, I've now born witness to two occasions when conservative Muslims and orthodox Jews are in agreement: the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, and their current feeling of vindication about not eating pork.

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV