Property vs. Liberty in Egypt

“There are thugs going around looting and wrecking shops,” an Egyptian army officer told a crowd of protesters in a video clip in heavy rotation on Al Jazeera on Saturday. So the protesters should please obey the curfew and get off the streets and night, he said, so that the city could be protected from rampant violence.

The officer seemed sincere. But by some coincidence, what the authorities were asking people to do to thwart the looting was also what the authorities wanted people to do to thwart the protests. Obey the curfew, please. Let us get the situation under control.

But what was the situation, and how was it to be controlled? The Los Angeles Times was willing to buy the claims of theft and anarchy , as Choire Sicha pointed out at the Awl. There is always someone who will pick up the story about the looters. The truth is, in times of unrest or disaster, the defining crime is not looting but murder—extrajudicial killing in the name of law and order. Theft, or the suspicion of theft, becomes a capital offense, and this somehow affirms civilization. It happened after Katrina , and it happened in Haiti . The idea of looting produces the fact of lynching.