Those missing and the uninvited
Ahmed Eleiba reports on this year's celebrations on the 39th anniversary of the October war
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Morsi with Sadat's widow Gihan and his son Gamal during the commemoration ceremony on the anniversary of 6 October War
Many people found certain aspects of the commemoration of the 39th anniversary of Egypt's victory in the 1973 War confusing and even disturbing. The occasion coincided with the end of the first 100 days of Mohamed Morsi's presidency and the president took advantage of this to dwell at length on his accomplishments in office so far, causing many to wonder what the real purpose of the celebrations in Cairo Stadium was. To compound the confusion, there was a conspicuous lack of military figures who played a crucial role in the famous Suez Canal crossing and the other theatres of war at the time, while there was a conspicuous presence of such figures as Tarek Al-Zomor, who played a role in the assassination of Anwar Al-Sadat, the country's commander-in-chief at the time of the October War.
Not surprisingly, Al-Zomor's presence in the stadium sparked considerable controversy. In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, he described the opposition to his participation as a reflection of a type of thinking that needed logic, the law, reconciliation and which expressed the spirit of the January Revolution. He had served 10 years more than the sentence that had been handed down to him in 1984 for his part in the assassination of Sadat, so "why are there people out there who want me to pay even more than the law requires?" At the same time he believes that representatives of the Al-Zomor family had a right to attend the celebrations that day, because some of his family members played a part in the victory. "General Ahmed Aboud Al-Zomor served as the commander of the 21st Infantry Division which confronted Sharon's forces," he said, adding that credit for the October victory should go not to Sadat but to the Egyptian people. "All Sadat did was respond to the popular pressure to go to war. The real commander of that war was Lieutenant General Al-Shazli who Sadat expelled from Egypt and who Mubarak had imprisoned when he returned to the country, in spite of the fact that it was Shazli who gave Mubarak the directive to deliver the aerial strike that Mubarak subsequently used to abbreviate the victory to his person and as a pretext for keeping the Egyptian people under his thumb for more than 30 years."
Al-Zomor continues, "this is why no tribute was paid to Mubarak, who deviated from the course that victory and that aerial strike had opened, as had Sadat who betrayed the war and the victory by imprisoning such elderly statesmen and politicians as Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Fouad Sarageddin and Fathi Radwan, and by breaking with the united Arab front for which reason he was expelled from the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organisation. To me, this would have been sufficient cause not to pay tribute to Sadat. Another was that we might have had to bring Mubarak out of prison and pay tribute to him as well."
Al-Zomor explained that he had been invited to attend the 6 October ceremonies in his capacity as a representative of the Construction and Development Party. He blamed the "media of the remnants" of the former regime for blowing the matter of his participation out of all proportion, which strengthened his suspicions that certain elements sought "to drive us back to the modes of the dictatorship era which marginalise political parties."
Esmat Al-Sadat, nephew of the former president, had no strong objections to Al-Zomor's attendance. The man had served his prison sentence, even though it was still hard to reconcile his presence in the celebrations of the victory and the commemoration of the death of the president. Sadat's daughters took exception to Al-Zomor's presence that day and believe that he should not have been invited, although they expressed their gratitude to President Morsi for paying respects to their father.
That no tribute was paid to former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser either was another source of criticism. Nasser was instrumental in paving the way to the October War by means of the War of Attrition that he set in motion following Egypt's defeat in 1967. Was Nasser's omission this year simply due to the historic animosity between the Muslim Brothers and the ex-president? FJP spokesman Ahmed Sabie says no: "Nasser wasn't around at the time of the October war so as to merit tribute for the victory." He went on to say that neither the FJP nor the president's office had anything to do with sending out invitations. "It was an open invitation to all. Even acting FJP Chairman Essam Al-Erian had not received an invitation and when he asked whether he could attend anyway he was told that the invitation was open to all."
If that was the case, the "open invitation" was certainly taken up by the Muslim Brothers whose presence in the ceremonies was overwhelming. They were also some of the most enthusiastic participants, carrying posters and banners that supported the president and wearing Morsi T-shirts. Their numbers were boosted by the aid of buses that drove Muslim Brotherhood members to the stadium.
Far away from the stadium, in Maadi and various other locations in the country, the Armed Forces commemorated the October victory with annual military displays that were attended by military leaders who had participated in the war. These events did not get nearly as much media coverage as the spectacle in the stadium. General Kadri Said, military advisor to Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Weekly, "there are legitimate fears that Egypt's history is being rewritten. Is it a coincidence that General Al-Shazli and President Al-Sadat have come together again today?"
He continues, "the tribute to Sadat came very late, even though it should have been a tradition in the Armed Forces. Strangely, it was Mubarak, whom Sadat raised to the vice presidency, who deliberately ignored the major role that Sadat played and who continued to refuse to pay tribute to him, in spite of the frequent requests by Jihan Al-Sadat. Today, it's Mubarak's turn to be ignored."
On this point, the FJP official Sabie observed, "Why didn't the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] pay tribute to Mubarak last year? At the time, the former president was only a defendant. He hadn't been tried yet, let alone condemned. Nor was tribute paid to Sadat last year. President Morsi did well to give credit to the people who deserve it today."
Did Abdel-Nasser deserve a share of this credit? According to General Said and other military experts, Abdel-Nasser lacked strategic vision, both in the wars of 1956 and 1967, and in the early years of the War of Attrition. It was Sadat who set out the vision for the rest of the campaign. "But what we should bear in mind today is that Sadat is being honoured solely for his decision to go to war, even though the decision to make peace was more difficult and in spite of the fact that his military cunning, which resulted in the October victory, was followed by an equally astute political cunning which he demonstrated in the subsequent negotiations that brought back the Sinai. However, it appears that some people today do not want history to be written from this angle, so as not to encourage the appearance of [Sadat's] peace project in the picture."
Noticeable for their absence in any of the ceremonies that day were Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and General Sami Anan. According to some sources, the president's office did not send them invitations because they have become persona non grata after their ouster. Other sources add that Tantawi could not have attended anyway, because he is under house arrest. Regardless of how valid these assessments are, the snub stirred some disapproval and resentment in some quarters because, as one source put it, "SCAF played a major part in protecting the revolution and they [Tantawi and Anan] offered a splendid model of dedication and self-sacrifice."
General Talaat Muslim was more sweeping in his criticism of the October 6 celebrations. "There are millions of stories related to the victory that were not told today. In fact, what happened was that the victory was hijacked. I could not even feel its presence as a participant in the events which turned out to be a political celebration for the president and his policies."
To General Muslim, this explains why neither he nor other war heroes had received special invitations and why the stadium was packed with Muslim Brothers. However, he adds that even in the other commemorative activities that took place in Maadi and elsewhere one was hard put to sense a commemoration of the victory or a tribute to those who made it. "Why should Sadat be honoured twice?" he asked. "I think that this was their clever way of covering up for ignoring Nasser's role in the War of Attrition. In addition, the tribute paid to Al-Shazli raises the question as to why a similar tribute was not paid to Field Marshal Ahmed Ismail, who was just as important."