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In Egypt, a darkening mood as instability persists

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 22 2013 8:03 a.m. MST

In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 file image released on the official Facebook page of the Egyptian Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces, Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, second row third right, prays with relatives of 2nd Field Army soldiers who were killed after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into one of two buses carrying off-duty soldiers, at the road between the border town of Rafah and the coastal city of el-Arish, during their funeral procession in Cairo, Egypt. In Egypt, misery just keeps piling and, fittingly, the nation is officially in mourning.

The Official Facebook Page of the Egyptian Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces, Associated Press

CAIRO — In Egypt, misery just keeps piling on and, fittingly, the nation is officially in mourning.

Political violence and unrest have plagued Egypt since the ouster in 2011 of longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak, but a flurry of deadly incidents this week appears to have touched a raw nerve in the nation's psyche, with many Egyptians abandoning hopes for democracy and freedom and instead embracing a grim view of the future.

"I think the time has come for everyone to acknowledge that the only thing this country can offer us is nightmares," prominent activist Mona Seif wrote despairingly on her Twitter account Thursday. "It is futile that, every now and then, we try to find an excuse to be happy or optimistic."

The interim, military-backed president, Adly Mansour, announced a three-day state of national mourning Wednesday to honor 39 Egyptians who died this week. They include 11 army soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in the turbulent Sinai Peninsula, 27 who perished when a freight train rammed into their cars at a rail crossing south of Cairo and a senior security officer in charge of monitoring Islamist groups who was slain by gunmen near his home in the capital.

A day after Mansour announced the mourning period, two police officers, one in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia and the other in the town of Qaha north of Cairo, were gunned down by suspected Islamic militants.

The incidents, in rapid succession, have touched off an uproar. TV commentators derided the government and the prime minister as useless and negligent and called for swift retribution against terrorists and whoever is behind them. Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed to bring to justice those behind the killing of the soldiers.

A silver-haired constitutional judge, Mansour tried to counter the nation's gloom in the statement announcing the state of mourning, saying, "The nation's guardians will defend it against the powers of darkness, terror and extremism."

Mubarak's ouster fueled dreams of democracy and reform in an autocratic system that was seen as corrupt, brutal and uncaring for its people. Instead, several thousand Egyptians have been killed in clashes with police, army troops and against each other, and the economy has been battered by constant instability. Elections were held, but after a year, a huge sector of the population turned against the winner, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and his supporters, with giant protests capped by a July 3 military coup that ousted him.

Though the ouster was depicted as a "re-set" on the path of democracy, the turmoil has continued, and lately, al-Qaida style suicide bombings and assassinations have added to the mix.

In a country previously unused to political bloodshed, graffiti associated with blood or martyrdom is now everywhere.

Thousands of graffiti by Morsi supporters declaring "CC: Murderer" — a play on the pronunciation of el-Sissi's name — have sprung up walls, highway signs and the sides of public buses since security forces killed hundreds of Morsi backers on Aug. 14 when they cleared sit-in protest camps in Cairo.

Graffiti on walls in Cairo near the famed Tahrir square often depict a black-clad "martyr's mother" with a haunted face or men carrying coffins.

"Our fate has not changed despite of our revolutions," Hamdi Keshta, a 29-year-old businessman, said in Cairo's famed Tahrir square, just hours before clashes Tuesday night between protesters and police left two people dead. "The authorities don't work for the good of the country. Instead they work from a security perspective to protect the regime, whether it is a religious or a military regime."

"I hope Egypt will have a reason, any reason, to be happy again soon. We need a large dose of happiness," he added.

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