News / Middle East

Egyptians' Fear of Crime Soars

An Egyptian mother collects her sons outside a school in Cairo, April 4, 2011. During the recent mass uprising, as much as fifty percent of police disappeared from cities and their withdrawal has created a security vacuum, letting crime flourish.
An Egyptian mother collects her sons outside a school in Cairo, April 4, 2011. During the recent mass uprising, as much as fifty percent of police disappeared from cities and their withdrawal has created a security vacuum, letting crime flourish.

In the months since Egypt's popular uprising, many in the country have felt the revolution came at a price - personal safety.  

Like many other families in Cairo, Nadia, Soheir and Ahmed never paid too much attention to crime. But this year, any minor concerns have grown into full-on alarm.

Nadia, a tourism worker in her 40's, says since the revolution, safety and security don't exist.  She recounts how a relative, driving on a city street last month, was ambushed by masked men with machine guns.  He escaped uninjured, but his car and possessions were stolen.

Nadia says these are new types of crimes in Egypt, and include things like kidnapping.  Violence, she says, has become a phenomenon.

Her sister Soheir agrees. A housewife in her 50's, Soheir says she's concerned about home invasions - enough so that the family, who live in an upscale Cairo neighborhood, are having installed a front door made of re-enforced metal.

But Soheir's main concern is her son, Ahmed, who must often travel for his job as a mechanical engineer. She says she knows it embarrasses him, but she is constantly checking in when he's on the road.

Egyptians share their views on the current crime situation:

Concern about crime is such that Egypt's military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, used it as a justification this week for reviving the nation's much despised emergency law.  "Wives are being kidnapped in the streets," he said, "right in front of their husbands."

But how serious is this increase in crime?  According to a report by the research group Abu Dhabi Gallup, not very.  It says that while the fear of crime has skyrocketed in post-revolution Egypt, the number of actual, reported crimes has stayed more or less the same.

So what's going on?  Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo believes Egypt has become less safe.

"When you have a revolution, the security system collapses," he said. "The central government becomes weak. The economy also becomes weak.  So, it is very natural after revolution that you have a period of instability and security problems.  The problem here is the exaggeration."

Sensationalism, political agendas

Sadek blames the media for much of it. Not just the sensationalism which can translate into bigger market share, but political agendas.  Many in the media, he says, still have ties to the old government, and any instability these reactionary forces can highlight, the better they can undercut the revolutionaries' message.

There's also the question of how much crime there really was before.  Sadek says the previous leaders took pains to hide unflattering statistics.  But, at least anecdotally, Cairo used to appear far safer than other major cities, in part because of the heavy hand of the old military-security state.  That makes even a small bump more noticeable by comparison.

There is also the question of the role police play in Egypt. "Remember, we had a police force for a long period that was only efficient in political issues," said American University in Cairo's Sadek. "But, when it comes to crime, normal crime, it was not that efficient and many people had to pay to the police to help them, to be serious about their cases."

Soheir's son Ahmed, the one she worries about when he's out driving, agrees that the attitude of the police, both in the past and present, has affected the number of crimes people report.

"People know there is no security forces and even if they report the crime, there will be no action taken to solve it," said Ahmed. "So, basically, they are saving themselves the hassle of going through the procedures.  And they're turning to alternative methods, which is protecting themselves by themselves."

For Ahmed, that means getting a license to carry a gun.


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