CAIRO, Qahirah, Aug 08, 2013 (AFP)
CAIRO, Qahirah, Aug 08, 2013 (AFP)
Backers of Egypt’s deposed president are bracing for a police assault on their barricaded Cairo camps, but it was Sponge Bob and Barney the Dinosaur for the kids at a street party on Thursday’s first day of the Eid feast.
After midday Muslim prayers in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, parents wilt under a blazing sun. Their only relief comes from youths moving among the mass of people, spraying them with water from tanks on their backs.
Enthusiastic children dressed in holiday finery are causing a ruckus as they gather in front of a huge stage from which Muslim Brotherhood activists make fiery speeches demanding the return of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
But today, the stage has been commandeered by three children dressed up as cartoon characters Sponge Bob and Barney and animated idol Shorn the sheep.
As the children clap in glee at the events on stage, dozens of marshalls in orange dayglo vests put their clubs and iron bars under their arms so they too can clap along.
The tent camps in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares were set up after the army deposed Morsi on July 3, and the protesters have sworn to stay put until their man is back in power.
On Wednesday, the interim government vowed to break up the camps after the failure of international efforts to broker a compromise.
It is thought such a move could come as early as Sunday, once the three-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is over.
There are also fears this could lead to widespread carnage, adding to the toll of 250 people, mostly from the Brotherhood, who have been killed in the past month.
Behind the picture of a summer fete, with its multi-coloured balloons and improvised carnival with carousels and trampolines, the signs of a siege still exist.
Two lines of barricades separate Rabaa from army tanks positioned a few hundred metres (yards) away.
The first line, made of bricks ripped from nearby pavements, would not stop a jeep. The second is a line of sandbags.
Behind that, the marshalls carefully check anyone entering the area, today daubing perfume on visitors’ hands to mark the feast ending the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Beside each entrance are huge piles of rocks, some round, some jagged, promising a rude welcome to anyone who tries to storm the square.
But the red carpet is rolled out for visiting foreign journalists. That contrasts with the loathing the Muslim Brotherhood has for the Egyptian media, which has almost unanimously taken the army’s side in the political stand-off and branded the protesters as “terrorists”.
The local press has also accused the Brotherhood of using children as human shields against an eventual assault.
Inside the camp, there is no way of verifying government claims that the protesters have stocked automatic weapons in their tents.
On the avenue leading to the heart of the camp can be seen tough-looking men who carefully follow every outsider, assuming he is a spy.
An alarm is raised, and someone is snatched from the crowd and marched off. Whether he was a suspected spy will never be known. When questions are asked, the answer comes that he was thief, and that was the end of it.
Rights group Amnesty International has claimed that Morsi supporters have tortured opponents captured in Cairo.
Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of people inside the camp wait for what they consider to be the inevitable assault.
Beneath the ubiquitous portraits of Morsi and photos of martyrs, a couple of teenage girls are walking, their faces merrily painted under their headscarves.
“We came to celebrate Eid with our parents, who are here day and night,” said Manar.
And the police? “If they come, we won’t budge. We’re not afraid,” she laughs, her veil topped by a green headband on which is written the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet.”