CAIRO: Adel Abdel Maguid, 27, an accountant at an oil company, never imagined that he would ever need a gun to defend himself.
What had started off as a vehement dispute with his landlord who wanted to evict him, gradually evolved into a potentially violent situation when, upon returning from work one day, he was warned by the gateman that four thugs were waiting at his flat to force him to sign a clearance document saying that he will voluntarily leave the apartment.
“I simply needed a gun, he said.
And that was when he learned that obtaining a licensed weapon for the purpose of self-defense is a near impossible feat.
Officials at the local police station told him that in the slim chance that his license application for the weapon is accepted, he will still need approval from state security, the criminal investigations department, the governorate and the morality police. The process could take between three or four years, he was told.
“You’re only allowed to inquire about the items and their prices, said a salesman at gun store in Downtown Cairo.
“We have instructions not to elaborate on how these weapons are used or what they can do. You’re only welcome to buy or get tips on brands and rates, he said.
Another dealer elaborated, “It used to be easier a few years ago, but you can only dream about getting an official license. Of course this is affecting our sales.
There are only three or four weapons outlets in the entire capital which sell hunting rifles, cap guns and half automatics all of which can only be purchased with a license.
While the prices of cap guns could range from LE 300 to LE 5,000, the value of real guns is anywhere from LE 3,000 to LE 30,000.
But in addition to the prohibitive cost of owning a weapon and the severe restrictions imposed on licensing them, the licenses too are a deterrent, going between LE 6,000 to LE 10,000.
It was always widely believed that the highest percentage of citizens bearing weapons is in Upper Egypt and among the Bedouins because of the specific nature their tribal customs and traditions.
However, Mokhtar Showeib, a journalist and author of a few books on terrorism, disputes what he believes is a misconception.
“It is a myth that only Upper Egypt is the hotbed for personal weapons in the country, he argued. “With the current economic boom leading to the creation of a business elite, we can’t assume that competition among them is always peaceful.
“Browse through the crime pages and you will be surprised to see that not only are business tycoons armed, but so are a large number of people living in villages surrounding Egypt’s northern cities, he continued.
Showeib concedes that it’s wrong to think of terrorism only in political terms.
“To facilitate the use of arms among is a second level of terrorism which supports a range of illegal business practices like drug-trafficking, he explained. The Interior Ministry no longer accepts membership applications in any of Egypt’s shooting clubs and even those whose licenses have expired are often unable to have them renewed and are requested to hand in their weapons at the nearest police station.
But unlike Showeib, sociologist Nadra Wahdan from the National Planning Institute believes that such restrictions may not be ideal.
“These restrictions aren’t useful in the long run, she said. “They could encourage the illegal use of arms for self protection and make it difficult for investigators to track down criminals through ballistics tests.
“The presence or absence of license has little to do with tracking down criminals. We have such a high crime rate with unlicensed guns and white weapons, just try to imagine what it would be like if the authorities facilitated licenses.
While Showeib calls for increasing the number of private security firms as a better means of protection, Mahmoud Sabry, a former military officer and owner of Sun Services for private security, disagrees.
“By law security firms are only licensed to protect establishments not individuals, he said. “If my business provided bodyguards to individuals, we’ll be shut down instantly. The law does not allow individuals to hire thugs for their own protection, so when you see bodyguards with VIPs, they are actually licensed as secretaries or public relations officers. The protection of individuals remains the state’s responsibility.
Sabry noted that in the coming decades security will become an expensive commodity because in the future robberies and embezzlements will involve huge amounts of money amid the yawning gap between the rich and the poor.
Gamal Azer, a kitchen utensils dealer in Ghamra nods in agreement as he recalls the day his apprentice threatened to stab him and steal the money he kept in the safe.
“Luckily I had a taser, and I used it, he said.
Tasers and pepper spray don’t require licenses.