Smart Cairenes

Rich, I agree that people do and should defend themselves in the midst of anarchy.  Let me make it clear that I am not criticizing Egyptians for vigorously defending their families, homes, and property under such conditions. The point I make in ”I and My Brother Against My Cousin” is rather that in many urban neighborhoods in Egypt, the government’s writ has always been limited. Many Cairenes are used to organizing into local self-defense groups and regularly do it as a substitute for the police protection and rule of law that are notable for their relative absence. Society in some parts of Cairo has long run virtually independently of the central government in the areas of security, justice, and economics. Given the nature and limits of the central government, depending on a mixture of kinship ties, religious organization, and neighborhood-run justice makes sense. The problem is that this “off the grid” system works sufficiently well, and the Egyptian government has always worked sufficiently poorly, that conventional, Western-style rule of law and liberal democratic principles have never been well-rooted in Egyptian culture.

Stanley Kurtz — Stanley Kurtz graduated from Haverford College and holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University. He did his field work in India and taught at Harvard and the University ...

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