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Cairo upheaval stirs mixed feelings in Canberra

Egyptians in Canberra have reacted emotionally to the overthrow of President Mohammed Mursi by the country's armed forces.

While some are celebrating, others are on the verge of despair.

''I'm devastated,'' Ahmed El Zein said. ''It dashes the hopes of millions. So much blood was spent to reach this point and the army has taken us backwards.''

Mr El Zein has lived in Australia for six years with his wife and two daughters, but his father's family are still in Egypt. On Thursday morning he lost a close friend to the violence in Egypt. ''He died at the hands of the police,'' Mr El Zein said. ''He was shot in the head while protesting in support of Mursi.''

Through tears, the Harrison resident described the last time he saw his friend in Egypt.

''We went to Tahrir Square when Mursi won the elections. It was an amazing moment. It's really sad to see that kind of euphoria at our first democratically elected president turn to this,'' he said.


But not all Egyptians agree with Mr El Zein. Sarah Gaid came to Australia four years ago and believes the fall of Dr Mursi is a new start for her homeland.

''We are feeling so happy, we are free,'' she said. ''We are very happy Mursi is no longer president. He said he would do a lot of things for Egyptians, but he did nothing.''

And Egypt's ambassador to Australia, Hassan El-Laithy, has called the Egyptian military political intervention ''a positive move'' in the country's path to democracy.

Mrs Gaid said living conditions in Egypt deteriorated quickly following

the election of Dr Mursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

''At least when [ousted dictator Hosni] Mubarak was there we could walk in the streets. Now my older sister can't go anywhere without wearing a hijab,'' she said.

''At the market, prices are very expensive.'' .

But Mr El Zein said Dr Mursi's record as president was irrelevant.

''It wasn't about Mursi's character, we elected him. The Muslim Brotherhood might have got a bit cocky, but after 60 years we elected our president democratically,'' he said.

Mr El Zein said he had been ''like a zombie'' since the overthrow.

''Just last night I was talking to a friend in Egypt and he asked me what's going to happen? I said I don't know. I have a pessimistic view. The people in Tahrir Square today, they are not the people who were there in January.''

But Egypt's ambassador was upbeat. He said it was not correct to call the actions of the military a coup. The military replaced Dr Mursi with a chief justice and was calling for an early presidential election.

''If you are facing a military coup, it starts from the military, but if you see 30 million going to the street and the military siding to support the people - this is the will of the people, so I think this should be emphasised,'' Mr El-Laithy said.

''As long as the majority of people have shown interest to see a change in a peaceful way, a democratic way, we can see that kind of change taking place peacefully, and again [Egypt is] on the path of democratic transformation.''

The ambassador believes the protests are a ''self-correction'' within the Egypt's democratic transformation, following the Arab Spring that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

''I think we are really seeing a very important change that can bring the interest of the nation and to start real reconciliation which includes all political diversity - and also youth [and] women; to respect all the needs of the people,'' he said.

''This could be a very good example for other democracies, I think. This is something that should be seen very constructively and very positively for other democracies, even well-established democracies.

''It is practice from time to time to see early elections within government, or a leader stepping down just because they felt the majority of the people do not support them enough, and I think this has been demonstrated,'' he said, acknowledging it would have been ''easier'' if Dr Mursi had called an early election himself.

Mr El-Laithy called for all Egyptians and the country's trading partners to use this period constructively to achieve financial and political stability for the country, which has had a substantial drop in tourism since the uprising in 2011.

''It is the time to work harder, we should mobilise ourselves and our partners and friends. We should work harder and see some tangible results for our work. I think it is the time to be motivated.

''When [Egyptians] see the nation moving not towards more successes in the country, you don't see stability growing in the country. I think this is the main motivation for going to the streets - not because they want to go to the streets.

''I think with this democratic change I'm optimistic things will be better.''


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