Egypt vigilante justice on rise amid strife

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CAIRO — A group of residents near the Egyptian town of Mahala shot dead a man suspected of stealing a truck on the same day that two other alleged thieves of a rickshaw were strung up by their feet, highlighting the nation's security vacuum.

The cases Sunday in the two Nile Delta towns, reported by the state-run Ahram Gate, occurred days after Egyptian authorities encouraged civilians to detain suspected criminals at a time when security forces have been largely absent from the streets, in some cases because they are on strike for better wages and equipment.

Vigilante incidents, increasingly common in the two years since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, have become symptomatic of the growing chaos in Egypt as President Mohamed Morsi struggles to revive an economy reeling from its slowest growth in two decades, rising inflation and dwindling foreign reserves.

On the day the suspected criminals were killed, the International Monetary Fund's top regional executive was in Cairo for what he termed "constructive" talks. The government is pushing ahead with a $4.8 billion loan request that has been stalled for months as officials revised an economic plan the IMF sought amid the chronic unrest in the Arab world's most populous nation.

"We all agreed to support the national program that addresses the economic challenges facing Egypt," Masood Ahmed, the fund's Middle East and Central Asia department head, said in an interview Sunday. "The IMF is fully committed to working with the Egyptian authorities in the coming weeks to try to reach an agreement."

The economic challenges have mirrored the political tumult sweeping the country, as Mursi's leadership has been met with violence, demonstrations and growing polarization.

Critics contend he is more focused on advancing the Islamist agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood organization that fielded him for office than on promoting the nation's broader interests.

Mursi's plan to hold parliamentary elections beginning next month created new frictions, and on March 6 a lower court suspended the vote. A Supreme Administrative Court said yesterday the appeal filed by the government on the earlier ruling would be heard March 24.

Mursi has portrayed the vote as key to rebuilding state institutions and bolstering stability after the lower house of parliament was dissolved last year following a court order.

A top opposition group said it would boycott the vote, saying the country must be stabilized before elections are held.