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Egypt festive mood dampened by political standoff

‘No one is in mood for celebration while the Brotherhood continues to disrupt the traffic and prevent the country from moving forward’

Gulf News

Cairo: For Egypt’s majority Muslims, Eid Al Fitr, a feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is an occasion for street cheer and festivities.

This year’s Eid, which started in Egypt on Thursday, is an exception. The festival comes as the nation is sucked deeper into a stalemate over the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi last month.

“Sedition is mounting, raising question marks about this country’s future and destiny,” said Faraj Abdul Gahfur, a government employee, as he left a Cairo mosque after performing a special prayer marking the Eid.

“The preacher of the mosque has just assailed the army in his Eid sermon and urged the soldiers to disobey their comrades. What would be left for Egypt if its army is split or destroyed?” added Abdul Ghafur.

The army deposed Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, on July 3 after days of large street protests against his one-year-old rule.

His Muslim Brotherhood group has condemned the move as a military coup and vowed to persist protesting until he is reinstated. The Islamist group’s followers have been camping in large numbers in two sit-ins in Cairo, defying a threat by the military-backed government to clear them out.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in clashes between Mursi’s backers with opponents and security forces since Mursi’s toppling.

“Do you call this an Eid?” said Mahrous Rajab, a taxi driver. “No one is in mood for celebration while the Brotherhood continues to disrupt the traffic and prevent the country from moving forward. The government seems incompetent as security has not returned or the economy picked up.”

Egypt has been hit by a security breakdown and economic downturn since a popular uprising forced long-serving president Hosni Mubarak out of power in 2011.

Hazem Al Bebalwi, a liberal economist who became prime minister last month, has said that economic revival hinges on security.

“Who should regain security? The people? We’ve given Al Sissi the mandate he asked for? Why doesn’t he act to end the Brotherhood’s violence?” said Rajab, a father of four.

Defence Minister Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who engineered Mursi’s overthrow, called on Egyptians last month to take to the streets to back a possible tough crackdown on Mursi’s supporters.

Although the government said this week its decision to remove pro-Mursi sit-ins is final, it is unclear how it will do this without a bloodbath.

Thousands of the Brotherhood’s followers Thursday packed the district of Raba’a Al Arabiya, the epicentre of a weeks-long pro-Mursi vigil, demanding the Islamist leader’s reinstatement.

In a fresh sign of defiance, many Islamists marched outside the site after Eid prayer, chanting anti-military slogans, according to local media.

The area is populated mainly by army officers’ families who have sharply criticised the government for not ending the vigil.

Al Sissi, caretaker President Adly Mansour and his deputy Mohammad Al Baradei were, meanwhile, shown on state television praying in an army mosque in Cairo. A presidential statement on Wednesday said that Western and Gulf mediation efforts to defuse the crisis have failed, blaming the debacle on the Brotherhood.