Cairo diary: A U.S. citizen recounts the past week

Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 12:43 PM

The following was received from a U.S. citizen and longtime resident of Cairo, describing life in one neighborhood over the past week. Names have been removed at the author's request:

It has been an interesting time during these past few days. Now that Internet has been restored, we wait to see if life returns to normal or not. Events are not yet over since now we have pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators fighting in Cairo's main square.

The dramatic images on TV have not impacted all of life as we experienced it. We have actually faced a great deal of boredom with no Internet and lengthy curfews. Detracting from the boredom (although not always in a positive manner) is the fact that we have provided "safe" haven for a family and some single individuals for several days.

My primary concern has been dealing with the separation of truth from a lot of confusion/rumor about looters and home invasions. The disappearance of the police/security forces basically unnerved many people and led to some looting. We have driven around in our part of Cairo almost everyday ... taking hurried photographs as we drive by.

During these drives, I have personally corroborated some reports (the big hypermarket, Carrefour, was looted but not burned) while most of the shopping areas in our areas were either not hit or suffered limited damages/theft. Coping without any television news at all, one couple we know in downtown Cairo watched as the shopping mall/apartment complex across the Nile River was systematically burned and looted by large crowds who called on friends and relatives to join them.

We have heard a great deal of gunfire at night, but most of it seems to be shooting in the air to frighten or intimidate people. A few firefights seemed to take place but nothing too extreme.

The complete breakdown of the security forces was very concerning. Most neighborhoods resorted to bands of homeowners, local young men and some hired mercenaries to set up checkpoints and vigilantes armed with wooden and metal sticks, old swords and whatever else people could find. One acquaintance even armed his building crew with large cans of pepper spray and entrusted his Taser to the head vigilante.

Trying to deal with the prospect of armed looters on the loose in Cairo led to some pretty pathetic attempts in defending our homes (castles?). Our real-life Cairo versions of the movie 'Home Alone' would not have made interesting sequels.The couple in downtown Cairo found some solid metal curtain rods and promised to use them as their building emptied of all other residents. I resorted to barricading the weakest link in my house - the front door - by barricading it outside and inside. I locked the gates to the house and gathered projectiles to hurl down on potential invaders from the roof. ... (I plan to get a gun once the price of guns drops from their currently astronomical prices.)

The economic impact on Egypt will be frightening. Tourism, especially American tourism, has evaporated instantly and the investment climate has turned instantly negative.

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