Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What can Britons learn from the Egyptian Revolution?

Budget cuts in Britain are a hot topic of discussion in light of the past few years of economic distress in many Western nations. Countries are doing everything they can to cut back on government spending and programs in an attempt to revive a fledging global economy. New powerhouses are coming onto the scene, with countries such as China flexing their economic weight in the world, and seizing this opportunity to spread their arms of investment far and wide.

I was listening to the BBC Radio 2 a while back, and their main focus of discussion were the proposed cut back to the country’s police force. It is estimated that over 25,000 officers will be pulled off the streets in the next four years.  Source

Of course this has tongues wagging for many people in the United Kingdom. What will this mean for their personal safety? What will this mean for the security of the country as a whole?

To compensate for the expected police drawdown, citizens in the U.K. are beefing up their own security. One of the radio listeners phoned in to explain his extensive CCTV system that he has had installed. He claimed that it was in part responsible for discouraging local youth in his neighbourhood from vandalizing on his property, and overall kept him feeling safer. The only setback? The cost of implementing this connected network of CCTV can total in the thousands of pounds for reliable protection. Source.

CCTV cameras are already up and running in London, so to see just how effective the installation of CCTVs would be in your home, let’s take a look at the crime statistics in London for the past few years. Ideally, you’d notice a decrease in the level of crime occurring if the CCTV network was deterring criminals from carrying out their crimes. According to some studies, CCTV has effectively helped to reduce crimes of burglary and theft by upwards of 50 %, but has done little to the rate of violent crimes. Source.

So here’s my question, is it really necessary to spend thousands of your hard earned money to install cameras and other security systems around your house? My immediate answer would be yes, but having seen something else with my own eyes, I will argue that “no, it is not.”

During the Egyptian revolution, police presence was entirely withdrawn from the streets. Criminals took this opportunity to run rampant throughout the city, looting stores and breaking into apartment buildings.

Army tank on the main road running along Maadi's outskirts
I was in Maadi, a suburb in Cairo. Maadi is an intricate layout of closed and small streets that from a bird’s eye view appear to follow the design of the English flag (Not coincidentally might I add). Maadi is unique in that there are only three main entrances into the suburb from Cairo itself. Army personnel set up check points and road blocks at these main entrances. But once inside, there was limited Army presence outside of the police stations in Maadi. Essentially, it should have become a lawless jungle.

What happened instead was an inspiring look at the power of neighbours banding together to protect their neighbourhood. Men and sons from individual buildings, apartments, and villas in Maadi went down to the street, forming impromptu "neighbourhood watch groups" to protect their assets. 

Rumours surfaced that criminals were driving around in pick-up trucks, firing randomly throughout neighbourhoods in Maadi (and throughout the rest of Cairo). The neighbourhood watch groups responded by setting up road blocks throughout the densely intertwined streets in the suburb. As the Army was not as obvious a presence as in many other areas of Cairo, Maadi became a city unto itself. 

Because it is a fairly small suburb, most people recognise each other in Maadi. This made it easier for the road blocks, recognising a familiar face, and you would be allowed through. The road blocks themselves were inspired; some grabbed police "huts" to block the road, I even saw a bathtub roadblock. 

Yes. That is actually a bath.

Over-turned police hut becomes an impromptu road block

Alongside the roadblocks, local residents took to wearing Seoudi market bags tied around their arms as indicators that they were from Maadi. An ingenious method of distinguishing "Maadi-ites;" Seoudi market is a notorious supermarket in Maadi, and their white and green bags very easily recognisable. 

Seoudi bag in the front of the car to distinguish
us as Maadi residents
When Karim and I were driving through Maadi, we would have to place this Seoudi bag by the windshield, so that going through checkpoints we'd be immediately spotted as locals. When Karim was out patrolling, he also wore these bags tied around his arm. Alongside their impromptu weapons (sticks, kitchen knives, and anything else that could become a potential weapon), men in Maadi headed out to stand guard under their homes, and man the road-blocks that were found on virtually every street corner. It was an incredible, and very amusing, spectacle to behold. 

So what is the point behind this? What can Britons learn from the Egyptian experience? 

Simply, get to know your neighbours, get to know your neighbourhood. Your neighbourhood is only as safe as you allow it to be. Even without any police presence whatsoever, it is possible to look out for one another. All it requires is going back to the fundamental belief that inside, we are all the same, and we all want to see our homes, families, and possessions stay safe. 

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