Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No. 0980 Vigilantism


A group of teenagers creating a checkpoint for cars to protect their homes.

On January 28th 2011, a couple of things happened that forever changed Egypt:

1. First, in a failed attempt to hamper the protest movement the government showered all of Egypt with a communication blackout. One does not truly appreciate how much the modern world has come to rely on mobile phones and the Internet until you suddenly find yourself missing them. Restricted to receiving information from our televisions and our land line phones, it was as if our hands had been cut off.

2. At the same time, that night MYSTERIOUSLY ALL of Egypt's prisons were attacked and opened! All of the thousands of prisoners escaped and the prisons themselves were burned to the ground.

3. In the midst of all of this happening, the police force was given an order from on high to withdraw from protecting the streets!

Go figure.

All of Egypt was cast into a spell of Terror.
Gangs of criminals loose on the street. No police to be found. Limited communications - and hence limited information and access to help.

4. Let us not forget a final element to the chaos mix: EGYPTIAN STATE MEDIA,
which began to push out stories about gangs of criminals who were reaching various parts of Cairo, encircling areas with villas or shopping centers, burning and looting them, etc. as well as showing lots of criminals on the TV who they had apparently re-captured and the vicious weapons they had found on them.... which just stirred up a furor of rumors and fear.

How did the Egyptian population react to this heightened security risk?
They banded together and took care of their communities and neighborhoods.

All of the men from the buildings, took whatever "weapons" they could find (baseball bats, rocks, anything they could use to defend) and stood below their apartment complexes in groups, huddling by small fires the entire night long, to ward off any potential attackers/criminals.

As one woman put it to me yesterday, she was so happy that the men were defending her HOME during the night, that she took it as the woman's responsibility to go out and defend their RIGHTS during the day, and to join the protests in Tahrir Square.

I think it was from this moment, that change in the rest of Egypt began. What had been something special in Tahrir started to spread everywhere:

A sense of responsibility. A sense of ownership.

In the total absence of governance and security, the people acted together and provided their own protection. This later developed into what we see going on now in Egypt, groups of youth scouring the street to clean garbage among other forms of stewardship. "People Power" in its truest sense.

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