Egypt’s Food Pyramids
A million minds momentarily magnetizing themselves along the same axis can turn a country’s deepest despair into an ecstatic sprint for freedom. What a people find revolting–a dictator decorated in American apologia–can be turned by a people’s revolt ridiculous.
No wonder so much effort (and money) is daily expended on propaganda in countries around the world. Obedience–the notion the rulers rule–is at its heart precarious.
But once a hypnosis is broken and history lurches forward, those who are unable to come to terms with the new order are left behind. They are relics, trivia, answers to riddles lost in the sand blowing about the noseless sphinx of empire. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Washington supporters, Anthony to Mubarak’s Cleopatra, were so startled by January 25th’s uprising that nearly a month later each party still hadn’t grasped their newfound irrelevance.
But if Tahrir Square frets its revolution will be betrayed, even now with Mubarak gone, it should set aside such fears. It’s already happening.
U.S. Secretary of State, and Mubarak family friend, Hillary Clinton willfully misappropriated moderate Mohamed ElBaradei’s call for more time for a transition to democratic rule as reason enough for keeping on Mubarak, against the protesters’ demands.
‘We can only do what you wish by acting exactly against your wishes,’ U.S. officials signaled, under the pretense a revolution must follow the constitutional protocol of a dictatorship it aims to topple. As if facts on the ground must be ratified by counterfeit documents filed away in offices defended by tanks. As the demonstrators successfully demanded, Mubarak could be immediately removed and until new elections are held a transition government convened.
Principles, then, are merely tools of expediency, a principle of its own once pressed in the service of empire. The resulting rhetorical gymnastics defy the rules of causality: freedom and a regional stability in the service of the U.S. are mutually incompatible. All, then, very calculated on Clinton’s part and, given its ultimate failure, damningly amateurish, on the wrong side of history, marking new limits on the imperial imagination.
If, however, the U.S.’s next efforts at school-boy magic, turning Hosni Mubarak back into Hosni Mubarak, are as transparent, they are no less serious in their intent. In its first attempt at a Matrix Reloaded, the U.S. traded in a sclerotic dictator for the chief of his secret police.
Omar Suleiman, who American emissaries described in WikiLeaks cables as “the most successful element of the [U.S.-Egypt] relationship,” personally directed torture sessions on renditioned detainees. As detailed by Lisa Hajjar, in October 2001,
[Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mamdouh] Habib was seized from a bus by Pakistani security forces. While detained in Pakistan, at the behest of American agents, he was suspended from a hook and electrocuted repeatedly. He was then turned over to the CIA, and in the process of transporting him to Egypt he endured the usual treatment: his clothes were cut off, a suppository was stuffed in his anus, he was put into a diaper – and ‘wrapped up like a spring roll’.
In Egypt, as Habib recounts in his memoir…he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman.
Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick…
This is the steward to whom the U.S. entrusted Egypt’s democratic transition, if not to karate kick it in the throat, then to slowly strangle it with promises he had little intention in keeping. In backing Suleiman off the bat the U.S., two weeks rudderless in rhetoric, got back its groove, even with the gambit now lost. It’s apparent the U.S. intends, in one way or another, to continue business as usual. The objective, with or without Mubarak apparatchiks, remains minimizing Egyptian self-determination.
Truth be told, neoliberal stooges–President Obama another in the lineage–find the secular democracy in which they cloak themselves little else but a useful mirage and, really, at its core, repulsive. Its actual practice elsewhere must be controlled, or at the least directed down ‘appropriate’, or pro-business, tracks.
For every such popular movement belies the fauxmocracy paid for here. In freeing themselves, the January 25th demonstrators threaten to free us all. Siccing Suleiman, or the Egyptian armed forces, or any accommodation that follows, is as much a message for Americans, and other working people across the globe, as it is for Egyptians.
If for selfish reasons alone, the Egyptian revolution deserves the support of people the world over, by pushing their governments out of its way.
The present and, one hopes, the future aren’t the only periods reorganized by revolt. The past too can become for many of us something new, even for complications which appear at first glance tangential to an ongoing upheaval.
Egypt remains one of five countries–along with China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam–hosting persistent outbreaks of bird flu H5N1. The revolt resets our thinking about the endemic.
H5N1 invaded Egypt by migratory bird in 2006, and by poultry trade in the years that followed. The country has since hosted alongside Indonesia the world’s greatest bout of human spillover. As of this month the World Health Organization reports 122 cumulative cases and 40 deaths.
Not an immediate danger, but a marker of the access the virus has there to the human population. Indeed, bird flu is now so embedded, four and five outbreaks a day accrue up and down the Nile. The map nearby, using Food and Agriculture Organization EMPRES data, shows individual outbreaks since January 2009.
There are good reasons for the endemic’s persistence. As the modeling work of Hogerwerf et al. makes clear, Egypt appears representative of the agro-ecological niche that best supports persistent H5N1 outbreaks. The niche is defined by high densities of domestic ducks, chickens, and agricultural population, as well as an intermediate productivity of chicken production and purchasing power.
As the nearby figure from Hogerwerf et al. shows, Egypt appears the only state west of Asia (in red), outside perhaps parts of Nigeria, which supports such a combination of agro-ecological attributes. Its location has geo-spatial implications for bird flu spread. The country acts as a hub–a kind of ‘China West’–through which H5N1, repeatedly migrating out of Asia and Russia, can seed sub-Saharan Africa.
The niche’s origins are complex in nature, old and ongoing, local and global. The next figure shows recent trajectories in the intensity of poultry production and agricultural population density. We see several Asian countries and Egypt undertaking massive shifts in agricultural regimes over the past forty years, first with increasing agricultural populations producing little poultry output, then swinging into a more Europe-like agricultural population generating industrial output.
“The regions,” Hogerwerf et al. explain the ramifications for bird flu,
in the midst of an economic transition, with intermediate levels of poultry production and purchasing power, and a geographic mosaic of old and new modes of production, may offer the virus the array of micro-niches needed to spread and evolutionarily radiate.
Such apparently perfect-storm conditions for the persistence of bird flu, more of which we’ll detail below, aren’t, however, essential in nature. There isn’t anything about Egypt in and of itself that makes it a good place for bird flu.
H5N1 has adapted to a biocultural ecology undergoing great socioeconomic shifts, the origins of which, as we described for China here, may date thousands of years. A country isn’t locked into an identity by its history—the future remains free–but that history still produces a profound effect on the present, in what the philosopher Louis Althusser described as an historical present.
A history of Egyptian agriculture, dating 6000 years, is beyond our scope here. But if only to place Althusser’s idea in a bird flu context, the archeological record, desiccated plants, and Egyptian and Greco records indicate the Nile River to be long (and continuously) engineered. Presently, the result of thousands of years of work, 80% of Egypt’s agricultural lands is irrigated.
The resulting soil has over this time supported a wide variety of grain and vegetable crops. Hunting and husbanding birds have been folded into Nile irrigation for as long as they have in Southern China’s Pearl Delta. According to Salima Ikram,
The [Ancient] Egyptians consumed a great deal of poultry. Fowl were plentiful and would have been available to people of all classes. Anyone could go to the banks of the Nile and hunt water fowl…On wealthy estates men are shown trapping several birds in large nets. In Graeco-Roman times the Egyptians were famous for their netting and preserving of quails and other small birds. Birds were raised in poultry yards, which are commonly depicted on tombs walls from the Old Kingdom onward…
A variety of migratory birds were hunted in Ancient Egypt, including all sorts of geese, swan, ducks, pigeons, doves, larks and other aquatic and shore birds. Eggs across species have also long been cultivated.
The resulting agriculture, building upon thousands of years of innovations originating locally and from abroad, today supports some of the world’s greatest population densities, with 98% of the Egyptian population in the Delta and Nile Valley at an average density of 2000 per square kilometer, approaching concentrations seen only in Asia.
Egypt’s recent history added critical layers to the cultural sedimentation in which bird flu H5N1 thrives.
In the broadest of strokes, under Mubarak’s rule Egypt abandoned Nasserite nationalism in favor of leasing its foreign policy to the U.S., a relationship Egypt had partaken with Western powers far back in its modern history. In return for billions in American military aid, Egypt has acted as the U.S.’s Middle East agent, assuring access through the Suez, enforcing regional detente with Israel, supporting two misadventures in Iraq, and, among other duties, as we previously described, accepting (and torturing) renditioned terror suspects.
Acting so steadfastly in others’ interests, however, requires repressing one’s own populace. Thirty years of a political state of emergency also served as the cover needed for imposing an economics increasingly neoliberal in character. Democracy gets in the way of privatizing public resources, the source of the Obama administration’s recent discombobulation and dissembling.
Juan Cole summarizes the political economy which results,
[The] rural middle class, while still important, is no longer such a weighty support for the regime. A successful government would need to have the ever-increasing numbers of city people on its side. But there, the Neoliberal policies pressed on Hosni Mubarak by the US since 1981 were unhelpful. Egyptian cities suffer from high unemployment and relatively high inflation. The urban sector has thrown up a few multi-millionaires, but many laborers felt left behind. The enormous number of high school and college graduates produced by the system can seldom find employment suited to their skills, and many cannot get jobs at all. Urban Egypt has rich and poor but only a small “middle class.” The state carefully tries to control labor unions, who could seldom act independently.
The state was thus increasingly seen to be a state for the few. Its old base in the rural middle classes was rapidly declining as young people moved to the cities. It was doing little for the urban working and middle classes. An ostentatious state business class emerged, deeply dependent on government contracts and state good will, and meeting in the fancy tourist hotels. But the masses of high school and college graduates reduced to driving taxis or selling rugs (if they could even get those gigs) were not benefiting from the on-paper growth rates of the past decade.
Egypt’s despair, however, isn’t found merely in ‘blocked aspirations,’ a formula with which Obama routinely transubstantiates neoliberalism’s structural theft–robbing the poor to pay the rich–into a virtuous ethos. Forty percent of the population lives under the World Bank’s poverty line of US$2 a day.
As the Times reports,
The widening chasm between rich and poor in Cairo has been one of the conspicuous aspects of city life over the last decade — and especially the last five years. Though there were always extremes of wealth and poverty here, until recently the rich lived more or less among the poor — in grander apartments or more spacious apartments but mixed together in the same city.
But as the Mubarak administration has taken steps toward privatizing more government businesses, kicking off an economic boom for some, rich Egyptians have fled the city. They have flocked to gated communities full of big American-style homes around country clubs, and the remoteness of their lives from those of average Egyptians has become starkly visible.
The protests only crystallized long-simmering resentment,
“These big guys are stealing all the money,” said Mohamed Ibraham, a 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler in a hard-pressed neighborhood called Dar-al-Salam. “If they were giving us our rights, why would we protest? People are desperate.”
He had little sympathy for those frightened by the specter of looting. He complained that he could barely afford his rent and said the police routinely humiliated him by shaking him down for money, overturning his cart or stealing his fruit. “And then we hear about how these big guys all have these new boats and the 100,000 pound villas. They are building housing, but not for us — for those people up high.”
Many Egyptians, in turn, must populate informal slums. As Khaled Adham writes of the other side of the real estate boom,
The rise of inner-city slums, squatter settlements, and all types of substandard, informal housing has been further spurred by the effect of economic reform plans on the local currency. Since the days of infitah [the opening of the Egyptian market to the West in 1974], the Egyptian pound has been constantly devalued, so that the actual wage of paid labors and governmental employees has fallen sharply. This has brought a significant decline in the average family’s purchasing power, which has had an indirect impact on housing markets. The lack of adequate, affordable housing has also forced many young families to seek alternative living space: in graveyards, tents, workshops, garages, riverboats, staircase vaults, rooms inside the apartments of relatives, and rooftop shacks.
Philip McMichael places Egypt’s combustibility in its food context, including a globally intensifying demand for energy and food, a burgeoning supply of new consumers, and a rush of ‘hot money’ powering speculation inside commodities markets. The resulting price burps strain a growing underclass with declining or no margins of error,
Food riots cascading across the world in 2007–2008 (Italy, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, West Bengal, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mexico, Argentina, Haiti…) bore witness to rising basic food prices. They are urban-based and reminiscent of the ‘IMF riots’ of the (largely) 1980s… While the latter concerned the general withdrawal of social protections, as the debt regime installed neo-liberal policies across the global South, food riots today are one outcome of these policies, insofar as they dismantled public capacity (specifically food reserves), and deepened food dependency across much of the global South through liberalization of trade in foodstuffs.
Indeed, for many Egyptians rhetorical calls for democracy, issued time and again over Mubarak’s rule, reverberated only within the context of agflation and depreciating food subsidies. As a 2008 Times article McMichael quotes puts it,
[W]hat has turned the demands of individual workers into a potential mass movement officials and political analysts said, has been inflation of food prices, mostly bread and cooking oil. The rising cost of wheat, coupled with widespread corruption in the production and distribution of subsidized bread in Egypt, has prompted the government to resolve the problem. ‘People in Egypt don’t care about democracy and the transfer of power’ [Belal Fadl, a script writer and satirist in Cairo] said. ‘They don’t believe in it because they didn’t grow up with it in the first place… Their problem is limited to their ability to survive, and if that is threatened then they will stand up.’
A state which won’t allow labor access to food enough to reproduce itself even for another day’s exploitation dooms itself. McMichael in essence argues the neoliberal state’s blind spot arises from an imbalance in outcome. While
the cost of food is critical to labor, the cost of labor is less important to capital, given access to an army of casual labor in tenuous conditions that mitigate against pushing up wages.
Via a legacy of Nasserite price supports the Egyptian state had attempted to absorb the rising cost of food, but the slipping living standards intensify
the degradation of social reproduction—beyond the deepening reliance on women’s informal labor and the general impoverishment of vulnerable classes to absorb the austerity of structural adjustment—to such an extent that urban rebellions threaten public order, such as it is.
As Egypt’s post-revolt labor unrest attests, it would appear democratic ideals and free expression weren’t the sole sources of conflict at issue. Resolving the latter only allows class strife out in the open, in part the point of the repression in the first place. The Egyptian Revolution appears, then, only in its infancy, to grow into another organism entirely, or to die before its time.
The rural landscape beyond the Delta cities reflects other of the poor’s efforts at absorbing austerity.
On the one hand, an increasingly capitalized poultry production offers some workers a rare means of survival if not mobility. Forid Hosny characterizes the sector as,
one of the fastest growing industries in Egypt. During the 1990s, poultry industries grew at around 8.7% (TAHA, 2003) with over 17 billion L.E. investments and 5 billion L.E. working capital in 2004. The poultry sector provides job opportunities for approximately 1.4 million employees when it is operational at its full potential (Maged Ossman and Hamdey el Sawallhey, 2006). Poultry sector employment represents approximately 6% of Egypt’s 23.7 million labour force in 2003 and more than 15% of the agricultural work force (excluding fishery)…
The expansion is driven by the relatively recent arrival of the Livestock Revolution in Egypt, with fundamental effects on the livestock guild. Intensive husbandry is dependent upon breeds whose biologies are convergent with the neoliberal program; in chicken, for instance, White Leghorn and Rhode Island Red,
Recently there has been a general trend towards more vertical integration and the establishment of large scale production multi-nationals (e.g. Cairo Poultry Company). Integrated poultry companies have highly mechanized feeding, watering and environmental control systems such as heating, cooling and ventilation. There are a few highly automated, large-scale poultry enterprises with an annual broiler production of over 25 million and currently (2006) these enterprises are planning on doubling their annual broiler production. El-Watania has merged with Al-Rajhe, which is a Saudi Arabian poultry company with an initial plan to produce in Egypt 30 to 40 million broilers per year in 2007 reaching 100 million birds in 2009.
The consolidation drives an export economy,
Egypt started exporting in response to market crises and not as a result of reaching self-sufficiency in poultry production. The per capita poultry consumption in Egypt is still below world average for middle-income countries (TAHA, 2003).
During 2005, Egypt’s export of poultry products into 32 countries valued approximately 10 million US$; hatching eggs (6.8 million US$), poultry meat (3.3 million US$) and table eggs (282.3 thousand US$) (Maged Ossman and Hamdey el Sawallhey, 2006).
On the other hand, some of those small farmers who have refrained from migrating for the better life in urban graveyards and tents are engaging in rapid rounds of indigenous consolidation aimed at generating some economy of scale in the face of such foreign-capitalized competition.
Such efforts while collective in nature are capitalist in their application. Ayman Abou–Hadid writes in an horticultural context that
Egyptian producers’ income has increased by organizing for market integration in Egypt. Lack of current market information and poor logistical coordination can limit smallholders’ access to markets. USAID’s Agricultural Exports and Rural Income (AERI) – El Shams program in Egypt is overcoming these hurdles by organizing producers into farmer associations (FAs) that link them with markets. In nine governorates in Upper Egypt, El Shams has effectively aggregated growers to enhance market power and facilitate capacity building. An FA serves as a center for training, as well as providing a mechanism to market product as a community. Producers receive market information, and technical training in sustainable production and postharvest quality methodologies. As a group, Egyptian FAs link with domestic and export contracts for their produce.
The poorest Egyptians are left to native poultry breeds, including Fayoumi, Balady, Dandrawy, Dokki, and Montaza, which embody ‘living banks’. The birds offer a means of survival in an economy which has largely abandoned the country’s base. According to Hosny,
Poultry production can provide meat and eggs for the family, be a source for a small and fairly regular cash flow and avoid waste by using kitchen leftovers and broken seeds as feed. Poultry manure can be used as a fertilizer for crop production and poultry also help in pest control. Importantly, unlike in the case of larger livestock, poultry production is not restricted by land ownership. This is important as only 24.5 percent of rural households own land, which is very unequally distributed. Poultry is also important for festivals and traditional ceremonies and for [a variety of] other socio-economic reasons…
The importance of poultry in income generation, especially for the poor and landless, is evident when studying the household income structure by income quintile in Egypt (CROPPENSTEDT, 2006). For the poorest group (bottom quintile 1st), livestock income is more important than crop income, accounting for 17.3% of the total income of households. The most important types of livestock for the bottom quintile are poultry. Poultry account for 72% of total livestock income, with chicken alone accounting for 61% of livestock income.
It’s exactly the resulting mix-use landscapes across class and sector that appear most prone to propagating bird flu. As Jan Slingenbergh and Marius Gilbert summarize it,
Given the rapid evolution of medium-size systems and live-bird markets, meeting points between old and new forms of poultry husbandry are on the rise and so are the options for mutually destructive pathogen transmissions.
The resulting epizoology pulls on the already perilous line along which Egypt’s poorest walk. “In 2006,” Hosny writes,
the livestock population of Egypt was plagued by serious animal diseases including foot and mouth disease (FMD), Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) & Ephemeral Fever (EF) in the cattle population and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the poultry production sector. The latter resulted in the culling of over 40 million birds. Consumers avoided poultry and meat products, and the Government imposed regulatory restrictions on balcony, roof top and backyard family run, small-scale poultry production units, closure of live bird markets and movement restrictions.
The number of poultry coops destroyed in Cairo alone during the Avian Influenza crisis was over 20,000 from rooftops and balconies in poor and middle class residential areas. Prices rose significantly; there was a three-fold increase in the price of table eggs and the cost of poultry meat doubled. Camel and veal meat also rose significantly. In short, the prices of all animal and fish protein sources almost doubled in response to severe shortages in supply rather than increase in demand. Consumption of animal protein dropped with serious health consequences such as protein malnutrition syndrome especially in the sector of the population living within and below the national poverty line.
An instinct well-hone across two hundred years, Egyptian authorities shifted the costs of catering to international pressure, this time in response to concerns about a potentially deadly pathogen, onto its poorest populace.
It’s more than a blame game, however. Many studies of Egyptian outbreaks at one and the same time embody the premises of and serve as arguments for the transition into highly-capitalized farming or agribusiness. One FAO report, for instance, used two large intensive hatcheries as a priori positive controls for evaluating the sanitary conditions for traditional hatcheries.
This isn’t to take away from the report’s conclusions: traditional hatcheries–read smallholdings–are dirty. The biosecurity practiced in small-scale broiler production units is, back to Hosny, “very poor,”
because the farms are built in very close proximity to each other in cluster farm formation. Other factors include multiple age groups on one farm, poor rodent and other vector controls, hazardous waste disposal, marketing practices and low bio-security awareness,.
The sector is dependent on live bird markets for sales, shuttling birds through pell-mell,
Poultry meat production depends heavily on live bird markets because of the lack of marketing infrastructure and various consumer factors. Over 70% of broilers are sold at small retail poultry shops. There are around 15,892 such retail shops in Egypt which sell either live or freshly slaughtered birds to the consumer. In addition, 4,305 small slaughtering and de-feathering points exist that sell freshly slaughtered and chilled birds and bird parts. Most of these slaughtering points are within residential areas. Both the small retail poultry shops and the primitive slaughter points practice minimal, if any, food safety standards and are a potential source for many food-borne disease outbreaks.
But such characterizations miss the broader point about the nature of agro-ecological complexity and the relationships between shifts in specific agricultural sectors and macroeconomic policy.
Attempts to confine the causes of bird flu persistence in Egypt to proximate lapses in vaccination campaigns and sector-specific biosecurity are at best incomplete, and at worst, even if unintentional, spurious rationales for expanding industrial operations at the expense of the semi-commercial sector and the poor.
Hosny, for instance, argues,
The governmental incentives, together with the Government moving gradually in 1974 towards an open market economy, attracted investors into the industry. The Government encouraged more privatization in the poultry industries and as a result, more small and medium-scale farms and large poultry enterprises (e.g. El-Misria, Ismailia, El-Wadi Poultry, Cairo Poultry Company, El-shark El-awsat etc.) were born between 1977 and 1978.
Unfortunately, the Government’s overprotection and subsidisation policies hid the uneconomical and inefficient performance of the poultry industry which resulted in a weak and vulnerable industry, with quite a few hidden inherited weaknesses. Even prior to the H.P.A.I crisis, these weaknesses were visible.
Although he warns of the effects banning smallholder practices would have on the sector’s existence and, more broadly, social stability, Hosny implies that while the H5N1 outbreaks coincide with privatization, it is the incomplete nature of the privatization (and consolidation) that accounts for H5N1’s persistence,
No matter what rules and regulations are brought into force, it will not be possible to force a ban on live bird markets without first changing consumer habits and reaching a balance between the production of live birds and slaughterhouses/cold storage capacity. Changing consumer behaviour requires active promotion and education. The imposition of slaughterhouses by force will only lead to the collapse of the poultry industries with all the small and medium scale producers (i.e. 74% of producers) being pushed out. The poultry industries will eventually be controlled through a very small number of large, fully vertically integrated poultry enterprises.
In effect, health justifies wealth,
Poor quality products and lack of further processing denies the industry extra profit and keeps it unable to compete with incoming processed poultry and ready-to-eat products which may be cheaper and of a better quality than local products. The poor quality of slaughtered poultry products also increases the chance of transmitting zoonotic food borne disease agents (e.g. Campylobacter, Listeriosis and Salmonella) which will lead to a loss of public confidence and marketing disasters. Improving the quality of slaughtered poultry will improve its shelf life, enabling the industry to maintain an advantage over imported frozen poultry by selling chilled birds.
More particularly, health justifies a particular multinational form of wealth that is embodied by the very breeds of chicken to be favored, including, on the chicken side, multinational White Leghorn and Rhode Island Red,
The increase in the scale of [native] Balady production by the commercial sector may result in Balady poultry products becoming market commodities rather than enjoying their status as niche poultry products. The premium price would then change narrowing the difference in the price between the local and the exotic poultry products. However, this trend is reversing (especially in the meat production sector) due to new regulations in response to HPAI. In addition, there is the issue of the limited availability of slaughterhouses adapted to handle the improved native breeds and the governmentally imposed new regulations regarding the closure of live bird markets.
Bird flu is treated here as a kind of bioeconomic agent acting on agribusiness’s behalf.
Large, capital-intensive farms may serve to ramp up virulence or, because of the geographic reach of their commodity chains, export pathogens into neighboring governorates, even as smaller operations and local trade may percolate outbreaks in the immediate area and between waves.
Contract farming, wherein smallholders raise birds for industrial slaughter, also confuses the distinction between small and large operations. Violations in biosecurity, with obvious implications for bird flu, are thereby built directly into the industrial model. Whatever manifests out from a smallholder epizoology is sucked right back into factory farms.
The screenshots nearby show H5N1 outbreaks large and small littering a periurban landscape (top) defined, as Mike Davis summarizes a large literature, by a new integration of rural and urban infrastructure now characterizing many countries of the Global South. The bottom shot shows multiple outbreaks in Al Qalyubiyah 20 km north of Cairo, including large operations in and on the edge of local towns, killing thousands of birds, and smaller ones, numbering a handful of birds, in countryside smallholdings.
So blaming Hosni Mubarak for Egypt’s bird flu would be an oversimplification, missing much, including the global economics of food production, the landscape’s deep historical roots, contract farming, and bird flu’s own agency.
But the country’s epizoological outbursts are also embedded in recent politically calculated shifts in the country’s land use, income distribution, subnational migration, and ownership structure. Pathogens can reflect in their very biologies such decisions, including those which turn a people desperate enough to accelerate the demise of a regime’s own making.
Mubarak, confounding his personal ego with a nation’s fate, refused to depart, vowing he would die on Egyptian soil. A nation united by outrage and an emergent resilience across age, religion, region and walks of life appeared prepared to oblige him. It takes great hubris to start one’s own pyramid, and a dead body to finish it.
But, we need now ask, with which body? If not Mubarak’s walking corpse, then, as labor battles move out into the open against a junta, perhaps that of neoliberalism itself. Revolutions, like dreams, may be an answer to a riddle a people have yet to ask even of themselves.