A YouTube video clip showing pigs being culled in Egypt as part of swine flu measures has caused outrage at the apparent barbarity of the method of slaughtering the animals.
The clip posted by independent newspaper Al-Masri Al-Yom includes gory images of pigs being beaten with iron bars, piglets being stabbed and animals being kicked alive into bulldozer buckets.
Since going on line on YouTube this weekend, the clip has sparked horrified reactions from Muslims and from the Christian Copt community, who are the main rearers of pigs in Egypt as Muslims do not eat pork.
Although no case of A(H1N1) swine flu has yet been detected on its territory, Egypt is the only country in the world to have decided to kill all its pigs, estimated to have numbered around 250,000 before the cull began.
The World Health Organisation has said the drastic measure is not scientifically justified.
In the video, Mohamed el-Mugharbil, deputy mayor of Kashkus near Cairo, describes how chemicals are also poured on animals caged in lorries, leading to a slow death.
Ali Shaaban, head of the site where the corpses are buried, confirms the method. "The pigs are covered with chemical products and left for 30 or 40 minutes until they are dead, then we throw them in the ditch."
The agriculture ministry denied the animals are killed with chemicals. "These are disinfectants. The throats of the animals are slit before they are buried," Saber Abdel Aziz Galal, head of the department of infectious diseases, told AFP.
Other pictures obtained by AFP show pigs which have been disembowelled but whose throats have not been slit.
Sheikh Salim Mohammed Salim, head of the fatwas committee at the University of Al-Azhar, told AFP that killing an animal that way is "strictly forbidden by Islam... whatever it is, including a pig."
The government-controlled Al-Ahram weekly alleged there was chaos at Bassatin, the large abattoir in Cairo where the pigs are supposed to be slaughtered humanely at a rate of 1,200 per day.
"Only the males are killed in accordance with the rules," said journalist Heba Nasreddin, while "the piglets and sows are hit with an iron bar and left to bleed to death."
An online petition calling on the Egyptian government to end the "senseless slaughter" has been launched on www.care2.com.
The slaughter caused controversy from its start on May 3, when riot police clashed with stone-throwing pig farmers trying to prevent their animals from being taken away.
Between 300 and 400 residents of the hilly Moqattam slum district of Cairo, where mostly Coptic scrap merchants raise pigs, hurled stones and bottles at police, saying the cull would deny them a key source of income.
The authorities have said it will take six months to complete the slaughter and announced plans to import three machines to boost culling capacity to 3,000 animals a day.
Arab intellectuals, both Christian and Muslim, have accused President Hosni Mubarak's government of having conspired with the Islamist opposition the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes rearing pigs "on Islamic land."
"The Copts are victims of the flu without ever having been contaminated," according to Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, who believes the government "clearly acted under pressure from Islamists" when it ordered the mass cull.
Salama Ahmad Salama, an Egyptian commentator, said "human stupidity rather than an illness of pigs" was behind the government's decision.
While the (A)H1N1 flu strain has yet to surface in Egypt, the country has battled an outbreak of bird flu for the past three years.
Twenty-six people have died in Egypt from the H5N1 strain of bird flu since it was first identified in early 2006, and the country has seen an increase in cases over the past two months.