Egyptian Chaos Spreads as Vigilantes Take Over

The “Arab Spring”—which has turned out into little more than a chance for Islamist extremists to make a serious grab for power—is slowly unravelling as chaos starts to spread out from its Egyptian epicenter.

In one of the latest incidents, Egyptian vigilantes beat two men accused of stealing a rickshaw, stripped them half-naked, and hung them from a tree in a bus station in a small Nile Delta town on Sunday. The lynchings came a week after the Egyptian attorney general’s office encouraged civilians to arrest lawbreakers themselves.


The incident has been described as one of the “most extreme cases of vigilantism in two years of sharp deterioration in security following Egypt’s 2011 uprising.”

The worsening security coupled with a police strike prompted the attorney general’s call for citizen arrests last week. The state-run newspaper Ahram reported on its website that the two were dragged in the street after being caught “red-handed” trying to steal a rickshaw. It said they were beaten but alive before they were hung.

Photographs from the scene show the two men lying on the ground dead in their underwear, their bodies covered in dirt, bruises, blood, and lacerations, with a group of angry looking men gathered around them. One man in the crowd grasped a knife in one fist and another held up a bloodied wooden stick.

Ahram reported that police were delayed from reaching the site of the hangings because residents had cut off the roads to protest a shortage of diesel fuel, one of Egypt’s many crises. Earlier in the day, residents of the nearby city of Mahalla had cut off a main train track to protest the fuel shortages.

The scenes in the town of Samanod, about 90 kilometers north of Cairo, were emblematic of the chaos that is sweeping the country, mired in protests over a range of social, economic, and political problems and with security breaking down to frightening proportions.

Similar attacks have happened elsewhere in Egypt, though vigilante killings are not frequent.

Citizens have grown bolder in taking matters into their own hands following the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. The country’s once powerful and feared police force was left weakened after the revolt.

Egypt is embroiled in another wave of political unrest that has also engulfed the nation’s police force. Thousands of officers and low-ranking policemen have broken ranks, staging protests and waging strikes against what they say is the politicization of the force by President Mohammed Morsi and his interior minister.

The unrest has hurt Egypt’s economy and gutted its foreign currency reserves, which stood at $36 billion before the uprising two years ago. Morsi’s government is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help boost reserve levels, which now stand at $13.5 billion.

In other developments, the Supreme Administrative Court said a body of judges is reviewing an appeal against suspending parliamentary elections. The voting was slated to begin in April and to be held in several stages through June.

Morsi’s Islamist supporters and some in the public exhausted by the turmoil hope the elections will be a step toward bringing some stability, accusing the opposition of stirring up unrest to derail the voting.

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