Life & StyleSociety

The culture of self

In the last 9 months, it has become common for young Egyptians to carry pepper spray, stun guns and baby guns as concerns about personal safety have risen since the beginning of the revolution. As the demand for these products has grown, buying them has become as easy as shopping for groceries.

Pepper spray canisters are among most popular self defense devices, as they are small in size and easy to carry in pockets and purses. The containers vary in sizes, ranging from 6 cm to 15 cm in length.

The active substance in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum (OC) or chile pepper. Once in contact with the eyes, nose and throat, this chemical causes extreme inflammation, tearing of the eyes and difficulty breathing. Although temporary blindness can occur upon exposure, long lasting effects are uncommon, unless the spray is expired or corrupted.

As it is largely perceived to be a product for women, pepper spray canisters come in creative packaging; sometimes made to look like pens or lipstick or designed to be carried as keychains or worn as rings. Prices range from LE300 to LE500 for a single cannister. Pepper spray is an ideal self defense weapon because it is effective when used as far as 5 meters from the target, meaning that a potential victim can ward off their attacker from a distance.

Tasers, or stun guns, on the other hand, can feel less protective, as the victim has to be close enough to touch a potential attacker. Although self defense weapons are illegal, there is a Facebook page entitled “Self Defense Products in Egypt” that features stun guns and self defense sprays of many varieties and sizes, with prices starting at LE200 and averaging between LE600 and LE900. The page offers discounts, including a deal a customer buying two self defense devices will receive a third for free. According to the page, most of products are imported from the US.

Self Defense Products in Egypt also sells small cameras, audio devices and a photo blocker or a spray that acts against radar if you spray it on your plate number.

"Most people get their self defense gadgets from friends or acquaintances who have contacts in the US," says Amina, a young, working woman. Most pepper spray and stun gun holders had never used these weapons before or received proper training for operating them.

“Last March I bought my stun gun from a gun store in Zamalek for around LE900,” says Lamia Abaza. She felt compelled to buy a self defense weapon because of the increased sense of insecurity in Cairo after the revolution began. The young woman feels safer with the weapon in her bag. “I’ve never been topped at a mall or movie theater, although I always pass my bag through a metal detector,” she says.

“The security in my building once detected the taser in my bag. I was then nicely asked to leave it in the security room then collected on my way out of the building after work hours,” recalls Lana Eissa, another young woman. Although illegal, tasers and pepper spray canisters are usually ignored or taken lightly by security agents stationed in buildings around Cairo.     

Since the revolution, homemade pepper spray has been in high demand. These sprays are usually made up of chili pepper and lemon and are often packaged in containers resembling perfume bottles. These concoctions are sold all over Cairo but are easiest to find downtown, where even some pharmacies sell them. "My wife thought it was perfume and almost sprayed it on her neck," says Assad, a husband and a father of four.  

Tasers have become a tool for harassment, as young men have been known to flash stun guns at women walking in the streets while speeding by in their cars.

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