Deadly village feud sign of Egypt's security lapse

AP News
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Posted: Nov 11, 2011 1:56 PM
Deadly village feud sign of Egypt's security lapse

For four days this week, deadly gunfights raged between two villages in central Egypt. Men from one side besieged the other, blocking roads to keep food and cooking gas from getting in while keeping terrified residents from getting out.

By week's end, three men lay dead and 20 were injured. All the while, residents of both villages said Friday, local police had a curious reaction: They stood by and watched.

"We could say that they closed their eyes a bit," said Sheik Saber Ali Hussein, who leads prayers at a mosque in the besieged village.

The feud, which escalated from a fight between two youths, and the security forces' failure to stop it reveals the depth of the security breakdown across Egypt since the popular uprising that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Robberies and other violent crime has also risen, and the police appear to be doing little to try to stop it. Police have yet to return to the streets in full force since they vanished during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.

The clashes in central Egypt started Sunday on the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, said residents of the two villages, Awlad Khalifa and Awlad Yehiya, agricultural communities along the Nile River about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the town of Sohag.

A fight broke out between two youths in a cemetery while families were paying visits to their relatives' graves, residents said. The boys' families got involved, and by Monday they were shooting at each other.

Youth from the more numerous Awlad Yehiya surrounded the other village, blocking its access roads and preventing food and cooking gas from entering, said Hussein, the prayer leader.

One person was shot dead Monday and two others died Wednesday.

Early in the week, security forces were seen inside both villages making no effort to control armed residents.

"There are police and army here, but the officers say that they don't have instructions to get involved," said Mohammed al-Naqir, a 44-year-old lawyer from Awlad Yehiya.

A high-ranking officer explained: "We don't intervene. We leave the families alone to solve their problems themselves so that the police don't become part of the problem."

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

On Thursday, the regional governor and military commander brokered a cease-fire.

Hussein, the prayer leader, said his village was "relatively quiet" Friday, adding that police would have never allowed the violence to continue for so long before the revolution.

Al-Naqir, the lawyer from the other side, agreed.

"Before, the police were everywhere and people were scared of arrest," he said. "But after the revolution, people say that there is freedom so everyone can do what he wants."

As of Friday, the local prosecutor had issued arrest warrants for nine people suspected of involvement in the violence. No one had been arrested.