Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 June - 6 July 2005
Issue No. 749
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fierce reports

Mohamed El-Sayed seeks the truth behind the rioting and thuggery that took place in Al-Sayeda Zeinab last week

Click to view caption
The charred remains in Qalaat Al-Kabsh

The inhabitants of Al-Sayeda Zeinab's Qalaat Al-Kabsh district of Cairo were awoken in the wee hours of last Thursday morning by a coffee shop quarrel's escalation into an eight-hour brawl that left one person dead and 25 wounded. Two cars were burnt, 15 shops destroyed and several windows and terraces broken in the mêlée.

The squabble began when Mohamed Abdel-Sabour, 20, and coffee shop owners, who belong to El-Kabshawiya family, traded insults over the price of drinks. The proprietor then allegedly assaulted Abdel-Sabour.

Soon thereafter, the young man called on his Upper Egyptian relatives -- all residents of the same district -- to take revenge. Armed with knives, bayonets, rifles and even sticks and stones, more than 250 of Abdel-Sabour's relatives took to the streets and began destroying everything in sight.

Many of the subsequent clashes were between Abdel-Sabour's relatives and members of the coffee shop owner's extended family. Police did not intervene until nearly 7am, when they tried to broker a reconciliation between the fighting parties. Whatever peace was achieved did not last long, however, as the battle suddenly rekindled at 3.30pm. Fiercer than the first one, the new fight continued until 10pm, this time in clear sight of the indifferent police forces, according to eyewitnesses.

The battle raged on until 10pm, when additional police forces came to the scene and a curfew was imposed on the entire district. Twenty-nine rioters were arrested on charges of thuggery, terrorising the area's inhabitants, damaging cars, destroying and looting property, and carrying illegal and unlicensed weapons. Thirty-three other wanted rioters are still at large, a police source said on Saturday.

Residents interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly suggested that the fight was allowed to escalate as part of a fierce parliamentary election battle between Magdi Mohamed Ali, the district's independent MP, and Hussein Abdel-Nour, an NDP candidate. The opposition Al-Wafd mouthpiece depicted the fight as an orchestrated NDP thuggery campaign meant to terrorise the district's residents away from supporting independent candidate Ali, who enjoys the support of the El-Kabshawiya family and is running for a fourth term. Abdel-Nour, an Upper Egyptian, is attempting to unseat Ali with the help of the Upper Egyptian families living in the area. "The supporters of both candidates were already emotionally charged before the riot," said Khaled Amin, 25. Al-Wafd called it "the terrorism of the ruling party".

Other residents discounted the political angle, saying these kinds of quarrels were "common in slum areas that are home to thugs and outlaws". An older resident said "this particular battle was the fiercest the area had ever seen, and that's why some people tried to load it with political dimensions. Opposition papers tried to capitalise by pointing the finger at electoral issues."

Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Fathi Sorour, whose constituency is in Al-Sayeda Zeinab, was quick to denounce the rioting. Residents said Sorour's support for Abdel-Nour against Ali was due to "partisan disputes" between the two men. The parliamentary speaker denied being in any way involved in the events that took place. "It saddens me that one of the opposition mouthpieces gave a totally false account of what happened," he said on Saturday. "The fight was between two families, far removed from any political causes."

Ali, for his part, denied having any "partisan disputes" with Sorour. " Al-Wafd 's account of the riot was totally unfounded," he said. "Some people want to sow seeds of disagreement between myself and Dr Sorour."

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