On Eve of Egyptian Vote, Crime Wave Is the Main Topic (NY) TIMES) By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK CAIRO, EGYPT 05/23/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-Top
CAIRO — Parts of the ring road encircling this capital are dangerous
no man’s lands, unsafe to drive on, by day or night. Kidnappings and
bank robberies are common around the city. And women report sexual
assaults by taxi drivers, even in broad daylight.
Across Egypt, carjackers have grown so bold that they steal their
victims’ cellphones and tell them to call to negotiate the return of
the cars. And in Sharqiya, a rural province in the Nile Delta,
villagers have taken the law into their own hands, mutilating and
burning the bodies of accused thugs and hanging them from lampposts.
On the eve of the vote to choose Egypt’s first president since the
ouster of Hosni Mubarak, this pervasive lawlessness is the biggest
change in daily life since the revolution and the most salient issue
in the presidential race. Random, violent crime was almost unheard-of
when the police state was strong.
Now all the presidential candidates vow to make the restoration of
security their top priority — pledging to get the police back to
work, restore their morale and teach them about human rights. But the
tone of their approach to the problem could not be more different.
While the two Islamist contenders talk about reforming the police
force, Mubarak-era officials in the running emphasize cracking down
with a strong hand. Amr Moussa, who was a foreign minister under Mr.
Mubarak, accused an Islamist opponent of fomenting anarchy by
attending a protest, while Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general,
has bragged that he could clear the streets of downtown Cairo in a
matter of hours by turning off the power.
In Sharqiya, an Islamist stronghold, some place blame for the crime
wave on “a lack of religious awareness,” said Mahmoud al Herawy, 51,
a member of the ultraconservative Al Nour Party who supports the
liberal Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. But crime
victims, like Mohamed Ibrahim Yousseff, 63, often pine for the
perceived security of the Mubarak era.
Three months ago, Mr. Yousseff saw his son Mahmoud, 29, killed, and
another son, Abdullah, 24, crippled when carjackers opened fire with
shotguns. A mob of villagers avenged the death by killing and
incinerating one of the suspected attackers.
Mr. Yousseff said he would vote for Mr. Shafik, who served as Mr.
Mubarak’s last prime minister. “He is a military man who has been
raised on discipline,” Mr. Yousseff said, explaining his support for
“It is becoming the culture of the Egyptian countryside to confront
thuggery with thuggery, to take matters into our own hands,” he
Some say Egyptian police officers know only two extremes: the
excessive brutality they used to employ, or the timid approach they
have taken since the revolution.
Others contend that the lack of effective law enforcement is a grand
conspiracy to spread nostalgia for the ousted authoritarian
government. Said Sadek, a sociology professor at the American
University in Cairo, argued that the internal security forces had, in
effect, gone on an undeclared strike in protest against their public
indictment for the repression of the past.
“The Ministry of Interior is trying to punish the people,” he
said. “ ‘You want a revolution? Enjoy!’ ”
Though he said the hysteria was exaggerated, Mr. Sadek acknowledged
that he drove with his car doors carefully locked. “A number of my
friends had their cars stolen and never recovered.”
Even Egypt’s best-known politicians have fallen victim to crime. In
the last year, the independent presidential candidate Abdel Moneim
Aboul Fotouh; the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary leader, Mohamed
Beltagy; and the liberal political organizer Amr Hamzawy have all
been attacked by armed men on or near Cairo’s ring road. Mr. Aboul
Fotouh lost his car and ended up in the hospital, Mr. Beltagy lost
his car, and Mr. Hamzawy’s girlfriend, an actress, was briefly
Amani El Sharkawi, 25, an English teacher, recalled a cab ride that
ended abruptly when her driver saw men with chains and weapons
stopping cars on a deserted stretch ahead; the driver threw the car
into reverse and drove backward down the highway. “Can you imagine
that?” she said.
One evening about two months ago, Rena Effendi, 35, a photographer,
entered a cab with a licensed driver in one of Cairo’s wealthiest
neighborhoods — as she had done countless times without a thought
before. But the driver diverted the car; locking the doors, he pulled
a knife and tried to rape her. She fought back until he just took her
handbag and left her.
On Monday, Ms. Effendi said that the police later showed her a
suspect who turned out to be using her stolen cellphone with a
different SIM card. But they had made no progress in identifying the
driver. “It tells me that if they want to find him they could,” she
said. “I don’t know if they are looking very hard.”
Sayid Fathy Mohamed, 32, a cabdriver himself, said he was robbed in
broad daylight by two knife-wielding passengers and two accomplices
with shotguns who pulled up alongside on a motorcycle. They took his
car, cellphone and wallet and left him bloody in a field. But the
police showed little interest. “They were scared of coming with me to
the location of the incident,” Mr. Mohamed said.
So he called his cellphone and eventually negotiated a ransom of
about $2,000 for the return of the cab. “People back in my
neighborhood collected the money,” he said. “I paid the money and
took the car on the spot.”
In Sharqiya, the recent revenge killings began about four months ago
in the village of Haryet Razna. Witnesses said Hazem Farrag, 28,
stepped outside his family’s storefront auto supply store one night
to help defend the young driver of a motorized cart known as a tuktuk
from a threatening passenger.
The passenger shot and killed Mr. Farrag, witnesses said, and a mob
of villagers beat to death both the passenger and a relative who they
said tried to defend him. Then the villagers strung their nearly
naked bodies from a lamppost and filmed the spectacle.
“It was disgraceful,” said Mr. Herawy, 51, an Arabic teacher who said
he found the bodies the next morning. “That is not the way to enforce
Mr. Yousseff, of the village Ezbet el Tamanin, said his sons were
shot in February as they tried to intercede in the carjacking of a
cousin. They had just left the funeral of another cousin, who was
killed in a carjacking just two days before, he said.
“Should we surrender them to the police so they can release him in
two hours?” he asked, defending the mob’s killing of one of the
suspects. The police have brought no charges against any of the
vigilantes. Other communities are banding together to demand law
enforcement. Residents of the village of Abu Hammad said the police
were initially slow to respond after burglars robbed the home of
Hussein Abu Khisha, 50, and kidnapped two children from his family —
Ibrahim, 10, and Kareem, 7.
The villagers closed down the main road through town, cutting off
traffic. After two days, Mr. Abu Khisha said, the army sent tanks to
break up the protests, and after six days the police finally traced
the kidnappers’ cellphone to find his children.
Now he has decorated his yard with posters of Mr. Moussa, the former
foreign minister who is running as a secular champion of law and
The Islamists, often jailed under Mr. Mubarak, just want revenge
against the police, Mr. Abu Khisha argued. “They insult the police
and talk about all the things they will do to them,” he said. “When
you are sick like this, you go to a specialized doctor. You don’t go
to a beginner.”
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 22, 2012
In an earlier version of this article, a photo caption misstated the
age of one of Hussein Abu Khisha’s sons. Kareem is 7, not 8.
(Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 05/23/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY