The Corner

Knives Come Out in Cairo

The Atlantic’s live-blog on the situation in Egypt now reports (See Day 2m 5:25 p.m. EST) that citizens are arming by street and neighborhood to protect their homes and businesses from looters. I take this to be a upsurge in the quasi-tribal defensive structure that underlies formal government control in many Cairo neighborhoods. Something similar happened in Gaza in 2007 when the Palestinian unity government fell apart and order was enforced–brutally–by battling clans. I cover all this, including the situation in neighborhood Cairo, in “I and My Brother Against My Cousin.” I don’t see this organized local defense as a harbinger of democracy. Instead it’s likely a sign that traditional social structures having little or nothing to do with liberal democracy remain alive and well in Egypt’s cities.


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