Saturday, February 5, 2011

Looters and Carrefour

The day following the now infamous "Day of Rage" was one that many people were waiting for with bated breath. There were any number of ideas as to what could happen next. Would the army throw aside their passive observers role? Would they assume a greater presence on the streets? Would the police return? Just how far would the looters and thugs be allowed to go?

Since this Saturday, just one week ago, so much has happened throughout Egypt that it feels like months ago. It is not however, and here are my experiences from last Saturday.

When I woke up from a troubled nights sleep, I turned on the news to apparent devastation. Cairo had been ransacked. Thugs and looters had run rampant throughout the city, taking full advantage of the absence of police in the streets. My first questions were who are these looters, where have they come from, and why the violence! The protests began peacefully, where is all of this hatred coming from?

Flipping through multiple news stations it quickly became clear that everyone had a different theory as to where they had come from. Egyptian State TV was proclaiming that they were escaped prisoners, who just went crazy with their "new found freedom." Other Egyptian channels proclaimed that they were protesters who had taken their demonstrations one step too far and had resorted to violence. International news channels had further theories, ranging from escaped convicts, to impoverished individuals trying to grasp at any material possession, to thugs paid by hands behind the scenes. Regardless of who they were, or where they came from, I was able to see it first hand.

Our first stop was picking up my fellow journalist friend, who herself had spent the day before in the protests in Tahrir. She was full of stories of Egyptian heroism and solidarity, of a bond between protesters that spawned a strength which eventually caused the Police to flee from in front of her eyes. When I mentioned that we were going to try and head down to Tahrir square again, needless to say she was less than impressed! Our plans to head downtown however, were put on hold.

First stop was Carrefour. We'd heard rumours that it had been set on fire by the thugs during Friday night, and wanted to see for ourselves. Heading over there, many cars were coming towards us, and none heading in the same direction we were. Of course, this makes you wonder why!

I was expecting to see smouldering remains of Carrefour. To my surprise, the building was neither smoking, nor rubble piled in the street. What we did see was this:

The trolleys being pushed by these guys are FULL of electronic equipment

Looters worked in gangs around Carrefour

Slight geography lesson again, for those unfamiliar with the layout of Carrefour.

If you look at the first picture, to the left hand side is the entrance to the upper parking lot of Carrefour off of a roundabout.

To pass this close to the aforementioned parking lots, we had to go around the roundabout. Initially, we tried to drive up the entrance ramp to take a closer look, only to find someone in the middle blocking our way. The looters it appeared, were working in groups and coordinating their movement. Although we did see cars passing up there, ours was not one of these. Obviously because the looters did not know us, we were unable to pass.

I was stunned to witness this. People taking advantage of their country in crisis. Yes, it happens anywhere that has an absence of law, it still does not reduce it's shock factor.

We continued down the road, passing a few more people with trolleys full of goods. Between Carrefour and the Autostrad is a grassy area, and in this grassy area were a large group of men. Whether these were looters, thugs, or just people gathering around, we couldn't tell. Getting out of the car in an attempt to get a closer look, we were approached by two men who were shouting "get back in the car, you are not allowed to see this!" obviously perturbed by our cameras and inquisition. Live gun fire was coming from the area next to Carrefour, and tear gas was being fired, but we could not see from where. One group of men stood on top of Carrefour, as though marking out their prize for the world to see, while below them mayhem was raging.

Note the guys standing on top of the building on the left
Overlooking Carrefour is the Ceramica building, which houses a ceramics store as well as residential buildings, we saw a group of men watching the scene unfold before their eyes. These were most likely men from the building, ready to defend their homes should the looters decide to move towards them. 

Neighbourhood watch at its best!

Moving on from Carrefour, we headed towards New Cairo. As the day went on, more and more stories of looting, violence, and other rumours were wagging many tongues. We passed the Adidas outlet store just two streets away from Carrefour, and saw this: 

Whether these are looters, or people trying to rapidly empty the Adidas store - we were not sure...

The rumours and the lootings throughout Cairo raised many people's concerns. The rush began for goods and petrol. Fortunately we had decided to fill the car before this rush began, forward thinking at its best! On our way to New Cairo, we saw many many petrol stations jambed with cars trying to get their fill of the petrol lest shortages ensue. Alongside a rush for petrol, there was a rush for goods, and bread in particular.  

New Cairo sits on the outskirts of the city, and between Friday and Saturday saw a number of "violent" demonstrations - these protesters were not affiliated with those in Tahrir. Stepping outside of the car you could taste the acidic pang of tear gas, although I was fortunate enough to not have been exposed directly! The air was rife with acrid smoke from burning tyres and rubber, the sting of tear gas, and the periodic bursts of gun fire. While in New Cairo, we saw little military presence, although we were told later on in the day that the army assumed their positions in the streets. 

Skies in Cairo on Saturday. This picture is taken without effects. 
The sky was a crazy, unnatural greyish brown

As the curfew on Saturday was due to start soon, we had to leave New Cairo quite rapidly to make it back to Maadi safely. The length of time that it would usually take to get to New Cairo from where we were is about 20 minutes. The whole journey, as a result of road blocks, traffic jams, and stopping to scope out the surroundings took us roughly 4 hours. Needless to say there was no time to head down to Tahrir! 

On the way back from New Cairo, we again passed Carrefour from the Ring Road. The crowds there were swelling, and traffic had come to a virtual standstill. We heard later on Egyptian State TV that Carrefour inside was entirely ransacked. The looters left nothing was indeed a sad day. 

Stores in Maadi sealed their doors. Many were rushing to empty their shops to preempt any looting. Bakeries were quickly emptying of bread. It is a Maadi on a Saturday that I have never witnessed before, and do not ever want to witness again. 
Road 233 in Maadi on a Saturday afternoon is a popular shopping spot.
Note how everything is closed!

Rush for bread in New Cairo. Notice how it is all men!

One of many petrol stations we passed along the way. Jam packed with cars!

Destruction in Maadi. 


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