Egyptians see hope as Ramadan starts
Cairo • The frenzied chaos of Egypt's latest revolt has abruptly given way to the torpor of the Muslim month of Ramadan, a time of feasting as well as fasting during which Egyptians sleep late, work little and party through the night.
This year, the celebratory mood is being buoyed for many by the success of the uprising against President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, who was toppled last week after millions of people took to the streets to demand that he go. The country's powerful military stepped in to oblige.
In the narrow alleyways of medieval Cairo, shabby streets still bearing Morsi's faded electoral posters are festooned with glittering bunting and brightly colored lanterns in honor of the holy month. Fireworks, not firearms, pop in the air, and hopes abound that a new era for Egypt is about to begin.
"The economy will get better, the workers will work harder, the tourists will come back, and in one or two months Egypt will be beautiful again," said Ahmed Hassan Mohammed, 80, encapsulating the sky-high expectations of those who supported the overthrow of Egypt's second president in a little more than two years.
"We have been living in chaos, and the Brotherhood called it a revolution. And now we're hoping for a new and better start," said Mahmoud Ahmed 55, who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi and then joined the demonstrations against him.
Whether the optimism is justified is in question. Egyptians are dangerously polarized between those who want Morsi reinstated and those who are glad to see him gone. What many ordinary Egyptians hail as a new revolution, Morsi supporters denounce as a coup.
Morsi's detention and the killing by the army of 51 Brotherhood demonstrators on Monday have prompted concerns that Egypt is slipping back toward military rule. The authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of most of the Brotherhood leadership, and hundreds of rank-and-file members have been detained across the country in what some fear signals a return to the oppression of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign.
The Brotherhood has called for a million-man march on Friday at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo, which has been transformed into a permanent protest camp mirroring the one maintained by liberals and secularists at Tahrir Square in the city's center.
The Brotherhood has vowed to keep the protests peaceful, despite the bloodshed on Monday. "We will continue our peaceful resistance to the bloody military coup," it said in a statement.
Ramadan holds a different meaning for the few thousand Morsi supporters who have relocated to the mosque, seeking shade from the heat under canvas awnings and in tents and vowing not to move until their president is reinstated. "This is a month of prayer and victory, and we will be victorious," said Mohammed Sayed Shorbaki, 48, who traveled to Cairo to join the camp from the Nile Delta town of Mansoura on the day that Morsi was ousted.
"Even if we have to stay here a year, we will not move until Morsi comes back," he said.
There are dissenting voices too among those who say they have no sympathy for Islamists but nonetheless fear the direction in which Egypt is heading.
"This coup will take the country backwards. All they have done is return the military to power," said Mohammed Sultan, 50, a grocer in a market in the Old City who describes himself as a staunch secularist.
But Morsi's ouster has already brought tangible benefits, reinforcing the sense of accomplishment among those who took to the streets to force him out.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, whose governments fear challenges from their own Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, have pledged $12 billion in loans and gifts to the new Egyptian government, a bonanza that will help Egypt ease its economic crisis and perhaps lift pressure to adopt the austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund.
The power cuts, gas shortages and bread queues that plagued the final months of Morsi's rule have abated, prompting Brotherhood members to allege a conspiracy to undermine their rule.
Egyptians who joined the demonstrations cite the return of services as evidence of the Morsi government's ineptitude, and there seems to be little remorse over Monday's killings. With Islamist and Brotherhood newspapers and television stations shuttered by the military, most media outlets seem to have embraced the army's version of events, which has Brotherhood demonstrators shooting first.
"People are happy and optimistic just for the fact that we took them out of power. Nothing has been fixed entirely, but at least we got rid of them," said barber Mohammed Badawi, 64, as he lathered shaving foam onto the face of a businessman in his little shop.
"We supported those people because we thought they were Muslims and we wanted to live in Islam. But they used Islam to hijack the revolution," added his customer, Hassan Mahmoud, 63, who said he feels betrayed by the vote he cast for the Brotherhood.
"They used religious texts to control and direct the minds of lost people," he said.
Sitting in the doorway of his small printing shop in an alleyway nearby, Qadri Annan, 41 offered another dissenting view. "I am not with the Brotherhood, but logic tells me we have to respect the legitimacy of the ballot box because if we don't do it now, no one will ever again," he said.
But his nephew, stepping out of the shadows of the shop, dismissed his concerns with a cheerful wave. "The revolution changed everything," said Alaa Mawady, 29. "Egypt has changed, and soon we will be one of the world's greatest nations again."