The state of calm which today reigns over al-Sagha, an alley in Downtown Cairo famous for its gold and jewellery dealers is not the end of the story. Private security
The state of calm which today reigns over al-Sagha, an alley in Downtown Cairo famous for its gold and jewellery dealers is not the end of the story. Private security guards and policemen keep a close eye for fear of any dubious activity, in the wake of clashes last February between the police and a masked gang, which left one man dead and several injured. Broken glass had lain for several days scattered about, together with the debris from the petrol bombs and stones thrown during the conflict. Two persons were arrested.
Police officer Ahmed Habib says the trouble began a year earlier when 40 kilograms of gold were stolen from goldsmith Ahmed Saber during the 25 January 2011 Revolution and the disorder three days later on 28 January, famous as the ‘Friday of Anger’. Mr Saber reported the theft at the police station, and the police was able to find 20 kilos of the stolen gold. Several arrests were made, and the case was taken to court. Last February, a judge sentenced seven of the gang to 10 years in prison for robbery. Two absconded and were sentenced in absentia to 25 years, while four others were sentenced to two years for receiving stolen goods.
Following the ruling, the two who had been sentenced in absentia enlisted some more thugs and made revenge attacks on shops in al-Sagha, forcing the owners to close down. Clashes ensued between the police and the gang.
The policeman Reda Sherbini was hit by a bullet in the shoulder, Captain Mohamed Elwi in his chest, Rizq Mohamed Hassan was injured in his left leg and Reda Aziz Hassan suffered from a cut in the neck. The microbus driver Ahmed Saleh was shot dead. His microbus was hit with 13 bullets. The shop doors and nearby building walls were pockmarked by the bullets and shrapnel, and the debris was strewn all around.
“The shops were closed because of the clashes between police and gang members,” one of the biggest gold traders said. “The clashes terrified the residents and shop owners, and some left the area. The shops remained closed until the end of the discussions between the Ministry of Interior and the shop owners.”
Need for protection
Salah Abdel-Hadi of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce said the second attack took place after the ruling against the criminals in the first attack. Thugs threatened the shop owners and witnesses to force them to give up the court case, and when they refused the criminals attacked again. A few days later the shops reopened, but without displaying their goods or the gold price, which fell down by EGP10 a gramme.
“The shop owners agreed to call in private security services for the entire area, and the owners themselves hold weapons in the continued absence of security forces. CCTV cameras operate 24 hours a day, and some shop owners have installed iron gates,” said Wasfi Amin, head of gold jewellery and craft items in the General Union of Commercial Chambers. Mr Amin sees this as the only way to secure al-Sagha.
“People are no longer interested in buying gold because of the difficult economic situation in Egypt, and because of the breakdown in law and order. They are worried about carrying large amounts of cash around,” Mr Amin added. “Jewelers are afraid of attacks, which is why they keep their goods in secured treasuries. Negotiations between the shop owners and the Ministry of Interior are taking place to facilitate immediate licences for guns so they can protect themselves and their property.”
Ehab Wassef of the gold section at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce told Watani that gold manufacturers and traders feel that their profession is threatened. Goldsmiths, he said, no longer open their shops on Fridays of protest, nor on any other day of political unrest. Most no longer display their goods in their windowshops; the few who do so put on display only a few pieces. A state of discomfort reigns owing to the widespread chaos and security lapse.
There are 30,000 gold shops in Egypt. Twelve thousand of these are in Cairo. Amir Rizq, a member of the Gold Traders Association, says more than 100 kilos of gold have been stolen since the outbreak of last year’s revolution.
The association is renegotiating with insurance companies over compensation for the acts of violence and fires. Shop owners, who normally paid fire insurance, had not found it necessary to insure their shops against theft; security was prevalent and they felt safe. Today, insurance against theft may cost a goldsmith some EGP10 million, a sum that may be economically debilitating.
17 June 2012