A tale of two cities

Many parts of 6th October City are a world away from the poverty seen in some areas of Egypt

After being dispatched to the sandy schoolyard of the Toshka Primary School in 6th October City, the two tanks showed no mercy.

Overlooked by squadrons of soldiers positioned on the rooftops of nearby apartment blocks, they sprayed the front of the five-story school building with round after round of machinegun fire.

The operation lasted for 24 hours, according to locals. By 10.30pm on Monday evening, five suspected escaped prisoners who had been hiding out in the building were dead.

“The whole place was shaking,” according to a middle-aged nanny at the school who would only identify herself as Leila. “The people living nearby very very frightened and hid themselves away for two or three days.”

A trip to the Toshka Primary School sheds light on a tale of two cities during the country’s recent political upheaval – not just in terms of the differences between 6th October City and Cairo, but within this sprawling satellite settlement itself.

Two weeks after the violence of January 28th, with many residents in the more affluent areas of 6th October City having disbanded their ad-hoc neighbourhood watch groups, people here still feel vulnerable.

According to Leila, on Tuesday night householders had to fight off more suspected criminals seen in the area near the Toshka Primary School.

Although she said she was against president Hosni Mubarak, she added that it was time for the Downtown protesters to leave Tahrir Square.

“They must go home and give Mubarak another chance to fix the situation,” she said.

The school lies in a decaying neighbourhood of 6th October City close to a huge industrial zone. The surrounding streets are a warren of grimy, concrete apartment blocks buzzing to the sound of weaving tuc-tucs.

It is a far cry from the rest of the city, where ultra-rich Egyptians live in a theme park world of gated villas, topiary hedges and compound golf courses.

Outside a cafe just a short drive away from the school – near the upmarket boutique shops and all-American diners of Al-Hosary  Mosque Square – sat 41-year-old Bakr Haindich.

“This place is safe,” said Mr Haindich, a Jordanian, who like so many in 6th October City is a foreign Arab national.

“I haven’t tried to go away or leave the country. I feel safe here.”

Diana Sheheen, who was sitting smoking a shisha pipe with her friend in Cafe O2, agreed.

“For the last few days I have felt more safe than I have since the demonstrations started,” said the 23-year-old engineering student. “The residents have been making groups and staying in the streets all night.”

But the glitz of the upper-class neighbourhoods has not been enough to shelter everyone from the aftershocks of the January democracy movement.

A 10 minute drive away, past the half-built luxury compound of Sawfa City — where an enormous 30ft-high banner proclaims “New Experiences Await You!” — is Sheikh Zayed city, another satellite settlement where the filthy rich rub up alongside the down-at-heel.

Sitting behind a desk in the office of his billboard advertising company, Magdi Al-Sharif reveals that neighbourhood watch groups in his area caught 18 suspected prisoners only this week.

As head of all the groups he said that most of the people caught were not trying to break into homes, but that people in the area were still worried.

“In this area they have not been trying to steal, they have been trying to change their clothes or just get something to eat,” he said.

Mr Al-Sharif said he thought most of the prisoners turning up in Sheikh Zayed were not a threat because they had been set free by the government against their will.

Nonetheless he said residents were still frightened.

“People are scared because they are thinking many things. Maybe they are thinking the prisoner has come to kill them. They just know these people are criminals – they don’t care what kind of criminals.”

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