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'It's like Moscow in the 90s'

Egyptian Rioters and Stone-Thrower on Top of Miltary VehicleScreaming crowds, blood on the streets and stories of political turmoil have been assaulting the headlines since violence kicked off in Cairo last month.

But for residents of Egypt's capital the situation is more nuanced ­ and perhaps less dangerous ­ than the shocking headlines suggest.

Yevgenia Ugrinovich, a Russian journalist based in Egypt for more than three years, returned on the last scheduled flight to Moscow, and told The Moscow News what she had seen.

Like Yeltsin without the shooting

"It's very much like in Russia in the early 1990s, but in Russia they used weapons when Yeltsin took power and they fired at the White House," Ugrinovich said.

"While in Russia you had the army opening fire, in Egypt people love the army and the army will not shoot anyone."

Power from the pulpit

Western commentators have written at length about the way new hi-tech social networks have fuelled the popular revolt.

But it seems that the oldest network in Egyptian society ­ the mosques ­ are also playing a big role in mobilising protestors.

"When the internet went down and so all the social networks were off, the protests kept going because people met at the mosques and organised themselves there. Why do you think things got so bad on Friday after the midday prayers?" Ugrinovich asked.

Although the mosques in this sense played a crucial role the call to arms was not being shouted blatantly from the minarets. Ugrinovich does, however, blame the hard line Islamic Democratic Movement, supported by Shia Iran, for orchestrating the violence in the first place.

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president of nearly 30 years, is known to have little or no tolerance for Islamist groups and his decision on Sunday to open talks with the Muslim Brotherhood is a tacit recognition by his regime of their key role in the ongoing protests as well as their widespread support, the Associated Press reported.

Safer streets

Angry crowds have been targeting police as they protest against high levels of unemployment and demand Mubarak's resignation. Police officers are obvious representatives of his regime and so have been the butt of beatings and Molotov cocktail attacks.

Paradoxically, perhaps, the protests have made many parts of town safer.

"People banded together to protect their neighbourhoods, you couldn't get back home without being checked by at least 30 people, men and women."

A strict curfew from 3.00 pm to 7.00 am, enforced by soldiers, kept order across the city, Ugrinovich told The Moscow News. "I felt safe in my apartment at least, I didn't even lock the door as there were 30 people downstairs protecting the building. And you have the army and tanks on the streets, so at home at least it was okay. They still advised us not to go out though," Ugrinovich said.

Her comments reflect reports last week of Russian students joining civilian patrols alongside their Egyptian neighbours.

Going hungry

Getting her daily bread was more of a problem, and it was this that finally made Ugrinovich succumb to pressure from her mother and come home to Tula.

"There was looting going on, mainly from escaped convicts. Shops either just closed completely and took all their food off the shelves, or would just sell what they had on the shelves and not bring in anything more. Carrefour was completely looted before they had time to take anything off the shelves.

"So things like bread became a problem," she said.

Class conflict

As a middle class, educated foreigner Ugrinovich did not find herself caught up in the discontent. "My friends and I never went out anywhere when it all started on Jan. 25. The government ordered the police to stop any suspicious groups and more than two people hanging around together.

"It was peasants and people with no work who were the ones on the streets. I do blame the government for the lack of employment but I also blame those people who prefer to smoke shisha and do nothing but pray five times a day."

And the religious opposition have been fanning the flames of discontent. "The Muslim Brotherhood have been trying to divide the cake and get their share of the spoils, of power, money and influence," she accused.

Getting out

Leaving Egypt has not been easy. The chaos at the airport was like that in Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo at New Year, Ugrinovich said. Her flight was delayed by a day and she was on the last direct flight to Moscow.

Although things are looking up and banks were open for a short spell on Sunday the Russian government is still keen to evacuate Russian citizens.

"In connection with the continuing escalation of the internal political situation in Egypt...we draw all Russians' attention to the need to return home at the first opportunity," Rosturism announced on Saturday.

While Ugrinovich heeded that warning, she is keen to go back ­ possibly within a couple of weeks.

After booking a return air ticket, she said it was a question of the fate of Egypt's economy ­ and her job ­ which would determine if and when she was back in Cairo.

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