Cairo The headlines reflect a new kind of cruelty: a woman gunned down in a rich Cairo neighbourhood, a rash of carjackings, a deadly soccer riot, a stream of smuggled arms that have given muscle to criminal gangs once easily outgunned by police.
The revolution that inspired this country one year ago has set loose a menacing air that Egyptians find unfamiliar. Bristling beneath the political battle for power against the ruling generals is an insecurity over crime and a bitterness that has darkened Egypt's congenial nature.
Soldiers guard streets but few people feel safe. Police have largely returned to duty after months of work slowdowns, but their presence is sporadic; they appear and disappear at whim. Many Egyptians wonder whether security forces are complacent about or complicit in the mayhem around them, a sense of unease felt by fruit vendors and bankers alike.
"This is an Egypt I do not know," said Tarek Fouad, a sales manager at an international corporation. He said he saw this bewilderment in the faces at the funeral for a relative, who was shot in a January carjacking on the affluent outskirts of Cairo. The car he was driving wasn't expensive "but they murdered him to get it", Fouad said.
"We kept hearing about such crimes in the news, but now they are common. We're having bank robberies, which is another thing we only saw in Hollywood movies and never ever imagined they would happen in Egypt." There are few reliable statistics on the nationwide rise in crime. The state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported an unprecedented jump in violent crimes in 2011, largely attributed to prison break-outs and lack of police. The paper, which offered no comparable figures, said there were 2,774 killings and 2,229 kidnappings last year.
The Interior Ministry said recently that crime rates were beginning to fall. But it is the brazenness of violence that has troubled the country. Seven men burst into a bank firing weapons and robbing tellers in late January; the same day three bandits stormed an armoured truck and made off with about $500,000 (Dh1.8 million). Days later, scores of families lined up outside a Cairo morgue, watching a broken procession of coffins that carried most of the 74 people killed in the Port Said soccer melee.
Mohammad Radwan, owner of a Cairo gift shop, said political instability and months of deadly clashes between protesters and military-backed security forces give "many thugs the feeling that authorities are too busy confronting politics to chase thieves or provide security".