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Cairo's pigeon lovers find escape from political turmoil

From Ian Lee, for CNN
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
There are two million pigeon breeders in Egypt, according to breeder Moustafa Hassan. There are two million pigeon breeders in Egypt, according to breeder Moustafa Hassan.
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Cairo's most-loved pigeons
Cairo's most-loved pigeons
Cairo's most-loved pigeons
Cairo's most-loved pigeons
Cairo's most-loved pigeons
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There are two million pigeon breeders in Egypt, according to Moustafa Hassan
  • Cairo has rooftop pigeon lofts where breeders find escape from the hustle and bustle below
  • Breeders sometimes capture each other's birds if they stray into their territory

Editor's note: Each month, Inside the Middle East takes you behind the headlines to see a different side of this diverse region. Follow us on on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen and writer Cat Davies @catrionadavies

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- On a rooftop high above Cairo, Moustafa Hassan tenderly cares for his babies -- all 350 of them.

Hassan keeps a rooftop loft with both racing and "fancy" pigeons, and his birds are like family to him.

Cairo's pigeon breeders

"This is my son," he said, picking up his favorite pigeon. "I deal with all the pigeons like my son or my children."

Hassan's pigeons cost him $600 a month in food alone, but he says it's a hobby that unites people of all backgrounds, rich and poor, conservative and liberal.

"Every type of people in Egypt can breed the pigeon," he said. "It's a hobby and a very good hobby in Egypt."

Hassan is far from alone in his hobby. He says there are two million Egyptians breeding pigeons and that it gives them an escape from the country's political turmoil. The age-old hobby is a constant despite the revolution, protests and elections of the past year and a half.

If I capture a friend's pigeon, I let it go. If he's a competitor, then I keep it
Ramadan Mohamed

"The pigeon is joined with our culture in Egypt," said Hassan. "It is very important in Egypt."

But it is not all peace and harmony between breeders. Some breeders will capture each other's birds if they fly too close.

Ramadan Mohamed, who lives across town, has an elaborate net for catching pigeons that stray into his patch.

"In the hobby of breeding pigeons, there are friends and foes," said Mohamed. "If I capture a friend's pigeon, I let it go. If he's a competitor, then I keep it."

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