Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Looters and Rumors

Looters outside Carrefour
Saturday was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. Looters began ravaging the city, hitting up the wealthier neighborhoods which include my residence. We have no way of knowing what’s going on except to pass information via mobile phones, but it’s hard to verify if what we’re hearing is the truth or more rumors spread in order to create more chaos.

The past few days have been hectic. Our internet is still cut, but at least our mobile phones are now working. I’m already panicking over this enormous phone bill I’m going to see in the near future. I might have to establish a “Help LeAnne Pay Her Phone Bill” fund, so I hope you’re all willing to chip in.

My journalist friend and her fiancé, a Cairo native, traveled from the Red Sea to Cairo. The fiance came because this is his country and he wants to be with his family, while my friend has a bit of me in her also being a journalist and wanted to document what could be history in the making. I think that we’re just going for breakfast until she tells me that we’re going to take a trip downtown. I said, “Girl, you better turn this car around right now and take me back home. I’m not prepared for more of this, I’m so exhausted from yesterday and the situation has changed.”

Little did I know exactly how the situation had changed.

We hear reports that Carrefour (please note previous posts to explain this shopping center) is being torn apart by looters. As we drive past, you couldn’t imagine the scene. Just less than 24 hours ago, I couldn’t have been more proud of Egypt and its citizens and now I’m witnessing chaos and destruction. We stop the car and I get out to get a closer shot. Men standing around watching all of this begin saying, “Stop her from taking pictures, we don’t want others to see this.” If you didn’t want others to see it, then you shouldn’t be doing this.

Then I arrived back home only to get a phone call around 3 pm with a newly imposed curfew set for 4 pm. The phone call warns of a gang of men going through vandalizing and stealing from Nasr Street in addition to reports that cars were being stopped and robbed. Then another call at 3:30 pm said that the group was making their way to Degla, and I live very close to the mall. I immediately ran outside to check that my bowab (doorman) had our front doors blocked.

What I want to stress before continuing this story is that there is a difference between the protesters and the looters; the looters are opportunists who had no part in the protests unless they were against the anti-government factions (ie police).

My bowab tells me to look up and then I see all the women standing on the lookout on their balconies with a few men on the building’s rooftop. Two women begin banging on all the apartments telling everyone to get inside, board up and protect their property. I quickly rush to my bedroom and begin moving my dress of drawers myself over the door/windows. I make sure all my windows are locked throughout my place, I turn off all the lights and television and then I head over to my neighbor’s with my dog in tow.

We move over a big shelf in front of her front door and sit quietly until we begin hearing our front doors rattling as though people were trying to get in. I quickly grab a knife and prepare to stab away. In hindsight, it might sound slightly funny, but the fear that trembled through my body was anything other than humorous. The military didn’t make it to Maadi until around 9 pm, and the only people that protected anyone was actually every man/boy from households.

After Hurricane Katrina, looters further destroyed New Orleans. There was no order in the city, and just like New Orleans, Cairo began to turn into much of the same. The difference is regular citizens began restoring order – which should be highlighted. It was an impressive sight. Men from different communities established neighborhood watches like you’ve never seen before.

Throughout the entire night, men throughout Cairo chased and captured looters. What you might be surprised by is that some of the looters caught were actually police. In addition, more than 6,000 prisoners were released from holding cells (now keep in mind, some of the prisoners were probably jailed without reason) and some wonder if Mubarak did this in order to show the international community that without him, chaos ensues. It could’ve also been a way to instill fear among Egyptians in order for them to respect the police once they returned to the streets. What Mubarak didn’t anticipate was residents coming together, stopping looters and finding police identification.

In my neighborhood as days have passed on, once curfew has been set, you must either be recognized by neighborhood groups or show something that proves you live here. If you don’t have identification that says your address, then you must have a bag from a popular supermarket in the neighborhood. This is an incredibly smart idea. The guys from different areas either wore different color clothing (such as white in one area in Nasr City) and/or armbands (my guys had the supermarket bags as an armband while a nearby area in Maadi had yellow armbands).

Class systems disappeared on Saturday and I’ve never seen such unity before. Bowabs are having tea with doctors and professors while gathered at the bonfire on my street. Camaraderie is at an all time high and while I’m not Egyptian, I am so thankful that I’m seeing this side. I didn’t know it existed, and more so, thank you to all the people out in the streets trying to keep us safe when the government has failed.

All the looters and note, even from the top of Carrefour


  1. THANK YOU for these posts. I have been dying for information on my old neighborhood and you're the first one who has given me pictures and details. I'm glad you're ok and I hope things settle down soon for you and the other 80 million people there.

  2. First off, I'm so relieved and grateful you're safe throughout this ordeal. And thank you for sharing all of this first hand experience. It's so hard to gather valid information from the news reports. Second, I just thought I'd share another first hand account I came across that you might find interesting: The casualties of this uprising are just heartbreaking and the collateral damage caused by the looters is just shameful -- particularly the destruction within the Egyptian Museum.