Rising unemployment combined with rapid inflation has left many Egyptians jobless and desperate. High-profile violence and political instability have tanked Egypt’s tourism industry, a major player in the Egyptian economy. During the Mubarak era, before the Arab Spring of 2011, the police were more or less omnipresent: stationed on most street corners and extremely diligent when it came to snuffing out any sign of public dissent, crime, or infraction. Now though, many view the police as inept, undisciplined, corrupt, or simply absent. Their disappearance from the streets is leaving a power vacuum that is being filled by a crime wave.
In this fraught climate, families and business owners have taken to arming themselves. The porous border with Libya, combined with the widespread looting of police stations during the revolution, has flooded the country with a new stock of weapons. I sat down with Sayed—a lingerie salesman turned arms dealer, based in Port Said—to learn more about Egypt's burgeoning private gun market.
VICE: How did you get into this business?
Sayed: I started right after the revolution. With all the bad economic conditions, some businessmen in Port Said were getting robbed by thugs. They would stop the trucks carrying containers and take the shipment. So, we thought about it. I have money riding on these shipments, and could lose it all in a second. We decided to arm ourselves. I went to Arish [The largest city in the Sinai peninsula], bought 600,000 Egyptian pounds' [about $86,000] worth of weapons, came back to Port Said and got three well-known criminals to market my guns. Step by step, we became weapons dealers.
How many and what kind of weapons did that amount of money buy you?
The cheapest weapon you can buy is a marotta [a sort of untraceable, homemade shotgun]. That’s about 600. Handguns cost around 6,500, but now they’re worth about 15,000. It’s an investment. You get it, you keep it, then sell it for a high price. The more the security fails, the more people need weapons. The biggest gun you can get is the Girinof [the Belgian made MAG FN]. That costs about 30,000 to 60,000. The last automatic gun I saw, that was brand-new, was from Israel. There are three main weapons in the market: the Israeli automatic weapon, the Afghan gun—they call it "bin Laden"—and the Port Saidi gun.
Is it made in Port Said?
No, we don't really know what it is or where it comes from, so we just called it Port Said.
How are the weapons coming into the country?
Sources and subsources. Most weapons come from Libya, Gaza, or the police stations that were looted during the revolution. In the country, Arish is a source, Port Said is a source...
How are they spread?
There are Bedouin guides with every deal from Sinai. The seller provides a guide to get the buyers from Arish to Port Said, through the desert and the mountains away from army checkpoints and the police. They can navigate the mountains in a way where they disappear completely.
Where are the weapons coming from?
Right after the revolution, it was known that most of the weapons in Port Said came through the tunnels from Palestine. Dealers in Arish, they get arms from Gaza. The last big deal in Port Said, that created the whole market, was from Libya. It was right before the 26th.
Who are your customers?
I sell mostly to rich people: businessmen who need to protect their stores. To get a marotta, you are probably a thug. To get a real weapon to protect yourself, you must have money. You must have something you need to protect. What you have to protect is valued more than the gun. But to get the marotta, it’s someone who needs to show off, it’s someone who needs to rob or steal something. Usually people in poorer areas or slums. On every street there is a home that has a weapon. Mostly I deal with criminals. To have bad people on your side is smart. This means if there is something serious happening, if they are attacking the market, you are guaranteed that you’ll have reinforcements. Even if you aren’t a bad person, at least you have them on your side. As for good people, my work put me close to them in the markets. I deal with them on their level.
Do you get bothered by the police?
Detectives are showing up now more on the streets. I keep a low profile now, to hide any of my activities.
Do the police know about this at all?
They must know. Of course they know.
Are they doing anything about it?
That’s a good question. The former minister of the interior, Ahmed Gamal El-Din, had plans to fight crime everywhere. He had a vision of clearing and cleaning all the thugs out of Manzela lake [a notorious haven for the criminals of Port Said]. Before, it was occupied by the criminals from Arish and even Hamas dealers from Gaza would travel to Manzela Lake to do business. Abdin flushed them out of there and for at least 15 years, the fishermen were able to go the lake to fish there. But Morsi came and changed everything, he replaced him with Mohamed Ibrahim who never does anything, just lets everything get bad. He's only been there for seven months or so and Manzela lake is already run by criminals again. There are no fishermen any more. The Muslim Brotherhood want instability to be everywhere in Egypt. They don’t want a stable country.
Why is that?
If Egypt is stable, people will force them to lead directly. People won’t be busy with other problems.
Follow Max on Twitter: @SaxMiegelbaum
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