Yasmine El Rashidi in the NYRB blog:
On a recent afternoon this month, in a busy downtown Cairo street, armed men exchanged gunfire, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and freely wielded knives in broad daylight. The two-hour fight, which began as an attempt by some shop-owners to extort the customers of others, left eighty-nine wounded and many stores destroyed. In the new Egypt, incidents like this are becoming commonplace. On many nights I go to bed to the sound of gunfire, and each morning I leaf through newspapers anticipating more stories of crime. Stopped at gun-point; car stolen; head severed; kidnapped from school, held at ransom; armed men storm police station opening fire and killing four; prison cells unlocked—91 criminals on the loose. Many people I know have already bought guns; on street corners metal bludgeons are being sold for $3; and every week I receive an email, or SMS, or Facebook message about a self-defense course, or purse-size electrocution tool, or new shipments of Mace. “These are dangerous times,” my mother told me recently as she handed me a Chinese-made YT-704 “super high voltage pulse generator.” “You have to take precautions, keep it in your bag.”
Even more worrying, it seems increasingly clear that a variety of groups have been encouraging the violence, in part by rekindling sectarian tensions that had disappeared during the Tahrir Square uprising, when Muslim and Coptic protesters protected one another against Mubarak’s thugs. Since then, there have been a series of attacks on Copts, and the perpetrators seem to include hardline Islamists (often referred to as Salafis), remnants of the former regime, and even, indirectly, some elements of the military now in charge, who have allowed these attacks to play out—all groups that in some way have an interest in disrupting a smooth transition to a freely elected civil government and democratic state.