Eyewitness: We fear for our properties and our families

Groups of vigilantes stand guard. It is grassroots policing born of political uncertainty and tension on the street
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As an army helicopter circled above the gloomy, rubbish-strewn road, a group of 20 men prowled around the nearby apartment blocks. Carrying long wooden sticks and knives, they stopped any car which tried to drive through the lines of metal gates and stone slabs placed in the road as impromptu barricades.

The men form one of Cairo's new "neighbourhood watch" groups – the teams of residents and shopkeepers that have sprung up in every district of the city.

"We're here to defend ourselves," said Mohammad Shoukri, 53, an architect who lives in Garden City, a district of southern Cairo. Wearing a strip of torn-off plastic bag around his arm – part of his group's makeshift uniform – he said that he and his neighbours were protecting themselves from gangs of thieves. "We fear for our property and for our families because we have been left with no security."

The police withdrew from the streets of the capital on Friday and were replaced by the army. There have also been reports of large numbers of prisoners escaping from jails around the country.

On Mr Shoukri's road, as far as the eye can see, a group of people stood next to ramshackle homemade barricades brandishing sticks or knives. Cars passing down the road were stopped and identification was demanded. Occasionally the boot was opened to check nothing was being hidden.

According to those manning the checkpoints, vigilantes in different neighbourhoods will phone other groups to inform them that someone suspicious is in their area. It is grassroots policing born of political uncertainty and tensions on the streets of Egypt's capital.

On Saturday night, Mr Shoukri said he and his neighbours caught four "criminals" who were carted off to army units standing on guard a mile down the road, along with all the others his team caught that night.

Khaled Eldin, 50, a businessman manning another checkpoint blamed Hosni Mubarak for the uncertainty."He is stubborn as a mule and he wants to take more and more from us. We will never accept that he will be our President. Never over my dead body."

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