Nameless young men, shirts untucked to hide whatever they might have had in their waistbands, did their best to make sure no one approached the building, unless they were bereaved family members there to identify and collect a body, and even many of those had a very hard time of it.

The young men — none would give a name, and even asking risked attracting an attack — were described by the mourners as hired government thugs, a tool used during the Hosni Mubarak era that is making a reappearance as self-appointed security committees filling in amid a shortage of police officers. The men themselves said they were neighborhood watchmen, protecting their community from troublemakers and Egypt from the prying eyes of the news media, especially the international variety…

Now the nameless men prowl those lanes, even threatening to attack journalists interviewing the bereaved. One came along with a 10-year-old accomplice at his side, who darted around the crowds of mourners making sure they were not talking to outsiders. The young man spoke in reasonable tones, telling an Egyptian journalist working with foreigners, “We are not thugs, but you should not be here; we don’t need you to help them air our dirty laundry.”

The 10-year-old chimed in: “Good thing you left yesterday. We beat that photographer up right after you did.”