Rise in crime intensifies unease in once-safe Egypt (LA TIMES) By Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan CAIRO, EGYPT 02/21/12)
LOS ANGELES TIMES
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Egyptians say they don´t recognize the country now, a place with
carjackings, soccer melees and brazen bank robberies.
The headlines reflect a previously unknown cruelty: a woman gunned
down in a rich Cairo neighborhood, a rash of carjackings, a deadly
soccer riot, a stream of smuggled arms that have given muscle to
criminal gangs once easily outgunned by police.
The revolution that inspired this country one year ago has set loose
a menacing air that Egyptians find unfamiliar. Bristling beneath the
political battle for power against the ruling generals is an
insecurity over crime and a bitterness that has darkened Egypt´s
Soldiers guard streets but few people feel safe. Police have largely
returned to duty after months of work slowdowns, but their presence
is sporadic; they appear and disappear at whim. Many Egyptians wonder
whether security forces are complacent about or complicit in the
mayhem around them, a sense of unease felt by fruit vendors and
"This is an Egypt I do not know," said Tarek Fouad, a sales manager
at an international corporation. He said he saw this bewilderment in
the faces at the funeral for a relative, who was shot in a January
carjacking on the affluent outskirts of Cairo.
The car he was driving wasn´t expensive, "but they murdered him to
get it," Fouad said. "We kept hearing about such crimes in the news,
but now they are common. We´re having bank robberies, which is
another thing we only saw in Hollywood movies and never, ever
imagined they would happen in Egypt."
There are few reliable statistics on the nationwide rise in crime.
The state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported an unprecedented jump in
violent crimes in 2011, largely attributed to prison breakouts and
lack of police. The paper, which offered no comparable figures, said
there were 2,774 killings and 2,229 kidnappings last year. The
Interior Ministry said recently that crime rates were beginning to
But it is the brazenness of violence that has the country troubled.
Seven men burst into a bank firing weapons and robbing tellers in
late January; the same day three bandits stormed an armored truck and
made off with about $500,000. Days later, scores of families lined up
outside a Cairo morgue, watching a broken procession of coffins that
carried most of the 74 people killed in the Port Said soccer melee.
Egypt has traditionally been safer than many Western countries, but
recent images have turned the nightly news into a catalog of felonies
and funerals. Arms smuggled in from Libya to the west and Sudan to
the south have fueled tribal clashes in southern Egypt and have wound
up on the streets of the capital, where Nermeen Gomaa Khalil, a
United Nations consultant, was shot and killed last week by gunmen in
a passing car.
Such boldness led to the brief kidnappings this month of American and
South Korean tourists in the Sinai peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen.
Police have been startled by this type of lawlessness and by
intensifying violence in gritty city neighborhoods that have slipped
further from their grasp.
"It´s bad these days and we keep reading about crimes that never
before existed in our community," said Mohamed Radwan, owner of a
Cairo gift shop. "After so many years of financial frustration under
[President Hosni] Mubarak, a certain class of people is willing to do
anything for more money, even if that means killing people while
He said political instability and months of deadly clashes between
protesters and military-backed security forces give "many thugs the
feeling that authorities are too busy confronting politics to chase
thieves or provide security."
Mubarak is gone, on trial for murder, but the ruling military council
refuses to step aside before a president is elected in May or June, a
decision that leaves the newly elected parliament, which is dominated
by Islamists, with scant authority.
The fervor from the early days of rebellion has faded into a dirge-
like sentiment of promises left unfulfilled. That is the Egypt one
hears, whether wandering in Tahrir Square, which in an instant can
turn from sad carnival to searing battlefield, or through the towns
of the Nile Delta and villages deep in the deserts of the south.
Crime and unrest have also brought a strange degree of equality. The
poor have noticed their worries are shared by those with bigger bank
accounts and nicer homes.
"We got used to burglaries and attacks and assaults in our poor
neighborhoods," said Soad Mahmoud, a Cairo street vendor. "But I see
this everywhere now, cars getting stolen and people murdered for
money in places that once used to be the safest."
In an article in Al Ahram Weekly, analyst and writer Abdel Moneim
Said wondered about the volatile arc of the last year.
"When you arrive at Cairo International Airport, one of the first
things you see is Barack Obama´s exhortation to American youth to
learn from Egyptian youth who waged the most successful revolution in
the world. Do these words still apply?" he said.
"Surely they lose their glimmer when mobs attack and kill people just
like them, when families are at each other´s throats, when roads and
railways are obstructed, when ears are severed and churches burned,
when banks and currency exchange stores are robbed and even nuclear
reactors are broken into, when security breaks down and our national
currency reserves seep through our fingers, when the moment our
national economy shows a sign of recovery a massacre takes place the
next day. The revolution succeeded, but the nation did not!" Hassan
is a news assistant in The Times´ Cairo bureau. (Copyright © 2012 Los
Angeles Times 02/21/12)
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