Egypt: What is MENAW and what will it become?

The Middle East Network for Animal Welfare (MENAW) Conference 2010, part two

In 1902, Egypt led the way in passing one of the first animal protection laws in the world.

Mr. Amin Abaza, the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture, at the opening of the MENAW (Middle East Network for Animal Welfare) Conference in Cairo, on March 1, reminded us of this, and continued, "God created man and all the creatures. God has required that we be kind to animals and provide for all their basic needs."

Animal welfare is broader than dogs and cats, he said, and it includes all aspects of animal life and all animals. "Animal welfare is not a luxury, but is basic to the needs of animals." Welfare must include suitable, clean housing, and proper care for cows and all farm and working animals.

What form will MENAW take?

"What was a dream is now a roomful of people," Robert Blumberg noted next, asking everyone"s help in defining the purpose of the MENAW organization and in plotting its future course.

Since MENAW is a new organization, not yet fully fledged, it is important to give some collective thought to what form it is meant to take and to what it"s mission will be. The first MENAW Conference was held in December 2007.

For some ideas, he consulted FIAPO, which is a federation in India, made up of membership societies.

He posed questions to the conference participants: Do we want to take collective policy positions? Or have an empowering role? Or maybe an incubator function?

How to relate to controversy?

What might be the downside for MENAW of adopting policy positions? If some organizations opposed the positions taken, they would most likely leave MENAW, so that would cause splits within the organization.

Even in a country that only has two animal welfare groups, there can still be friction and disagreement.

He gave as examples of controversial topics:

Vegetarianism versus humane slaughter -- Some groups want to improve the conditions in slaughterhouses, while other groups want to ban all slaughter and advocate vegetarianism instead.

Zoos-Some groups want to improve the conditions in zoos, while other groups want to abolish zoos.

Biomedical issues - Some groups advocate improving conditions for lab animals, while other groups want to ban all animal research.

Humane population control-Some groups want to advocate only TNR, and others feel that humane killing is needed as an alternative to inhumane killing of street animals.

In all these cases, the argument isn"t over the optimal end result, which would be the end of all suffering for animals, rather the disagreement is how to best improve the lot of animals in an imperfect world. Is it better, for example to try to insure that farm animals are slaughtered humanely-or does that simply postpone the day when no more animals are slaughtered at all?

Those working for improving slaughter conditions say that the day when there is no more slaughter may be a long time in coming, and that in the meantime it"s important to alleviate the suffering of the animals. There are genuine differences in viewpoint among animal organizations-in the Middle East-and everywhere else.

So, given these differences, is it better for MENAW not to take any policy positions at all-and instead devote its efforts to empowering member organizations-in other words to capacity-building?

Maybe a hybrid position?

Or should a hybrid approach be taken? That would mean adopting just a few policy positions-generally taking the lowest common denominator that everyone could agree on-and then focusing the rest of the efforts on empowering member organizations.

Other proposals for functions that MENAW could include were:

- legislation -- MENAW could develop model legislation for countries, along with education and an exchange of information on legal matters.

- education -- Syria and Jordan, for example, might share their long-term educational programs

- resource-sharing

- capacity-building

- offering programs such as the vet spay/neuter training that has been taking place in Cairo following the conference

- engaging religious leaders -- for example, suggesting a yearly sermon based on the animal welfare fatwas that have been issued.

- gathering and sharing information among groups in various countries

- controversial issues -- offering a platform to discuss issues

These are some of the thoughts and concepts that MENAW will need to be working on in the months ahead.

The people and groups involved

Ahmed El Sherbiny, Chairperson of the Egyptian Society for Animal Friends, and Robert Blumberg (who has started or given a big boost to animal groups in several of the countries he"s lived in) founded MENAW a few years ago. The hard work of many others, as well, from Egypt and across the Middle East has propelled MENAW into becoming a strong force for animals in the Middle East. The 2010 Conference was sponsored by Animal People, Best Friends, Compassion in World Farming, Fondation Brigitte Bardot, IFAW, Sperl Family Foundation, Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, and WSPA.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Alia Al Hussein, served as the Honorary Chair for the Conference. The Princess Alia Foundation plays a leading role in animal welfare concerns in Jordan. Kim Bartlett of Animal People has been very active as an advisor for MENAW since its beginnings.

These (randomly) are a few of the twenty-seven member organizations of MENAW: Animal Encounter (Educational Center for Wildlife Conservation) of Lebanon; the Somali Animal Rights Community, which has been working to stop the killing of dogs and to halt the export of Somali wildlife; the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife, Practical Action Sudan who carry out programs for both people and farm animals, Animal Care of Egypt, who work with equines and companion animals; the Center for Animal Lovers, who support the VAFA shelter for dogs in Iran, and the Palestine Wildlife Society. To get to know and to support, if you wish, these and all the other member societies of MENAW, look for them on the MENAW website.

The MENAW website

Photos: Sharon St Joan

Top photo and fourth photo: Conference participants

Second photo: One of the cats at the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends

Third photo: Ahmed El Sherbiny, Chairperson of MENAW, with Max Farrugi of International Animal Rescue Malta

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