A ‘Gathering of the People’ through Neighborhood Watch

Author’s Note:  My daughter Annie is currently in Egypt and has been for the past 2 years working towards a Masters Degree.  Our love and interest in Egypt runs deep from 7 years of living in the country and many trips back since we left.  Because of this my focus in blog posts will be on the crisis in the country for the next few days.  Thanks for reading!

Annie’s voice was clear despite the static surrounding the connection. It had taken both of us over 20 tries and a couple of cut-off connections before finally reaching her.  Snipers on rooftops and gunfire kept her awake much of the night and influenced the decision to move to another neighborhood about 2 miles away before start of the curfew at 4pm. What would normally have been a short ride to her friend’s house was longer due to road blocks and altered traffic patterns.

She spoke of  the neighborhood watch groups that have stepped up all over Cairo, impressed with their efficacy.  The presence of these self-nominated groups is allowing communities to feel a sense of care and safety in their immediate neighborhoods despite the uncertainty of the larger picture. In her view the neighborhood watch is how life should be all the time, not just in crisis.  Egyptians are stepping up, directing traffic in their neighborhoods, making sure people are inside if it’s not safe and in general helping out.  She confirms the word we had heard that much of the looting is done by plain clothes police confirmed through their identification cards.  Both Annie and a long-time  friend of ours who I just spoke with cannot say enough about these groups.  Our friend Ann described is as a “gathering of the people.  The men are out all night patrolling and sleep during the day”. She stated that these groups have blocked off their neighborhoods making it difficult for cars to easily move in and out of the area.

I wonder if care  of this type would occur in my neighborhood.  As I view people in our cities tiredly shoveling snow upon snow from the assault that this winter has brought, all working with little assistance from their neighbors I struggle to picture groups in Boston ensuring safety and care for the entire neighborhood.  Is it the difference between a collectivist view of life vs. an individual ‘pull up your bootstraps’ view?  Or is it the collective human response to crisis no matter what the cultural context?  I like to think it’s the latter and a snow-storm doesn’t fit the criteria for crisis.

There is something of a righteous anger in her and her friends as they watch a stubborn administration hanging on while hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in the streets of  major cities and smaller towns continue to say with their actions and words that something has to change. The recent cabinet appointments have only served to fuel the frustration as there is no faith in the men chosen. The chants in Arabic “Civilian government, Civilian Government” are loud and clear. Along with that is the dismay that the dreaded E word has been raised – Evacuation.  There is at heart a sense that they would be abandoning Egyptians and leaving protesters in a place where resolution is still several days of curfew and collateral damage away.

After ensuring phone numbers, passport numbers and contingency plans were all in place we said goodbye with the uneasiness of knowing the turning-point is still to come.

Authors note: If you have a sense of confusion and gaps on why there is an uprising in Egypt here is a link to a short but informative piece that may help – A Short Primer on Egypt. For other posts on Egypt feel free to link to these:

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

26 thoughts on “A ‘Gathering of the People’ through Neighborhood Watch

  1. You wrote “It is a bit frightening that our country, desperate to promote democracy is promoting democracy hypocrisy, as they remain neutral in the face of an overwhelming majority wanting the step-down of the Mubarak regime. Is the US policy to promote democracy only when we start the process?”

    From living abroad for so many years, as have I, and gaining the perspective that other countries have of America, surely there is a touch of sarcasm in your statement!

    What Mohammed ElBaradei recently wrote rings all too true:
    “You in the West have been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That’s obviously bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate.

    “When Egypt had parliamentary elections only two months ago, they were completely rigged. The party of President Hosni Mubarak left the opposition with only 3 percent of the seats. Imagine that. And the American government said that it was “dismayed.” Well, frankly, I was dismayed that all it could say is that it was dismayed. The word was hardly adequate to express the way the Egyptian people felt.

    “Then, as protests built in the streets of Egypt following the overthrow of Tunisia’s dictator, I heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assessment that the government in Egypt is “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people”.

    “If you would like to know why the United States does not have credibility in the Middle East, this reaffirmed their belief that you are applying a double standard for your friends, and siding with an authoritarian regime just because you think it represents your interests.”


    Unfortunately political solutions are partial at best, but us believers have the hopes that God will bring about a better world once Man has finished marring this one. All the best to you and yours!


    1. Excellent comment – thank you for reading and posting, particularly for bringing attention to this statement by ElBaradei which is so clear and pointed. And yes there is a touch of sarcasm. Your last statement is at the heart of my beliefs.


  2. Dima was over for the long weekend to visit her father and was supposed to be back in Dubai Saturday night. But her Egypt Air flight has been canceled about 4 times now – the suspicion is they are filling the flights up with political cronies! Anyway they’re both now booked on Emirates to come home tomorrow evening but just heard that there’s a curfew on flights now as well.
    I guess its going to be the topic of some fantastic tall tales one day soon but its all very terrifying when people you love are caught up in it.
    Just this minute had an sms from her to say all ok for the moment but no news on flights.


  3. My closest friend has just gone to Cairo to bring her daughter back. We’ve been watching Al Jazeera for the past few days marveling at the resiliance and good humour of most of the Egyptians on the street, while marveling at the arrogance of the politicians who think they can ignore them.
    I wish your friend Annie well.


    1. Thanks so much for the comment – it’s actually my daughter who is in Egypt. We lived there for 7 years coming to the United States when she went into Junior High so for her it is home – thus the desire to not evacuate. I hope your friend gets through with no incident. Is her daughter studying? I so agree with your words on the resilience of the Egyptian People – if you haven’t already read you would appreciate the post Bukra Insh’allah. Agree as well with your words on politicians. Would love to know how your friends trip goes!


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