By Shadia Nasralla
CAIRO (Reuters) - Murad Mohamed Mahmoud, an Egyptian civil servant, was saving up to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead, he is using the money to allow his family to join a three week old vigil in Cairo for supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi.
Mahmoud, his 39 relatives and hundreds of other families from across the country have put their lives on hold to join the sit-in at the Rabaa Adawiya mosque. They say they will stay until Mursi is reinstalled.
"If my son wants to invite anyone, they are welcome," says the 51-year-old, sitting cross-legged in the street between rows of tents used as shelter from the sun and as a place to sleep.
"This is hospitality, it's Ramadan!"
Young boys play with toy swords. One youth sprays water on people from a bottle to cool them down. A teenage girl checks her emails on a pink laptop. Sometimes Rabaa feels like a giant summer camp. At others it seethes with anger.
The sight of thousands of people protesting on a normally busy Cairo crossroads, often swelling to tens of thousands in the evening when people return from work, has become a powerful symbol for Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.
It is also an embarrassment for Egypt's military, which ousted the Islamist president after millions of people took to the streets in another part of Cairo to demand his resignation.
Not everyone outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque is there all the time. Many are bussed in from the provinces, where Brotherhood support is strong, for short stays. Some come for a few hours when they can. Many return after work every evening.
But there is also a core of several thousand who have defied searing heat during the day, and daylight hours with no food and drink during the fasting month of Ramadan, to make their point.
Mahmoud, his two wives and children take turns sleeping in the car parked nearby and a makeshift tent made of a wooden frame covered in throws brought from their Cairo home.
"THE BEST LIFE!"
Every day, two women from his extended family return to their homes and prepare a meal to bring it back for "iftar", the evening meal with which they break their fast.
His teenage son Abdel Rahman is, like many other children at Rabaa, off school for the summer.
"It's the best life!" he chimes in. "We'll stay two, three years until Mursi comes back!"
Others, like Amr El-Deeb, come from further afield. He has been sleeping in a tent with his pregnant wife since June 28, and has taken unpaid leave from his IT job, using savings to pay for the rent back home in Menoufiya in the Nile Delta.
His wife has returned home a couple of times, but he says he would gladly celebrate his 29th birthday at the vigil on July 27, if it meant Mursi returns.
Families have water dispensers in their tents. Makeshift kitchens prepare rice and meat for iftar. The Brotherhood denies accusations from people who oppose the sit-in that it pays people to be there and funds their provisions.
"Never. A big lie," said senior Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian in a text message. He is one of several senior figures who have stayed at the vigil-cum-headquarters and who faces arrest.
The presence of several mosques, including Rabaa Adawiya, in the vicinity has provided at least the basic sanitation needs of toilets and running water.
Huda, sitting as her teenage son Mohamed Abdel Tawab rested his head in her lap, has been at the Rabaa vigil for more than two weeks, says she doesn't mind the sanitary challenges, and uses facilities at local shops and mosques.
"I walk around and ask people: 'Where's a toilet? Where's water?' It's a nice life."
While the mood is generally calm at Rabaa, it can boil into anger. Mursi's supporters are furious at what they see as a military coup to topple Egypt's first freely elected president.
The army says it was fulfilling the people's will after millions hit the streets on June 30 to demand Mursi step down.
Clashes between pro- and anti-Mursi demonstrators swept the country on July 5, and 35 people died. Three days later, 53 Mursi supporters were killed when troops opened fire at the Republican Guard compound just a few hundred meters away.
Four soldiers also died in a confrontation the military says was provoked by an attack on its troops and that the Brotherhood calls a "massacre."
People entering the Rabaa vigil are searched at makeshift checkpoints blocking the roads. Men get searched by men, women by women.
"Is it allowed anywhere else in the world for an elected president with 51 percent of the vote to just disappear, and the voters don't know where he is?" asked engineer Hani Abdel Ghani.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Anna Willard)