Pigs used to play a central role in this city’s rudimentary waste management system. But since a 2009 health code outlawed the practice of owning pigs that feed on garbage, just a few illicit pigs like Shenouda’s have been doing their work in hiding — and the trash has been stacking up, a problem that has worsened since the 2011 revolution.
The country’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, has vowed to tackle the mess during his first 100 days in office. The ambitious agenda he set out in June also includes easing Cairo’s anarchic traffic, improving the quality and quantity of bread and restoring security.
But the country’s first democratically elected president inherited a country with a tanking economy and dilapidated infrastructure — problems that are magnified by Egypt’s suddenly empowered electorate. His early promises have become a trial by fire for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled Morsi to victory, as it seeks to transition from an oppressed political underdog to the nation’s ruling party.
“Citizens are observing and waiting for things to change,” said Amr Sobhy, 24, one of the founders of Morsi Meter, a nonpartisan Web site that is tracking progress on the 64 issues Morsi vowed to address during his first 100 days on the job. “It’s definitely a good sign.”
More than 50 days into Morsi’s term, the Web site’s owners give him credit for meeting just one of the 64 promises: launching a media campaign urging Egyptians to litter less. They say 14 promises are in progress but proffer little optimism about the prospect of gleaming streets in six weeks’ time.
“I don’t see a very tangible change on that issue,” said Sobhy, who voted for Morsi and said he takes pride in keeping his president accountable.
Those who have been hauling trash in this mega-metropolis for decades are less diplomatic in their assessment.
“One hundred days?” scoffed Shehata Iskandar, the head of trash collectors in the Motamadeya neighborhood of the capital, where ordinary residents sort through mounds of trash in search of recyclables they can trade in for cash. “Not even 100 months.”
A ban on trash-eating pigs
Garbage in Cairo has traditionally been collected by the Zabbaleen, Coptic Christians who for decades made the city’s waste their livelihood. After sorting organic waste from glass and plastic, the trash collectors sold the recyclable goods to national and international companies. Pigs, once omnipresent in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, would eat the rest. When the animals were fat, they were sent to slaughterhouses that catered to hotels.
In the spring of 2009, alarmed by the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, Egyptian authorities ordered the immediate slaughter of all pigs in the country. Under the watchful eye of police officers, Shenouda and thousands of other pig owners had to drive their animals to slaughterhouses.