Aug 19, 2013

    Vigilantes run Cairo when night falls

    AMID a security crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's most vibrant city quickly turns into a ghost town at night, run mostly by vigilantes eager to hunt down members of the Islamist group.

    The sounds of boats blaring music on the Nile and hawkers selling fruit juice and nuts fade as a dusk-to-dawn curfew takes hold following the bloodiest week in Cairo's modern history.

    On Wednesday, more than 800 people have have been killed nationwide since Wednesday's dismantling of two encampments of supporters of ex-president Mohammed Mursi in Cairo - an act that sparked fierce clashes.

    The Brotherhood has said it will keep up mass protests until Mr Mursi, toppled after huge demonstrations against him, is freed from jail and returned to office.

    Meanwhile, the Egyptian government began deliberations on whether to ban the Brotherhood, an organisation that swept to power in the country's first democratic elections a year ago.

    A state of emergency has been imposed, along with the curfew.

    After most Egyptians have gone home at night, Cairo turns eerie as the military fans out, parking armoured personnel carriers on highways, and beside bridges and installations.

    When it comes to smaller roads and alleys, the soldiers seem happy to let the vigilantes, better known as "popular committees", run the show, along with a few policemen in black hoods who line up suspects along bridges overlooking the Nile.

    The popular committees say they have intercepted vehicles with weapons used by Brotherhood "terrorists", and tackle the thieves who seem to flourish amid Egypt's chaos.

    In one neighbourhood, vigilantes took a break from manning their makeshift checkpoint and sipped tea. They explained how the system works.

    When someone suspicious is stopped, they use a whistle to alert nearby soldiers, or call the closest state intelligence agent on his mobile phone. Or they act alone.

    "When we catch someone, believe me, hundreds of us can deploy quickly to help each other if we can't reach the army,"said Mr Mohamed Shaaban.

    Many Egyptians wonder where the turmoil will lead the nation of 85 million, which has lurched from one crisis to another since a revolt toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

    A man who had worked as an egg vendor before the latest troubles erupted shook his head as he watched the news: "Life was difficult under Mubarak. Now it is unbearable. How can we survive when we can't even move around at night and sell our eggs?"