EGYPT: Neighborhood watch groups protect Cairo streets amid lawless chaos
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As dusk settled on Cairo, civilians armed with sticks, golf clubs, kitchen knives and various makeshift weapons took to the streets again Sunday night to protect their families and homes from widespread looting and lawlessness that have plagued parts of the bustling metropolis since police left their posts following massive anti-government protests.
In the upscale central Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek, large groups of young and old men, along with some women, set up roadblocks, checked and searched incoming cars and patrolled the streets. Residents on motorcycles roamed the island neighborhood into the early hours of Monday to look for suspicious activity and to check on the neighborhood watch groups scattered around the area.
‘I live in this building here,’ 25-year-old software engineer Mostafa said, pointing to a tall building behind him. ‘This is my second night out in the streets. My family is here and I need to protect them. The situation is unknown and we don’t know what will happen next.’
Looters and thugs have taken advantage of the chaos resulting from the protests that have rocked Egypt for the past week. Shouts, screams and gunfire have sounded in some areas.
‘We don’t know who these people are but we hear that they go into houses and steal things and do stuff,’ said Mostafa, who carried a stick.
On Saturday, the military called on residents to take to the streets to defend their homes.
‘The military encourages neighborhood youth to defend their property and their honor,’ it was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in a statement.
For 23-year old Ahmed, Sunday night marked the first time he came out to watch over his Zamalek neighborhood. Armed with a golf club, he guarded one of the makeshift roadblocks set up around the island, where residents start checking incoming cars and passengers as the sun starts setting.
‘If we know who’s in the car, we let him through. If we don’t know the person, we stop it, search the car and then let it pass,’ he said in an interview.
At one point during the night, a large white van arrived at one of the roadblocks. Residents immediately stopped the vehicle and encircled it. Neighborhood watch groups on the other side of the island had said one person in the car was carrying a gun.
‘I’m totally happy what’s going on with all the demonstrations,’ 28-year old neighborhood watcher Mohammed Beshara said. ‘But the violating of public and private property is just horrible.’
-- Alexandra Sandels in Cairo