CAIRO — Children have water fights in the sun while ice cream and soft drink vendors do a roaring trade. The protest camps at the heart of Egypt's political crisis feel more like a village fair than a bastion of resistance to military-backed rule.
The thousands of supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, camped out for more than six weeks, know they could soon face a violent eviction, but most seem to be enjoying the sense of community rather than worrying about how the party might end.
“We play football, we play ping-pong, we just don't want to get bored. We want this to be a happy atmosphere,” said Talaat Mahmoud, 32, an interior designer who joined protesters around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the biggest of two camps to spring up in Cairo.
The camps are the last political card in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has seen its leaders jailed and their assets frozen since the army toppled Morsi on July 3 after mass protests against his rule.
Making the best of it
The protesters have sworn to stay until he is reinstated. Aside from defiant rhetoric and calls for holy war, most seem to be having a good time while the camps expand every day.
While elsewhere in the city Morsi supporters were fighting their opponents and being hit with police teargas on Tuesday, at the Rabaa camp, boys ran around with water dispensers strapped to their backs, spraying people and laughing.
Despite the Muslim Brotherhood members standing guard with sticks near sandbags or piles of rock, everyone in the camps knows that security forces will have overwhelming firepower if they do decide to force them out.
Until then, life goes on at the gatherings, where electricity cables reach most tents. Vendors sell pocket-sized Korans, hairbrushes and plastic toys and a field pharmacy offers antibiotics, eye drops and other medicines for free.
“We have the army on our doorstep, but there are no weapons here,” said Salah Mahmoud, 42, as he cheered on young boys playing ping-pong at Rabaa, the biggest camp.
Local media have reported that government forces had bolstered security around the camps to prevent weapons from getting in.
Fearing a bloodbath
Over 300 people have died in political violence since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi toppled Morsi.
Fearing a bloodbath, Western envoys and some senior members of the interim government have urged the military to avoid using force to disperse the camps, where ice cream vendors and food and clothes stalls line the streets.
The sites have become highly organized communities. Men read the Koran, discuss politics or crack jokes in tents, surrounded by posters of those killed by police and considered martyrs.
But there is no sense of siege at Rabaa or the other camp at al-Nahda Square, or worries that supplies will run out. Communal kitchens with brand new refrigerators are feeding the thousands.
“Maybe somebody comes and says 'I've brought 100 kg of meat,' so we cook meat,” said Mohamed Mosad Ghitani, an engineer volunteering in one of the kitchens.
“Another day, somebody says 'I've brought 200 chickens', so we cook chicken,” added he.
The Rabaa camp cannot expand further.
Some entrances are blocked by riot police and army vans or fortifications set up by protesters. So Morsi's supporters are adding floors to the makeshift wooden buildings that have sprung up among the tents.
Shop owner Mustafa, 24, is not a protester, but he is enjoying the carnival atmosphere at least as much as those who are.
“Business is better in the camp than outside. I sleep here. I'm here every day,” he said, unloading hundreds of cans of soft drinks from a truck.