The air of anticipation and tension gave way to a sense of relief and happiness as nearly 300 Indians landed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport here from Cairo by a special Air India flight on Monday.

“There were 270 members onboard,” an Air India crew member told The Hindu. “The flight schedules were disrupted. We could see no vehicle movement on the roads,” he said.

Many of those who came by AI 160 had gone to Cairo either for business or tourism. Some were working there for a few months or stayed in Cairo for a few years. The horror that they recounted to The Hindu gave an insight into the crisis that Egypt is facing.

Many of them did not wish to be named. They opened up only when assured of anonymity. “The condition was similar to what India faced during the 1992-93 riots,” a woman residing in Cairo for more than eight months with her family said.

“There were no police on the streets for the past two days. Groups of boys and men formed watch committees to guard buildings. It reminded me of the riot days in Mumbai,” she said.

Jairam Balakrishnan, a businessman working in the pharmaceutical industry, said: “People took turns to guard their area. There were vandals causing loot. So many flights were cancelled. It was a very bad situation.”

“There was a jailbreak in front of our house. The prisoners killed the security guards. There was arson, loot by anti-social elements, the protests before that were peaceful,” said a woman.

Aakriti Samaiyar, a 17-year-old who resided in Cairo for nearly seven years, said: “Hundreds of prisoners escaped after the jailbreak. They looted and broke into houses. They got guns and weapons after breaking into the ammunition shops. We could hear the gunshots.”

She came here along with her younger sister and mother.

“I think the protesters have a rightful demand. The people there were very categorical about their demands. The arson and loot was done by some anti-social elements, not the protesters. That news has been hyped up,” a woman who had stayed there for more than three years said. A middle-aged person, whose daughter works there, reflected similar views. “For all the months we stayed there, we found the society so peaceful. The law and order situation was impeccable. It is shocking to see that the country has descended into chaos within two days. The protests were mainly peaceful. The arson was mainly done by the anti-social elements,” he said.

An executive who went there on an assignment added: “I have stayed there for months. I have so many friends there. I think, though the law and order situation was great there, the government ignored key issues like unemployment, social divide, lack of education.”

“Peaceful protests began on Tuesday. They died down on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the government cut down the phone and the Internet lines anticipating their use for mass mobilisation. The situation got very bad on Saturday,” Duhita Samaiyar, a housewife and freelance social activist, who stayed in Cairo for seven years, said.

Those who had gone as tourists said the protesting mobs did not harm them. “In fact, safe passage was given to tourists. But the condition there is not good,” said R.R. Satpathy, an employee of Tata Steel who had gone there for a business conference.

All the Indians who were flown back expressed their gratitude towards the Indian embassy.