Today marks the 39th anniversary of the 6th of October (Yom Kippur) War. For Egyptians, this was a heroic struggle that restored their dignity after the humiliating defeat of the Six-Day War in 1967. The fact that October ’73 is still important – despite it being 39 years ago – not only reflects the events of the war but also the absolute lack of political or military achievement afterwards in the eyes of many Egyptians. Egyptians need hope, and October ’73 is the event that is often used (and abused) to provide that much-needed feel- good factor.
Sadat, the leader of the October war, still stirs debate and controversy. This stems mainly from the fact that many in Egypt fail to appreciate why the war ended and why the subsequent peace deal was almost inevitable. The long dictatorship of Mubarak has left Egyptians with a bitter attitude toward the peace deal that Sadat signed with Israel. Mubarak’s tyrannical tendencies and autocratic rule not only ruined the country militarily and politically – it also ruined the Egyptians’ ability to judge their history in a calm, rational way.
Today in Egypt, there is little appetite for rationalism. Egyptians are tired and yearning for dignity and hope. As always, the Muslim Brotherhood has perceptive sensory receptors that capture the feeling of the nation. They sensed the moment and acted accordingly: a marathon organized by the Brotherhood‘s Freedom and Justice Party, and buses started bringing members from various provinces to Cairo stadium, where the president delivered a lengthy speech to a very sympathetic audience. In this speech, he avoided mentioning Sadat while one of the Zoomer brothers – involved in Sadat’s murder – attended the celebration. The preacher side of Morsi prevailed; he described how he wants Egyptians to end up in God’s heaven and avoid hell. This celebration –many in social media outlets argued passionately, that is supposed to be about the martyrs– turned out to be about President Morsi and his achievements.
It was also interesting how most of the army generals were seated in the second row, a clear sign of how Morsi has subdued the army. Now the Junta is under the leadership of a civilian preacher – the first unification of its kind in modern Egypt. It will be interesting to see how Morsi deals with the army in the future, the state of the Egyptian army at the moment is a reflection of Mubarak’s decades of neglect. It is fair to say that military aid to Egypt did not materialize in the form of practical steps to modernize our military; instead, the Americans pumped the money in, and the previous leadership poured it down the drain.
In his speech, Morsi made derogatory hints about the Jewish Sabbath, reminding his audience that “today is Saturday like it was a Saturday 39 years ago.” Surly, Morsi’s popular gesture, and his indirect disdain for the Camp-david treaty will earn him a lot of brownie points. Historically, the Brotherhood platform was hostile to the treaty, yet they failed to produce “a desirable” political path to follow. They chose to forget that following the war in 1973, Egypt, both militarily and economically, was unable to sustain another war of attrition. If the pass of peace was not adopted, we could end up like Syria in a “no peace, no war” stalemate scenario, while Israel enjoys most of Sinai without any security problems. Though Sadat reopened the Suez Canal in 1975, the sustainability of that decision would not last if tension and hostility continued. Any tension between the two sides (i.e., Egypt and Israel) would directly or indirectly affect the canal.
I am uncertain as to whether Morsi wants to give people hope or encourage them to daydream. Today’s celebrations may differ from those of previous years in terms of style, but it is not that different in substance; an opportunity to glamorize the leader of the land. Other political parties, and ex-Presidential candiadates were absent from the celebration, another sign of how the Islamists are dominating the political scene.
For how long will politicians continue to capitalize at the expense of the blood of martyrs? Egypt is in desperate need of a dose of realism; this realism is not a crime, nor is it a tool for demoralization. If the underestimation of bravery and martyrdom that happened during the war is bad, then overestimation and daydreaming is a fatal crime that Egypt can’t afford now. Yes, we need hope, but we also need wisdom and firm footing. Let’s reflect on the past and plan for the future in a balanced rational way without cheesy politics or preaching because our country and our future are clearly at stake. Egypt cannot afford another form of autocracy. The martyrs of January 2011 have demanded freedom, equality and social justice. Their blood is what paved the way for Morsi to lead the country and he will lose his legitimacy if he fails to achieve these targets, even if he celebrates thousands of October ’73.