Reporting from Cairo — Zeinab Moussa was recently traveling home in the women's car of the subway when three men disguised in burkas entered, pulled out guns and told the riders to hand over everything they had.
Terrified, she gave them $200 in cash and her wedding ring. "There were no police officers or street cops," she said.
Since the revolution toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last month, many of the police who became targets of the protesters' anger have failed to return to the streets, resulting in a crime wave that tears at the public's faith in the new government.
Although precise numbers are unobtainable, government officials widely acknowledge that robberies, carjackings, sexual assaults and other crimes have been on the rise. The police absence is noted on street corners throughout the city.
One officer, 28-year-old Ashraf Abdel Aal, said: "We will retake control slowly. So many people escaped from prison, and they have weapons and are more than willing to attack us."
Many say privately that they are staying home or remaining in the station house because of the criticism leveled at them during the uprising.
The security forces were blamed for widespread abuses during the Mubarak regime and have been widely blamed for taking part in the killings of demonstrators during the protests.
Over the last week, protesters stormed numerous state security agency offices to read the detailed surveillance files on political opposition figures. The agency employs about 100,000 of Egypt's 500,000-strong security forces.
Egypt's new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, vowed this weekto cleanse and swiftly move the security forces back onto the streets. "I have spoken of the need to shrink the role of the state security apparatus, so that it is only focused on fighting terrorism," he said.
The police retreat has left this city, which has an agitated buzz of traffic horns and cursing even in normal times, further on edge.
"It is total chaos," said Jihad Admed, 50, as she deposited money at the bank. "The police are not very strong and people like me can get hurt."
Al Zohairy is a special correspondent. Amro Hassan of The Times' Cairo bureau contributed to this report.