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'Thanks to the young people ... we are free'

A town near Cairo, Kerdasa, revels in a newfound freedom from the hated police, though witnesses say five people were killed in the protests. Residents take responsibility for their own security.

February 04, 2011|By Timothy M. Phelps, Los Angeles Times
  • Four-year-old Mahmood Muhammed stands next to his father as he takes part in Friday prayers at Tahrir Square. Tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters gathered Friday for what they billed as the "day of departure."
Four-year-old Mahmood Muhammed stands next to his father as he takes part… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Kerdasa, Egypt — Even the elders of this small Egyptian city in the shadow of the great pyramids of Giza could not remember weekly prayers like this one.

The three extra truckloads of police officers who always sat outside the mosque to prevent trouble after the weekly gathering were nowhere to be seen Friday. The police station immediately across the street, as well as the headquarters of the hated security force next door, had been looted, gutted and burned.

The government has always censored his sermons, but this time Imam Mohamad al Saba, whose name means lion, spoke freely. He congratulated those who demonstrated at the police station, inspired by the events several miles away in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

"Thanks to the young people who expressed themselves we are free," of the police, Saba said, while also making sure to condemn the looting.

Residents say peaceful demonstrations here turned violent after police fired tear gas at protesters. As many as five people, including two boys ages 13 and 14, have been shot and killed, according to two shopkeepers who said they were witnesses. Residents' accounts were impossible to verify.

Kerdasa, an example of how the anti-government movement has reached beyond major cities, has long been famous for its fine embroidery and shops on Issa Street, which attract souvenir-hungry tourists by the busloads.

Abdul Fattah and Mustapha Radwan, who run a shop selling embroidered clothes across from the police station, said residents have long seethed at police repression and political corruption.

The police would do things such as commandeer taxis for themselves while forcing other passengers into the street, they said.

"They made the people hate the police by their tactics," Radwan said. "And the people were fed up with corruption and unemployment and high prices."

Kerdasa is now patrolled by people residents who are so careful about security that no one, not even the governor, can get into town without being searched, people say. In addition, a clear message was sent by the imam in his sermon Friday about how looting government stores of food, blankets and furniture was "haram," religiously forbidden.

"All those who looted state money, it is forbidden, and they should fear God on judgment day," he said.

tim.phelps@latimes.com

Special correspondent Emad Mekay contributed to this report.

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