Middle East

Egypt's Morsi supporters celebrate 'Eid in the square'

An Egyptian child walks at a sit-in by members of the Muslim brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on the first day of Eid al-Fitr celebrations (8 August 2013)
Image caption Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi have been holding a sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque for five weeks

We're celebrating "the feast here in the square," chant the protesters, outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo, dancing to the beat of a drum.

Their joy is not just due to the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan when observant Muslims fast daily.

They are satisfied that they have managed to hold this area, near army buildings, for five weeks now - despite threats from Egypt's new interim government and deadly clashes with security forces.

They say they will stay until the reinstatement of the democratically-elected Islamist President, Mohammed Morsi. He was ousted on 3 July by the military after mass street demonstrations.

'Standing for justice'

"People are here from all the states of Egypt: from Luxor and Aswan to Rafah and Alexandria. We're sticking here until the president comes back," says 15-year-old Mohammed.

"We have the spirituality of Ramadan in us and now we are no longer fasting we will have even more strength," says university lecturer, Wafaa al-Heffny.

"It is rooted down in us, everyone here feels that we're standing for justice."

Image caption Muslim Brotherhood supporters are full of the joys of Eid

However, for members of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), who have organised two Cairo sit-ins, this time of spiritual reflection is a painful one.

For much of its 85-year-history, the group has been illegal in Egypt. It remained popular because of its charity projects and ideological outreach.

The Brotherhood's fortunes only changed with the 2011 uprising.

Now all its political gains, its parliamentary seats won freely in elections and the presidency, have been lost. Many top figures are back in jail or state custody, including Mr Morsi.

'Historical moment'

When I meet the deputy leader of the group's political wing, Essam el-Erian, in the mosque compound at the main protest camp, I ask if he fears the clock is turning back.

"We have another perception. This is an historical moment not just for the Muslim Brotherhood or for Egyptian people but for all Arabs," says Dr el-Erian.

"We must decide for ourselves whether we surrender to the past regimes of dictatorship and corruption."

"We voted for a president, a constitution and a parliament. If we ignore all this voting people will not be convinced to cast their ballots again."

Of course the secular point of view is very different.

Image caption Many families have come to take part in the sit-in at the mosque in eastern Cairo

Activist Amr Shalaby from the nearby district of Heliopolis smiles as he shows me photographs of his efforts to collect signatures for the Tamarod ("Rebel") campaign ahead of the huge rallies that took place on 30 June calling for Mr Morsi to go.

"What happened on 30 June came out of anger at the behaviour of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood over the year.

"They treated Egypt like their booty after all the years of harassment and they set out to 'Ikhwanise' the country," he says.

"Politics in Egypt was mummified for 30 years under [former President] Mubarak and the Brotherhood were the only ones with organisation. Now, if they are in the next election, I think they will only get 20% of the vote."

'Final decision'

But with national politics deeply polarised, many Egyptians have called for at least a temporary exclusion of the Brotherhood from politics. Some take the extreme view that the group should again be outlawed.

On the eve of Eid, Egypt's new prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, said the government's decision to dismantle the pro-Morsi protest sites was final and its patience had almost expired.

The Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch, Heba Morayef, sees this as a critical time.

"I think how the Muslim Brotherhood is treated in the next weeks is key to whether Egypt can have a genuine political process moving forward," she says. "You can't exclude the majority political party that was in power from Egypt's political future."

"There should be investigations and prosecutions of Muslim Brotherhood members who've committed crimes but there should be no collective punishment of the group."

Outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, streets and pavements are covered with mats as men and boys kneel for the Eid prayers. Many families have come here to mark the holiday.

Most have calculated the police will not be sent in to clear the area at this important, religious time. However there is an expectation that once Eid is over, there will be fresh bloodshed.

More than 250 people have already been killed in political unrest in the past month.

The fear is that any further violence will lead to extremism and drag Egypt into a dangerous, downward spiral.

Image caption Egypt's new government has said its patience with the sit-ins has almost expired

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