Letter from Cairo.

Position:Cairo, Egypt - Column
 
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Egyptians are not dog people; they love cats. The ancient Egyptians had fierce and beautiful cat goddesses, so maybe some of the old ways, trickling down though the ages, accounts for the preference. People didn't necessarily keep cats as pets, but they were a feature of the streets. Cairo was Cat City. You saw them everywhere, playing, watching and rendering the welcome service of rat control, free of charge. Shop owners fed them, setting leftover rice and whatever they could spare in bits of tin foil on the street. During religious feasts when animals are slaughtered, the cats were given their share of meat, laid out like little buffets on the sidewalk. People did not engage with the cats other than feeding them, they just accepted them as part of the landscape, something entrusted to their care.

Lately, however, cats have grown scarce in my neighborhood. No more fluffy kittens prancing around building entries, no more feral toms prowling the alleys, no more screeching cat fights at night. I first noticed the shift because I wake up early, when just after dawn you can hear dogs barking, not just a few but large numbers, their combined, agitated chorus echoing through the sleeping streets. Cairo always had the odd pack of homeless dogs, but I realised that people were now acquiring dogs and keeping them in their homes, not from some newborn love of man's best friend, but for security. They are afraid of being robbed, assaulted; they are afraid of one another, something we never would have dreamt was possible but is becoming very real.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation at the end of last year, scores of their leaders and supporters have been...

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