Experts, activists and media have attributed the harassment to a wide range of possible factors. Some blame widespread unemployment or underemployment among youth. Others cite an attitude in the conservative nation that women should not be out in public and thus those who are are fair game. Activists have speculated that some attacks are planned, aiming to discredit the protesters or to dissuade women from joining them.
The patrols, which aim to deter potential assailants and evacuate women under assault, have prompted a backlash from harassers.
"We've had people beaten up, and in one instance a crowd — some of whom were carrying knives — tried to break into one of our locations," said ElShafei. "Threats are a regular occurrence."
In Tahrir on Friday, the neon-vested team said they had only had to make three interventions during the day's protest, which they attributed to their high visibility and a modest turnout in the square. With other groups present, including the one ElShafei works for, dozens of volunteers could be seen in the crowds. Violence that night was concentrated on the other side of the city, where thousands of protesters denouncing the president marched on his palace and clashed with security forces firing tear gas and water cannons.
It was the eighth day of the country's latest wave of political violence. Around 60 people have been killed in protests, rioting and clashes over the past week, the worst period of crisis since the fall of Mubarak. Observers say the protests are taking a dangerous turn as rival groups supporting and opposing Morsi's Islamist backers have taken matters into their own hands.
"I think people are getting more violent. It's been two years now and they are battle hardened," said Mohammed Osama, a 35-year-old computer engineer and black belt in judo who said he joined the bodyguard group after being slashed with a knife in street violence in his hometown of Alexandria. He said that after experiencing violence himself, he wanted to do something to prevent it from striking others.
"Individual efforts aren't enough — organization is needed. And it's the honorable thing to do," he said in measured tones, a scar visible under his eye.
As for the perpetrators of the attacks, he described them as a "social disease."
"Sometimes attacks are organized, other times it's people profiting from chaos on the streets, said Osama. "Ignorance and poverty is part of the problem, but for those who seek to victimize others, they now have another thing coming."
Additional reporting by Aya Batrawy
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