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updated 4/5/2011 6:17:47 AM ET 2011-04-05T10:17:47

Gunmen kidnapped a grandniece of Anwar Sadat and demanded a ransom. In one southern city, robbers didn't bother to wait until dark to target pedestrians. In another, a brawl between two school children led to a gunbattle that killed five.

A police state barely three months ago, Egypt has seen crime soar 200 percent since Hosni Mubarak's ouster from the presidency. Murder, violent theft and kidnapping are leading the surge, security officials said.

In many ways, this country of more than 80 million has become a free-for-all for criminals taking advantage of a weakened police force and political uncertainty. The spike in crime has made some nostalgic for Mubarak days, when the mostly corrupt and now discredited police force used torture, intimidation and blackmail to keep crime in check.

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The uptick in crime is part of a broader climate of anxiety and uncertainty gripping Egypt in the post-Mubarak era.

The youth groups behind the uprising fear that the generals who took charge from Mubarak are reluctant to dismantle the former president's legacy. They are frustrated over their lack of action five months ahead of a parliamentary election.

The economy has been hard hit by the uprising. Strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins for better pay and work conditions are hurting productivity and, together with the precarious security, are scaring foreign tourists away. The removal of Mubarak has also allowed militant Islamist groups to operate openly, feeding tensions with the country's Christian minority and moderate Muslims.

Chain of events
The persistent security vacuum in Egypt is the product of a chain of events associated with the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's regime on Feb. 11. Three days into the revolt, the police withdrew from the streets in still-unexplained circumstances following deadly clashes with protesters in Cairo and across much of the nation.

On the same day, Jan. 28, the gates of several prisons were mysteriously flung open and thousands of criminals made a dash for freedom. Simultaneously, dozens of police stations around the country were stormed and set ablaze, with hundreds of detained suspects freed and firearms looted.

Last month, the new Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy dissolved the country's hated State Security agency, a key demand of the youth groups behind the uprising. It was blamed for the worst human rights abuses during Mubarak's 29-year rule. But the time it will take to replace the agency gives criminals a window of opportunity.

Egyptian police were hated by the public for their use of excessive force and they were driven from the streets during the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 revolt. Now they are back, but in lesser numbers. And they are much more timid in enforcing the law, especially traffic offenses, and shy away from confrontations.

With the police laxity, double and triple parking has become common on Cairo's already congested streets. Motorists recklessly drive the wrong way on one-way streets. Traffic police vanish after nightfall in most parts of the city, a sprawling metropolis of some 18 million, leaving inexperienced volunteers to direct cars.

"The police's morale is very low," Maj. Gen. Mohsen Murad, director of public security at the Interior Ministry, acknowledged at a news conference on Monday. "The psychological state of many officers is bad, their firearms have been looted and their stations have been torched."

The police and state security are under the authority of the Interior Ministry.

Brawls and kidnappings
The ineffectiveness of the police force was on display Saturday when thousands of soccer fans invaded the field before the end of an African Champions' game between local club Zamalek and Tunisia's Club Africain. The hundreds of policemen on duty at Cairo International Stadium could not stop the violent invasion.

With police hardly visible in Cairo, masked gunmen in two cars kidnapped a grandniece of Sadat — Egypt's president until he was assassinated in 1981 — while she was driven to school on Sunday morning at the upscale suburb of Heliopolis. Zeina Effat Sadat's family car was intercepted by one of the gunmen who forced his way into the girl's vehicle. The kidnappers later beat the driver and forced the girl into one of their cars.

The 12-year-old was released Monday after her father paid ransom. Police later arrested six men for their alleged role in the kidnapping and found a briefcase in their possession with 2 million pounds (about $340,000), according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

They said the kidnappers, who included university graduates, had demanded 5 million pounds (about $840,000) in ransom.

Many Cairo parents periodically keep their sons and daughters away from school because of a rise in the kidnappings of children. Armed robberies in the capital have also been increasing in Cairo's poor neighborhoods, outlying areas and on highways.

Some of the malls that have been looted and torched have reopened but attract only a fraction of the shoppers that thronged them before the uprising. Some have taken luxury items off their shelves, fearing a repeat of the looting during the uprising.

Murad, the director of public security, called on Egyptians Monday to regain their trust in the police and send their children to school. He acknowledged, however, that crime has increased several fold in February and March over the same period last year. He did not have precise figures.

Armed neighborhood watch
In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, children are escorted to school by armed neighborhood watch volunteers to fend off kidnappers.

In Sohag, an impoverished Nile-side city south of Cairo, gunmen have recently taken to robbing pedestrians at the downtown area in broad daylight, according to residents and security officials.

Officials said a total of 2,000 cases of illegal construction were recorded in the past two months in Sohag province, with farmland owners taking advantage of the security vacuum to hurriedly build apartment blocs they sell at significantly more profit than growing crops.

On Monday, several thousand protesters angered by the police's perceived indifference to a gunbattle between two feuding Sohag families blocked the main railway track to Cairo for nearly two hours, causing delays to trains linking the capital to southern Egypt.

Further north in Assiut, a brawl between two schoolboys last week turned into a deadly feud when gunmen from al-Quseir, the village of one of the boys, randomly opened fire on residents of Fazarah, the village of the other boy.

Fazarah gunmen later laid siege to the school, trapping 25 al-Quseir boys inside. Armored army vehicles went into the school to escort the boys out past the armed men and back to their home villages.

Al-Quseir villagers frustrated with the police's inability to maintain order have laid siege to their local police station since Wednesday to force all security personnel to leave the village.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: On day for women, stark reminders of struggle

  1. Closed captioning of: On day for women, stark reminders of struggle

    >>> a stark reminder today of what hasn't changed. women are still far behind men when it comes to equality, not just there, but in much of the world, and it came into sharp focus, once again on this 100th anniversary of international women 's day. nbc 's anne thompson went to tahrir square today and reports on what happened there and beyond.

    >> reporter: in egypt 's tahrir square, today it's clear gender equality has a long way to go. a million woman march attracted only hundreds. the loudest voices, those of young men, telling the women to go home and stay home. on international women 's day, this man tries to convince these women their role is to clean and mop. one activist said it's time egypt 's majority population get equal rights .

    >> no discrimination on any basis. not on gender issues, not on religious issues.

    >> reporter: the women at this rally, want a role in reshaping egypt . basically they want a place at the table, a place despite the revolution has yet to be offered. there are no women on the committee to revise the constitution, and only one woman in the new cabinet. u.s. secretary of state hillary clinton today said women must have a significant voice.

    >> the women in egypt and tune tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their government.

    >> reporter: the demand for equality heard around the world today as women continue to demonstrate against oppressive regime. in bahrain and the ivory coast , where soldiers opened fire and killed at least seven women protesters last week. they want what egypt has. a new government. and women here want respect.

    >> what's wrong with egyptian men. it's not acceptable because i'm wearing a dress, mini-skirt or tight jeans, you say bad words to women .

    >> reporter: a housekeeper raising three children with no support from her ex-husband says women are no longer afraid. after the revolution, everybody is bolder. as egypt 's women insist the nation's new freedom be there's as well. anne thompson , nbc news, cairo.

    >>> back in this country tonight, nbc news has been given

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
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    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

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