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Opposing protesters gather amid Egypt's Eid celebrations

Islamist supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi began marching to demand his restoration on Thursday after the military-led authorities that removed him held off from carrying out a threat to clear protest sit-ins by force.

Egypt has been dangerously polarized since ouster of Mohammed Morsi in July

Opponents of ousted president Mohammed Morsi have also called for mass demonstrations across Egypt on Thursday to support what they say is a popular revolution that led to his overthrow. (Amr Nabil/Associated Press)

Bitterly divided Egyptians prayed in public and children played as they celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday on Thursday.  

But the barbed wire and armoured vehicles in the streets of downtown Cairo and the barricades around Islamist protest camps attested to the dangerous political edge to the festivities.  

Rival supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and the new army-installed government converged on separate sites in the capital of the Arab world's most populous nation.  

Families flocked to dawn prayers at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, focal point of Islamist opposition to the government, then strolled and picnicked around the area.  

"This is the best Eid of my life," said Ali Mohamed, 40, a farmer from a village near the Nile Valley town of Minya, south of the capital. "It's victory or death now. We had five elections and that traitor Sisi has reversed all that."    

He was referring to army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the overthrow of the Islamist Morsi on July 3 after huge demonstrations against his rule.  

Egypt has been dangerously polarized since then with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and its loyalists demanding his reinstatement, and the government and its supporters saying they are finished.  

Tension has prevailed at the Brotherhood protest camps after the security forces threatened to dismantle them. Protesters have erected sandbag-and-brick barricades and armed themselves with sticks to confront any attack.  

But Eid — the four-day holiday which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan — offered a measure of relief.

Morsi posters, tear gas masks for sale

Thousands packed into the Rabaa camp, spilling onto a street where security forces shot dead more than 80 Morsi supporters in clashes on July 27.  

Boys lit firecrackers and worshippers handed out sweets and offered greetings to each other, an Eid tradition. Street stalls sold tea, snacks and plastic toys.  

Others hawked posters of Morsi and green headbands with the Islamic inscription "No God but God." One table sold tear gas masks and swimming goggles.  

Groups chanted "Interior ministry thugs! Egypt, our country," and beat drums.  

"We want to live as free Muslims," said a 45-year-old English teacher, who gave her name only as Emmy. She wore a full face veil and gloves, a style favoured by the ultraconservative Salafi Muslims.  

"We don't want to be insulted in police stations. We don't want to be harassed for wearing these veils or for growing beards." She said she wanted to work as an interpreter but companies would not hire her because of her dress.  

Ghada Idriss, 35, had travelled from rural Minya province with her husband, two young sons, and two-month-old daughter.  

"I came here because I want to make a small difference," she said. "By sitting here peacefully, they will understand and know that we refuse the return of the system of Hosni Mubarak."

'Every revolution has troubles'

Supporters of the government began gathering in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising that brought down long-ruling strongman Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and set in motion Egypt's prolonged and troubled revolution.  

Some leftist and youth groups called for public prayers in the square to support what they regard as the second revolution — the overthrow of Morsi with mass public demonstrations.  

Soldiers lounged atop armoured personnel carriers in the streets off the square, including outside the Egyptian Museum, home to a trove of antiquities from the age of the pharaohs.  

Awad Abdel Gawad, a 60-year-old woodworker, said: "I am here to say happy Eid to the people of the revolution, of Tahrir Square. I want the revolution's demands met and the country to flourish. Every revolution has troubles at the start but God will help us."  

Morsi supporters at the Rabaa and Nahda protest camps should avoid violence and give up peacefully, he said.  

"The Rabaa people think Morsi's coming back but he isn't. He is gone," Abdel Gawad said.  

"I want to tell those in Rabaa: 'We are all Egyptians, all Muslims, and what harms you harms us, and we want a president who fixes the country and we are all with him.’"  

Although Morsi was democratically elected in June 2012, his rule divided the country. Many Egyptians feared he was trying to impose an Islamist regime on the country of 84 million people, while he failed to get to grips with a deteriorating economy.  

The army justified his overthrow by saying it acted at the behest of millions who took to the streets to demand that he go.