Egyptians Turn to Vigilante Justice as Economy Worsens

A group of residents near the Egyptian town of Mahala shot dead a man suspected of stealing a truck on the same day that two other alleged thieves of a rickshaw were strung up by their feet, highlighting the nation’s security vacuum.

The cases yesterday in the two Nile Delta towns, reported by the state-run Ahram Gate, occurred days after Egyptian authorities encouraged civilians to detain suspected criminals at a time when security forces have been largely absent from the streets, in some cases because they are on strike for better wages and equipment.

“In absence of adequate state security, people are killing and lynching suspected offenders,” Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who is an opposition leader, said on his Twitter account. “Law and order is our immediate priority.”

Vigilante incidents, increasingly common in the two years since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, have become symptomatic of the growing chaos in Egypt as President Mohamed Mursi struggles to revive an economy reeling from its slowest growth in two decades, rising inflation and dwindling foreign reserves.

“This is a natural reaction to the fact that people have been feeling insecure over the past two years,” Ziad Akl, senior analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said in a phone interview today.

On the day the suspected criminals were killed, the International Monetary Fund’s top regional executive was in Cairo for what he termed “constructive” talks. The government is pushing ahead with a $4.8 billion loan request that has been stalled for months as officials revised an economic plan the IMF sought amid the chronic unrest in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Political Tumult

The economic challenges have mirrored the political tumult sweeping the country, as Mursi’s leadership has been met with violence, demonstrations and growing polarization.

Critics contend he is more focused on advancing the Islamist agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood organization that fielded him for office than on promoting the nation’s broader interests.

Mursi’s plan to hold parliamentary elections beginning next month created new frictions, and on March 6 a lower court suspended the vote. A Supreme Administrative Court said yesterday the appeal filed by the government on the earlier ruling would be heard March 24.

Mursi has portrayed the vote as key to rebuilding state institutions and bolstering stability after the lower house of parliament was dissolved last year following a court order.

A top opposition group said it would boycott the vote, saying the country must be stabilized before elections are held.

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