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In Year of Change, Egyptians Look for Reprieve on Eid Holiday

Children can look forward to presents of toys during the Eid festival in Cairo, Egypt, November 3, 2011.

Many Egyptians are seeing added significance in this year's Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice. For them, it's been a tumultuous year that brought one political era to an end, and ushered in an uncertain future as elections loom. Some are looking forward to another aspect of the Eid - the granting of reprieve.

In the narrow alleyways around Cairo's Sayyida Zeinab mosque, Eid al-Adha has many thinking about the sacrifices of their countrymen this year. Ahmed is a young butcher in this ancient quarter. He remembers "the many human beings who lost their lives" in Egypt's revolution.

He says they were sacrificed for the sake of the country.

Sheep marked for slaughter during the Festival of Sacrifice, in Cairo, Egypt, November 3, 2011.
Sheep marked for slaughter during the Festival of Sacrifice, in Cairo, Egypt, November 3, 2011.

Sacrifice is key to the Eid, honoring the prophet Abraham. According to the traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, he was ready to sacrifice his son to show obedience to God.

That kind of sacrifice, Ahmed says, continues, and not just with the martyrs: the country has no money and the youth are suffering. There are others who believe much of sacrifice, not just in Egypt but throughout the Arab world, has been made on the altar of foreign powers.

Fellow butcher Abu Bakr Mohamed says that, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, executed on the first day of the Eid al-Adha in 2006, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi was also "slaughtered."

Mohamed says Arabs should stand together because, every year, more Arabs are lost and "countries are taken from us."

Mounting frustrations

As Egyptians make their way through the post-revolution period, frustrations are mounting on many fronts.

Some, like Mohamed's, are aimed outward, while others blame their new leaders for going back on what seemed the promise of a better life.

Working his way through the market stalls around Sayyida Zeinab, Yahia leads a buffalo to slaughter - the animal destined to play a role in the sacrificial rites of the Eid.

For in the story of Abraham, God grants a last minute reprieve, and allows a ram to be slaughtered instead of the son.

Yahia says Egyptians have more sacrifices ahead, but their own reprieve is not far off.

"Trust me," he says, "what is needed is patience: the country will rise, Egyptians will have a new president, a good parliament and a good constitution."

Yahia says that change cannot come overnight. God himself, he argues, could have made the world in a day. But he took six days , "to teach us patience."

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