We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about an Egyptian holiday that holds significance for that nation’s history and future.
Thursday was October 6th, Egypt’s commemorative holiday of its victory in the War of 1973 against Israel. This is a big event in Egypt every year, a national, traditionally grandiose celebration with excellent aerial shows by the air force.
Usually the festivities are held in a closed, invitational military venue for top-ranking officials, with the public viewing the air show from a nearby area, but this year the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces decided as a PR initiative to invite the public to view the aerial display from the symbolic Tahrir Square.
In Egypt the victory against Israel is a reminder and important source of national pride, accomplishment, proof of power, value, righteousness. It generated admiration of and trust in the Egyptian military and made heroes of those who participated in the conflict, such as the now-deposed President Hosni Mubarak and many members of his once loyal military elite.
The 1973 success effectively redeemed and erased previous failures like the 1968 loss to Israel’s initial territorial advance and better-forgotten military errors such as the Egypt-Yemen guerrilla war of 1962-69, seen by some as Egypt’s unspoken Vietnam.
This year’s festivities were obviously more poignant and significant as current events rappel the historical environment of the Arab Spring, another turning point in world and Middle East sociopolitical demographics.
Strangely, in the USA, there is little knowledge among the public about the 1973 war. It is known in Israel and the United States as the Yom Kippur War and has a rather different perspective and history. Of course. [See editor’s note on the 1973 war at the end of this article.]
For declassified-file and history buffs, it’s interesting to read the newly disclosed files concerning that war.
Before the 1967 conflict known to many as the Six-Day War, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt was under military rule and the army had a privileged and authoritarian role. It was at this time that military officers acquired huge assets in property and industry, much of which they or their families have retained.
Many of the current heavyweights in Egypt’s military regime were among those who fought victoriously in 1973. Saad El Shazly and Ibrahim El Rafae are still part of the Egyptian army, as are Ibrahim Pasha and Ahmed Orabi.
The turnout for the Oct. 6 celebration in Tahrir Square was small, only several hundred citizens. Perhaps there was reluctance to participate because of the perceived threat of violence, but in fact there were only a few hundred protesters, all peaceful, some with signs saying “End military trials for civilians” and “No more (Camp David) treaty” and “Israel broke the treaty.”
Later Thursday there were more demonstrators, at most a few thousand in the square late in the night, chanting slogans demanding that the military hand over power to a civilian government.
“The Oct. 6 victory showed us that we can defeat Israel,” said Sameh Zard, a member of the coordinating committee of the Kefaya (Enough) Opposition Movement.
“We want Egypt to be economically and politically independent,” he added. “That can only be achieved if we end the peace treaty with Israel.”
For “Return to the Barracks Friday,” the crowd was a modest 1,000 in Tahrir Square, marching in groups of no more than 50 from Tahrir through the capital’s streets and chanting for an end to military rule.
Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen of Tahrir Square’s Omar Makram Mosque delivered Friday’s sermon. He demanded that the treason law be applied to prevent former National Democratic Party members from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections and said that the state of emergency should end and the Emergency Law be abolished.
Shaheen added that the election law should be amended in accord with the demands of most of the political parties and groups. The sheikh, well known for his solidarity with the revolution, also advocated renationalizing previously privatized companies. He went on to criticize a Salafist satellite channel, alleging it received Saudi Arabian funding.
“This revolution is purely Egyptian and we do not want any foreign meddling in it,” Shaheen said. He called for “bread, freedom and social justice.”
Friday’s tireless few hundred hard-core demonstrators condemned the ruling military’s extension of the Emergency Law (which had been due to expire Sept. 30), demanded the end of military trials, the Camp David treaty and the military regime, and urged sectarian solidarity and Islamic solidarity.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, as well as the April 6 movement, declined invitations to take part in the Friday protest.
A former member of parliament and a professor of political science at Helwan University, Gamal Zahran, stated: “You can’t impose elections in a matter of days when the people still don’t understand how they are to progress; in politics this is called premeditated fraud—from the start. Why? Because you have deceived the people and left them in the shadows. You didn’t involve them; you’ve robbed them of their sovereignty.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter revealed that he had spoken with Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi about observing Egypt’s upcoming elections through the Carter Center and that Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, had told him that the Americans may observe but not monitor.
Carter said in an interview that his organization would indeed observe the elections in Egypt, as well as the voting in Tunisia.
There is a difference between observation and monitoring of elections, but the fact is that global observation ensures some acceptable standard of procedural correctness—and in this volatile time of change, local and international organizations are joined by the whole world in watching these fledgling democratic efforts.
While women were celebrating the three Arab and African women who have just won the Nobel Peace Prize, airport technicians here were on strike for the second day, stranding thousands at Cairo Airport. The complaints of the passengers weigh against the Egyptian people’s solidarity with those demanding fair compensation for their work.
Troubling times seem to lie ahead for Egypt, where more than 40 percent live near or below the World Bank poverty line of $2 per day. The people, although hopeful, are struggling and uncertain who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. They want answers and results and improvements in their condition. But they are easily distracted by drama, injustices and crises of humanity that grab their emotions and attention, to the benefit of the power players.
In the end, it will be the usual suspects who are examined and accused. Then there will be the question of who is the strongest and who shall win. And we will weigh the powers of persuasion and the force of the masses against the force of the powerful few. …
Democracy is a natural element to be harnessed or left to find its natural path as the great waves approach and the world axis shifts. Steve Jobs is dead and Arab fans of the American entrepreneur mourn their genius Syrian-blooded brother. That old toughie Big Brother USA apparently can’t read so well, and sits sullenly with new, smart bullies, swift and sly and ruthless, and the people take sides for the fight.
While celebrities and candidates vie to share headlines with the hippest photo-op-worthy political involvement, the people in the epicenter of this shift of biblical proportions, and all over the world, are distracted for only a moment from praying fervently for deliverance against the insecurity of their future, and the blood on their doorway.
Editor’s note: Although Egypt considers itself the victor in the War of 1973, there is widespread disagreement with that claim. Some sources argue that Israel won, and some argue that one side or the other won militarily but not in other ways. For a sampling of various views, click on the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Flickr / AhmadHammoud (CC-BY)
A protester wears the Egyptian flag painted on his face in Tahrir Square in February.