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Cairo vigilantes take law and justice into their own hands

RIA Novosti

01:40 06/02/2011

CAIRO, February 6 (RIA Novosti, David Burghardt) - Residents in Cairo have taken the law into their own hands because of the absence of police, creating what is obviously chaos in a huge tourist city the likes of New York City, a RIA Novosti correspondent has reported.

Police authorities have become a rare breed throughout Egypt and in the capital of Cairo they are nowhere to be found on the streets. Military personnel sitting on U.S.-made tanks, transport vehicles, trucks and patrolling the street are focused on the regions near the capital's central Tahrir Square, where depending on the day, crowds of several tens of thousands to over one million gather to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years.

Vigilantes have taken control of each neighborhood, checking each car, truck or taxi, including passengers they may be carrying through their region. For the foreigner, this is an entirely scary situation if you do not know the language and your car is surrounded by young men and children armed with sticks, knives, machetes, and hand-made swords with saw-like half-inch teeth, screaming, banging their weapons on the car's hood and roof, while another group is patting down and frisking the passengers.

RIA Novosti's correspondents, consisting of three Russians and one American, were caught in this exact scenario while traveling in two taxis with a representative of the Russian Embassy. The locals piled into the taxis, demanded passports and ordered the driver to go to some unknown destination.

Traveling through each neighborhood, the taxis were stopped, the initial "hijackers" jumped out of the car, deafening arguments in Arabic ensued, after which they returned to the taxis and ordered the driver to move on. This was repeated several times before RIA Novosti's crew was delivered to a military post, where all documents were "officially" checked and the crew was told to return to their hotel. A young Russian female tourist, who was also "hijacked," was added to the group.

Some of these "kidnappings" are more serious, including a journalist from the Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda, who was taken to a military post, blindfolded and interrogated. She remained there for some four hours before finally being released. She was "kidnapped" twice in one day.

During the day, locals take on the role of traffic police at intersections, directing traffic as best they can as there are no stoplights in Cairo.

After the national curfew comes into effect each afternoon (depending on different sources from 3:00 or 5:00 p.m.), the vigilantes close down their neighborhood streets with barricades, using logs, cement slabs, chains, or even rolling over a police booth onto its side. In the evening, people gather around a small campfire built in a square or on the street near their homes to protect their zones from "invaders." Young adults from neighboring regions play football against each other on the deserted streets at night.

On the other hand, pedestrians have much less obstacles in moving around the city, though Cairo's subway system is closed down. Walking down the streets of Cairo, one is greeted with smiles and helpful people who will show you where you need to go, the military will warn you of potential dangerous areas and all will wish you a nice time in Egypt.

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