Thousands of supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi held rallies Thursday on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, defying threats by Egypt’s military-backed government to break up protest sit-ins.
Thousands of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi held rallies on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on Thursday, in defiance of calls by the country’s military-backed government for protesters to clear the streets.
There were no immediate signs that the government was readying to carry out its threats, however, as demonstrators converged on the two main pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.
There was a festive atmosphere at the camps, where Morsi’s supporters have been holding sit-ins since the Islamist leader was ousted by the Egyptian army on July 3.
Under a cloud of balloons, men, women and children gathered to attend prayers on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and voice their support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Diplomatic efforts break down
EU and US diplomats have recently met with key figures on both sides of the political divide in a bid to find a peaceful solution to the violence and turmoil engulfing the country. More than 250 people - mostly Morsi supporters – have already been killed in demonstrations since he was ousted.
But on Wednesday the Egyptian government announced that all mediation efforts by foreign diplomats had failed and threatened to break-up the pro-Morsi sit-ins if protesters did not leave the streets immediately.
"The cabinet affirms that the decision to disperse the Rabaa Adawiya and Nahda sit-ins is a final decision, on which all agree, and there is no going back on it," Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi said on state television.
"We call on them now, anew, to quickly leave, and return to their homes and work, without being chased if their hands have not been soiled by blood.”
Sit-ins are Morsi supporters’ ‘last bargaining chip’
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Kathryn Stapley, said that the protesters seemed determined to stay at the sit-ins, despite the government’s threats.
“The sit-ins are really the last bargaining chip that the pro-Morsi camp have. If they leave those sit-ins then they’ll give up any leverage they might have with the interim authorities,” she said.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters are also planning protests across Egypt throughout the four-day Eid holiday, she said.
Protesters’ spirits were boosted by the surprise appearance of Morsi’s rarely-seen wife Naglaa Mahmoud at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque sit-in.
Mahmoud, who has kept out of the limelight since her husband’s detention, was flanked by senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi as she addressed the excited crowd.
“Of course it’s very difficult for me to speak. God willing he is returning, God willing, God willing,” she said.
“Praise God, the Egyptian people proved that they are Islamist... God willing, Islamist.”
Anger over foreign interference
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and EU envoy Bernardino Leon left Cairo Wednesday after the breakdown of their attempts to broker a solution, which had also involved diplomatic efforts by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The Western envoys had pressured the Brotherhood to end its sit-ins, according to Islamists who attended the talks. They also demanded that the government release jailed Islamist leaders as a confidence-building measure.
But their attempts at negotiation were rebuffed, and on Wednesday US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton released a joint statement expressing their concern that the “dangerous stalemate” between the government and opposition had not been broken.
"This remains a very fragile situation, which holds not only the risk of more bloodshed and polarisation in Egypt, but also impedes the economic recovery which is so essential for Egypt's successful transition," they said.
Kerry and Ashton underlined that both the United States and Europe would continue to support attempts to find a negotiated solution to the political crisis.
"We are convinced that a successful democratic transition can help Egypt lead the rest of the region toward a better future, as it has so often done during its rich and proud history," they said.
However, further Western involvement may not be welcomed, with government and military sources suggesting the talks had been frozen to assuage public anger over perceived foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs.
Anti-US sentiment in particular has been on the rise in Egypt in recent weeks, with both supporters of the army-installed government and the deposed Muslim Brotherhood blaming US interference for adding to Egypt’s troubles.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-08-08