This is a true story: A young man drove an unlicensed motorcycle and decided to ride it into oncoming traffic. When he ran into a police officer, he did not hesitate to shoot at him, but the police chased him down and arrested him, in addition to seizing his gun.
What really caught my attention when this occurred yesterday was the young man’s courage which bordered on recklessness. He was not worried that he was driving an unlicensed motorcycle, nor did he have any reservations about driving it into oncoming traffic. Moreover, he refused to obey the attempts to stop him, choosing instead to scare and terrorise the police officers by shooting at them.
Reported on the same page in Al-Tahrir newspaper there were other stories about people acting very daringly against the state agency responsible for public law and order. There was one about a man who had a disagreement with his neighbour in the Al-Qalyoubia municipality over their children playing, and then the man made a bomb and threw it in front of his neighbour’s house to scare and punish him; no hesitation! I also read about an incident in Al-Sharqiya, when a young man, a repeat offender, cut off a police officer’s hand after the officer had tried to catch him. He also blinded 5 people when he opened fire on them because they tried to stand in his way. After he was arrested, the police found that there were 18 outstanding charges against him and 5 warrants out for his arrest. Furthermore, in Al-Gharbia municipality, a truck hit a tractor and killed the tractor driver, so the people of his village cut off the agricultural road leading to the municipality’s administrative centre. In yet another incident, someone bought a car from another person for EGP 120,000 (around £11,000), but only handed over EGP 20,000. When the time came for him to pay the balance the seller sent two men to represent him and collect the money, but the buyer captured the two individuals, with the help of his friends and they were not released until the police intervened
All of these incidents, among others, took place on just one day, and I do not believe that it was an exception; such events are regular occurrences and the signs are that they will escalate as they have done since the January 25th Revolution. When the masses took to the streets and their pent-up anger at the regime was taken out on the police as an institution, it was because it had acted as the regime’s oppressive tool for at least 30 years. Once the head of the regime fell and its foundations were shaken, the police, who became invisible in public places, were targeted by angry families and many police buildings and vehicles were torched.
Since them a number of variables have emerged onto the Egyptian street and are related to the community’s relationship with the police. The most important outcome of these variables is that the status of the police was greatly diminished so that their presence on the streets has become quite humble, even in Cairo; I can only imagine what it is like in the other regions, in which the absence of police officers in public is most likely twice as noticeable.
Under these circumstances, the opportunists and thugs have emerged and imposed a fait accompli on the capital which has now become very difficult and expensive to remove. This new reality imposed itself on the heart of the city and its most vital roads which have now become occupied by invading armies whose origins we are unsure of. What we do know is that they have become a force on the ground that has challenged the police and municipality and which even the army’s tanks, armoured vehicles and barbed wire have been unable to move.
In addition to the absence of the police forces on the street which has caused the masses to become more daring in challenging laws and regulations, there are two core elements that have contributed to the growth of this lawlessness. First, since the revolution, the security agencies have remained busy with the protests and political security and no longer care about the other manifestations of disorder and chaos. More specifically, nowadays the police neglect of their duty to preserve public order and the law in favour of focusing on the protests has become a definite matter and is not debatable. I have heard this from some of their leaders, one of whom told me that the only voice they hear is the voice of the protests, so the police are unwilling to pay attention to any unrelated matters.
The second important element is that the thugs and opportunists who have occupied the streets have become the eyes of the security agencies and are being used to confront the political opposition. As such, it is natural for the state to turn a blind eye to their growth on the main streets over which they maintain control.
If this analysis is correct, it means that the community will not feel safe as long as political stability is absent in Egypt because the police service believes that protecting the regime is its first priority. Until this happens, ordinary people have no choice but to manage the situation on their own and defend themselves, and incidents like those related above will become even more commonplace.
This is a translation of the Arabic text which was published in Al Shorouk newspaper on 21 October, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.