Economy

How Egypt's Massive Halal Meat Market Turned Into A Monopoly

A butcher in Port Said, Egypt
A butcher in Port Said, Egypt
Nada Arafat

CAIRO — In Egypt, all imported meat must be certified as "halal," meaning that it has been procured, stored and shipped in accordance with Islamic law. Obtaining this certificate is a crucial requirement for meat suppliers to be able to access the lucrative Egyptian market.

The Egyptian government licenses a number of "certifiers' around the world whose job it is to ensure that exporting slaughterhouses are complying with halal requirements. And while the certification rules are numerous and complex, they are still tolerable, according to a US-based meat exporter, who said they hadn't had a problem bringing their products into Egypt.

Or at least that was the case until May 2019, when the Agriculture Ministry abruptly disqualified all halal certifiers eligible to operate in the United States, except for one newly licensed company: IS EG Halal Certified. Five months later, the ministry awarded the same company exclusive certification rights in South America as well, a major source of Egypt's imported meat.

Brazil exported 171,000 metric tons of frozen beef to Egypt in 2018, making them the largest exporter of beef to Egypt, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) office in Cairo, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. supplies the majority of Egypt's beef liver and offal imports, with 62,200 metric tons in 2018.

IS EG remains an unknown entity for many in the market, including to both importers and exporters, as well as to foreign governments. A May report by FAS Cairo described it as a non-governmental company established in November 2017, with no prior experience in halal certification or pre-existing ties to the American beef industry. IS EG only started operations this past May, immediately after the Agriculture Ministry's decision, the report said.

The company's first order of business, days after it became the exclusive certifier, was to raise certification fees in North America, translating into millions of dollars of extra revenue, according to calculations made by Mada Masr. The FAS estimates that the price of American beef liver in the Egyptian market rose by about 13 Egyptian pounds per kilo (81 U.S. cents) following the move.

An investigation by Mada Masr has revealed that IS EG operates alongside another private firm that is linked to a "sovereign entity," a term used to refer to high-level security institutions in government. Together, the two companies have monopolized the multi-million dollar business of certifying imported beef in Egypt.

Certification firms provide Islam-compliant cattle slaughtering services to meat suppliers in exporting countries, according to statements by Yousef Shalaby, former head of the General Authority for Veterinary Services's quarantine department.

A committee from the Agriculture Ministry periodically visits slaughterhouses abroad to ensure compliance with Egyptian standards and their registration with Egyptian embassies in exporting countries. These periodic audits can result in approval, rejection with a justification, or a recommendation with notes to revise certain practices pending approval, according to the Egyptian Organization for Standardization and Quality.

Meat exporters in the US and South America have worked with dozens of certification firms across the region without trouble for decades. The decision to exclude all these firms for the sake of a single company with no prior experience came as a shock.

In May, the FAS said it received notification from the General Authority for Veterinary Services that the seven certifiers operating in the US had been suspended or rejected without explanation and that IS EG was the only eligible firm remaining.

Once it was made the sole halal certifier, IS EG immediately raised fees.

The same happened with certifiers in South America. The Agriculture Ministry has yet to provide any justification for why one company was made the sole halal certifier for South America, according to Sergio Remeles, representative of the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association.

Once it was made the sole halal certifier, IS EG immediately raised the fees for its services by an astronomical amount, according to Sherif Ashour, a meat importer who has dealt with the firm and imported several shipments through them. Certification fees for one container (27 metric tons) jumped from $200 to over $5,000 in the US, and from $250 to $1,500 in South America.

The process by which a number of halal certifiers had their contracts canceled appears to have been arbitrary and abrupt.

The manager of one of the disqualified certifiers, speaking to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that his company received notification in early 2019 that it would be subject to a surprise audit. The move was unprecedented in the company's 10 years of operations and was wholly unexpected given that no complaints had been filed against it, the manager said. Other certifiers were subject to a similar process, according to the FAS report.

Officials from different departments within the Agriculture Ministry visited the company in the United States for the audit, the manager said, and requested numerous documents concerning the company's operations, including its dealings with countries other than Egypt. While the request was baseless, the company complied. The officials spent seven hours examining and photocopying documents before leaving the premises with little explanation. A few months later, the company was disqualified without justification.

Several other certifiers contacted by Mada Masr declined to comment on the issue in the hope that the government would reverse its decision.

The Agriculture Ministry's spokesperson, Mohamed El Kersh, declined to comment on the issue, referring Mada Masr to Ahmed Abdel Karim, the head ofveterinary association's quarantine division. Karim did not respond to questions posed by Mada Masr for this report.

Read the full article at Mada Masr

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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