Egyptian families put lives on hold at vigil for ousted leader

CAIRO: Murad Mohamed Mahmoud, an Egyptian civil servant, was saving up to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead, he is using the money to allow his family to join a three week old vigil in Cairo for supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi.

Mahmoud, his 39 relatives and hundreds of other families from across the country have put their lives on hold to join the sit-in at the Rabaa Adawiya mosque. They say they will stay until Mursi is reinstalled.

“If my son wants to invite anyone, they are welcome,” says the 51-year-old, sitting cross-legged in the street between rows of tents used as shelter from the sun and as a place to sleep.

“This is hospitality, it’s Ramadan!”

Young boys play with toy swords. One youth sprays water on people from a bottle to cool them down. A teenage girl checks her emails on a pink laptop. Sometimes Rabaa feels like a giant summer camp. At others it seethes with anger.

The sight of thousands of people protesting on a normally busy Cairo crossroads, often swelling to tens of thousands in the evening when people return from work, has become a powerful symbol for Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

It is also an embarrassment for Egypt’s military, which ousted the Islamist president after millions of people took to the streets in another part of Cairo to demand his resignation.

Not everyone outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque is there all the time. Many are bussed in from the provinces, where Brotherhood support is strong, for short stays. Some come for a few hours when they can. Many return after work every evening.

But there is also a core of several thousand who have defied searing heat during the day, and daylight hours with no food and drink during the fasting month of Ramadan, to make their point.

Mahmoud, his two wives and children take turns sleeping in the car parked nearby and a makeshift tent made of a wooden frame covered in throws brought from their Cairo home.