20 March 2011
Amid the overwhelming turmoil which enfolds Egypt today, one recent sight on Cairo streets has been particularly welcome. Policemen in their black winter uniforms are again visible after having almost vanished off the street scene since 28 January.
The Interior Ministry had pulled its forces off the streets in the wake of its heavy losses during the revolution, and the military stepped in. As it directly became obvious, however, the task of the military is entirely different than that of the police. With thousands of prisoners running free, and outlaws finding little resistance, Egyptians lived in a state of insecurity and fear; many kept to their homes even though this did not necessarily save them from assault. Citizens collaborated in forming their own neighbourhood protection squads, cleaned up streets and regulated the traffic. But the hard problems began when schools reopened and several schools and school buses were attacked.
The problem came home to us at Watani when one of our reporters received a phone call from her 10-year-old son who, in hysterical tears, said his school had been attacked. The assailants beat the teachers and administrators, threw the children out, and later left with any equipment or computers they could put their hands on.
“I do not allow my children to go to school on the school bus any longer,” one young mother told Watani. “I take them by car in the morning and collect them in the afternoon. I can afford to do so because I do not work, but other parents of school-age children are not so lucky. They have to let their children go by bus and pray all day that they arrive home safely.”
Shop-owners were not any the more safe. Soliman Ali, a mechanic, said that thugs force shop owners to pay tribute, otherwise they attack their shops, burning and looting. Hassan Gamal, a resident of the Cairo suburb of Maadi, complained that the quiet, leafy district had become unsafe, with thugs stopping cars and demanding the drivers hand over whatever they have, or else…
“After sunset we can##t let our wives and children go out so as not to be attacked or kidnapped by the thugs,” said Gamil Fawzi, an electrician from Shubral-Kheima.
Satellite towns did not escape the thuggery. In 6 October town, west of Cairo, an American University in Cairo student was abducted and his parents asked to pay ransom.
Back to normal
It is hoped that, now that the police is again back in force, security will reign once more. According to social experts, it is not the number of policeman that ensures security, it is the authority they command and the respect they inspire. It still remains to be seen how much of that remains on the Egyptian street.
As one child asked her mother: “Mummy, when will things get back to normal?”