There have been two pretty good pieces in the American mainstream media about the ongoing garbage crisis in Egypt recently, but it seems to me that they’ve both missed the most relevant part of the story: the privatization of the garbage industry and subsequent strikes by the foreign owned companies due to the Egyptian government’s incompetence.
Michael Slackman published an interesting piece in the New York Times last weekend that used the garbage problem to tie together a number of important issues in contemporary Egyptian politics and society.
Yesterday, Daniel Williams of Bloombeg—whose Egypt coverage I generally really like—published a similar story to Slackman’s, also focusing on the pigs.
Christopher Hitchens even jumped on the garbage-pig-slaughter-connection bandwagon to put forward his familiar (and quite annoying) criticisms of religion.
None of these journalists is wrong, per se. The garbage that is piling up in Cairo is indeed related to the senseless slaughter of the pigs last May. It is also a symptom of Egypt’s feckless government. But let’s not leave out the important facts.
The garbage is piling up in the streets of Giza and Cairo in large part because the Italian sanitation company responsible for trash collection is on strike. They have stopped collecting the garbage. And so garbage is piling up in the streets. It seems fairly straightforward to me.
Of course this is its own story of the Egyptian government’s fecklessness. For whatever reason they felt it necessary to abandon a perfectly decent, if informal, system of garbage collection wherein individual citizens of Cairo collect garbage for their own profit, and replaced it with a Western-style system of highly paid private contractors. Guys in jumpsuits with dump trucks rather than Copts in galabiyas with donkey carts.
Was this an attempt to be more “modern?” Was it, like the pig culling, a backhanded form of sectarian oppression? Or was it some corrupt business deal?
I don’t know why the privatization of garbage collection occurred, but it did. And now the privatized garbage collectors are on strike and no one is picking up the garbage. That, it seems to me, should be worth more than a few words from Daniel Williams or Michael Slackman, even if it’s not as “good” a story as the dead pigs.