A presidential upgrade
President Mohamed Morsi spoke on the anniversary of the 6 October War against a backdrop of political bewilderment and economic anticipation, reports Dina Ezzat
Technically speaking, it was the "eve of the first 100 days" of Mohamed Morsi's presidency. In fact, however, last Saturday was the 39th anniversary of the 6 October War, supposedly celebrated for the first time ever under civilian rule.
At a late afternoon hour, Morsi entered a packed Cairo Stadium in an open vehicle, saluting a crowd marked by the unmistakable presence and cheers of Muslim Brotherhood members and with the equally conspicuous absence of leading military figures from the 6 October War.
"We are the free revolutionaries who shall stay the course" chanted Morsi as he entered Cairo Stadium to the greetings of his supporters, exactly as he did on a late Friday afternoon on 29 June when he visited Tahrir Square hours before his official inauguration as president to salute a largely Muslim Brotherhood crowd that was not much different from that present in Cairo Stadium this week.
The opening words were an indicator of what followed, and the speech was about Morsi's presidency, specifically the first 100 days, rather than about the anniversary of the 6 October War.
Throughout the speech, references to the war and its soldiers and leaders amounted almost to a sideline when compared to discussion of the 100 days and the achievements Morsi enumerated. Security was getting better and so was state management, Morsi said. Public services were improving and so was the combat against corruption.
Subsidies would be revisited to make sure that only the truly eligible benefited from state spending. Meanwhile, an aggressive campaign would undermine a network of gasoline smugglers, Morsi said.
According to Morsi's rating of his own performance, he is a B+ to A president. This is a significantly better score to that awarded by many commentators, except for those affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Indeed, this is a significantly different score from that of many citizens, including some of those who voted for Morsi.
"Instead of driving around the Cairo Stadium, he should have taken his car to Baghdad Street, right next to his presidential palace, to see the mountains of garbage and the rats running around it. Does he think that his performance is fooling anyone? What has he really done in 100 days," asked Horiyah Abdel-Fadil, a retired civil servant and resident of Heliopolis.
"He should have driven around the neighbourhoods, especially those of large Coptic communities, to see the neglect and the fear. Or does he not hear of the fear of the Copts who are coming under one attack after the other," asked Fekriyah Shenouda, a resident of Ain Shams, an economically challenged neighbourhood in east Cairo.
For Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat, a politician and nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat, head of state and of the military during the 6 October War, "this was the 6 October anniversary, but neither the president's speech nor his guests were really related to the occasion at hand."
Esmat Al-Sadat was keen not to underestimate Morsi's decision, taken earlier in the month, to accord the Nile Collar to the name of Sadat, something that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, Sadat's vice president, had declined to do.
However, Al-Sadat added, this did not compensate for the prominent presence of Islamists at the ceremony whose names were closely associated with the assassination of Sadat on 6 October 1981. "It is understandable that citizens who have done their term in prison should be allowed to lead a normal life, but it is also insensitive to have them seated in the first row of guests at a celebration directly related to Sadat," he said.
Political activist and assistant professor at Cairo University Sonia Farid agreed. "Regardless of what we think of Sadat, and regardless of our disagreements with him, it remains extremely insensitive, I think, to invite those who were involved in his assassination to a celebration of the 6 October War".
A Nasserite, Farid found it even more unbecoming of Morsi to make no reference to Sadat in his long speech. "Again, you either like Sadat or you don't like him, but you cannot do this to him on the anniversary of the 6 October War," she said.
It was not just Sadat who was overlooked during the celebration of what is a national day. All other key figures related to the military victory were equally overlooked.
Presidency officials say that the absence of key generals who fought during the October War, including Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, former head of the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who was dismissed by Morsi along with other top generals last August, was meant to give the celebration a more "popular" feel.
"For over 30 years, the celebration of 6 October was reduced to a limited official routine. We wanted to change that," said a presidential official.
During his rule, ousted former president Mubarak refrained from any public festivities similar to the large military parades that Sadat was keen on and during one of which he was assassinated.
Instead, Mubarak recorded a statement saluting the memory of the war and its heroes. The statement was typically televised along with a recording of his visits to the tombs of Sadat and former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
"The humble references that Morsi made to the military and its role were not enough of a recognition of the heroic sacrifices made by thousands and thousands of soldiers and not just key officers. Muslims and Christians alike fought together in a very brave war with very limited means in the face of a very aggressive enemy," said lawyer and human rights activist Ahmed Hishmat.
According to Hishmat, "there is simply no excuse for this deliberate injustice."
For Farid, Morsi was not doing an injustice to just a few individuals. He was doing an injustice to an army and a nation that had managed to defy a heavy military defeat. Worse, she argued, he was doing an injustice to history.
According to Farid, Morsi's speech and performance on the anniversary of the 6 October War "amounts to a deliberate attempt to 're-project' history -- it is now as if everything that Egypt has gone through or achieved is somehow related to the 6 October War."
"The Muslim Brotherhood had already contradicted reality when some of its leaders suggested that they had participated in the 25 January Revolution from the first day, though this was not true, and now we are getting into a new phase whereby the whole of modern history is being hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood's narrative," she said.
Esmat Al-Sadat said that this re-written narrative was intentional. "It is a designed replacement of legitimacies: Morsi is basically saying to those concerned inside and outside Egypt that the October War legitimacy by which Sadat and inevitably Mubarak had ruled is coming to an end and that a new legitimacy is now being made which is that of the elected Islamist president."
It was Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the prominent commentator, who offered up the legitimacy theory when he said that Sadat did not rule by the legitimacy of the 23 July 1952 Revolution, which was essentially that of Nasser, but by the legitimacy of the 6 October War.
Farid is concerned that today we are seeing the "ballot box claimed legitimacy of the elected dictator, which makes Morsi like presidents Hugo Chavez [of Venezuela] and [Valdimir] Putin of Russia."
"It could well be this way for the next 10 years," she said.
Elected or non-elected, a dictator is only in power by virtue of the acceptance of his own political clique. "Like Mubarak, who was only acceptable to the then ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Morsi now seems to be only accepted by his Muslim Brotherhood and FJP," Hishmat said.
According to journalists who covered the celebration of the 6 October War and who had covered NDP-related gatherings before, this week's event carried exactly the same style and marks of the one-party approach.
"It was not the presidency, but the Muslim Brotherhood, that was effectively organising the entry and seating," said one.
For American University professor Samer Attallah, this was the most disturbing part of what happened on Saturday, since "the ruling party absorbs the bureaucratic bodies of the state and eventually they become one and the same."
"I have no issue with Morsi using the occasion of the 6 October victory to try and rally his political party ahead of the parliamentary elections [expected in four months], and I can overlook the dismay over the performance of that day and the waste of a good unifying national memory into a limited gathering. What I am really angry about is the confusion of what is political and what is bureaucratic," Attallah said.
For Attallah, this was not a function of alarmist cries at the Muslim Brotherhood taking over everything. It was much worse, he said, "because it is really about the continuation of despotism, of which we already carry a heavy legacy from the decades of military rule."
"Before we had despotism tailored to the Socialist Union or the NDP and now it is being tailored to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is all one and the same, almost anyway," he said.