A Frightening Lawlessness Takes Hold In Egypt

Ignoring a government curfew, thousands of protesters remained in the streets and squares of Cairo through the night. The army has been deployed, but is allowing peaceful demonstrations to proceed. Many soldiers and officers have expressed solidarity with the protesters. The police who clashed with protesters in the early days have disappeared, though there are reports that some of them may be provoking fear and chaos, disguised as thieves.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

Today brings a sixth day of protests in Cairo, as Egyptians continue to demand the resignation of their authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. The much-feared police have left the scene. The army is protecting key buildings and installations. But a frightening kind of lawlessness has taken hold elsewhere in the city.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been touring the streets of Cairo today and she filed this report.

(Soundbite of conversations)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: All around the city, groups of armed young men like Mark Rafat are out in force

Mr. MARK RAFAT: We're trying to protect our neighborhood over here. Many assaults has been going on through the night. We've been able to capture many thieves

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vigilante justice has taken hold of the streets, he says. One of the thieves was clubbed to death overnight. The others are being held in a building by other young men of the neighborhood, he says.

People are armed with sticks, knives and guns. The police stations have been looted, and so now those weapons are available to both citizens and criminals. And there are reports of prisons being overrun and inmates escaping. An eyewitness told NPR about one Cairo detention facility where inmates have taken over and were trying to shoot their way out.

The police, says Rafat, have simply disappeared and the army is only protecting strategic locations.

Mr. RAFAT: There is no police forces. There's no army. We are trying to protect our neighborhoods before the thieves come into our homes and start assault on our families, and sisters and mothers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rafat said he had been participating in the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, but now he and hundreds of other young men in the neighborhood are standing guard instead.

Mr. RAFAT: We're in nightmare now. We dont know where that shall lead us.

(Soundbite of broken glass)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Down the main street in the suburb of Giza, at least a dozen shops were looted. Mohammed Fawzis souvenir shop was completely gutted, only broken glass remains.

Mr. MOHAMMED FAWZI (Souvenir Shop Owner): They stole all my shop - everything. Maybe more than 100 people they have weapons, thats why I can't do anything. Some people just doesnt love Egypt.

(Soundbite of traffic)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Im driving through the streets of Cairo, and this is a Sunday - it's the start of the working week. And what we're seeing is that most of the shops are shuttered, there are a lot less people out and about. And the shops that are open, people are crowding in trying to get supplies, predicting the worst.

(Soundbite of conversations)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the only bakeries that was open was jammed with people stocking up.

Khaled Teki has also been taking part in the protests. But today, he was trying to get food and supplies for his family.

Mr. KHALED TEKI: Definitely the shops will close, and I'm worried about this. You can say for now it exists. But tomorrow or day after tomorrow, I dont think so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cairo has always been a major tourist destination and many foreign visitors have been stranded. The British and American embassies are advising their citizens to leave and are organizing additional flights to evacuate them. In the meantime many hotels are locked down.

Joyce Lanphere and her husband, Marvin, are from San Francisco.

Mr. MARVIN LANPHERE: I've never been in a situation like this before.

Ms. JOYCE LANPHERE: One of the people on the tour said yesterday, like the MasterCard ad: Camel ride $5, boat river cruise $50, revolution, priceless.

(Soundbite of chanting protestors)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And still the protests continue. In Tahrir Square, many of the people gathered there say they will fight on, unappeased by Mubaraks move yesterday to appoint a vice president, Omar Suleiman, and a prime minister. It's the first time in his rule that hes done so.

Ahmad Musleh was among the demonstrators.

Mr. AHMAD MUSLEH (Protestor): (Through Translator) They are two faces of the same coin, actually.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The others demonstrators here echoed that, saying Mubarak his son, Gamal, and now Suleiman must go.

Unidentified Man #1: No Gamal.

Unidentified Man #2: No Gamal.

Unidentified Man #1: No more Suleiman.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo.

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