The date 6 October this year marks 40 years on the day the Egyptian army, under the leadership of President Anwar al-Sadat , crossed the Suez Canal eastwards into Sinai which was then occupied by Israeli forces since Egypt’s defeat in the June 1967 Six Day War. The Israelis had the Sinai Peninsula fully under their control; they built fortifications and ramifications to secure their staying there for good; their Bar Lev line was a legend of invincibility.
Dishonour wiped off
On the West bank of the Canal, Egypt’s army conducted a War of Attrition that at best exhausted and frustrated the troops but achieved no real gain. The Israelis remained there on the East bank, taunting Egyptians for their incapacity and showing no signs of ever budging.
Come 6 October, which coincided with the Jewish Yom Kippur, the Egyptian army stunned the world—not least Egypt itself—by crossing over the Canal at noon, using water canons to break down the Bar Lev line, and raising the Egyptian flag on the land of Sinai. An air strike, whose hero was Hosni Mubarak, then a military pilot and later Egypt’s president from 1981 to 2011, had already neutralised Israeli air power and secured a safe Canal crossing for Egyptian troops.
It was a moment no Egyptian who lived then can ever forget; it marked the return of Egyptian pride, dignity, and self-esteem. It was a moment when Egypt raised her head high, her six-year mortification and dishonour wiped off.
The rest is now history. Following a battle of tanks in Sinai, a truce was reached between the two warring parties on 22 October; an arduous process of peace negotiation finally led to the signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, which guaranteed no more war between Egypt and Israel and which returned Sinai in full to Egypt.
The Egyptian collective sense of miraculous renewal and healing back in 1973 when Egypt triumphed over a seemingly invincible oppressor has again overwhelmed Egyptians after 30 June 2013. Forty years ago, the oppressor was the Israeli occupier of part of the homeland; in 2013 it was the Islamists who had taken hold of Egypt, apparently never to let go. They threw to the wind all interests of the Egyptian people in favour of reviving their dream of a pan-world Islamist project that relegated Egypt to the role of just one minor part of an Islamist world. The majority of Egyptians are Muslim, and they had voted in the Islamist regime just one year earlier, giving political Islam the chance of a lifetime. But it took no more than a year with the Islamists in power for Egyptians to see through the hypocrisy of the Islamist project; that Islam and Egypt were being exploited for ends that served neither.
Egyptians agonised over their Egypt; their timeless civilisation, moderation, culture, pluralism and inner greatness were slipping through their hands. And their oppressor had banished all democracy and secured full, unalloyed power over the people. Egyptians realised they needed nothing short of a ‘miracle’ to overcome their wilful adversary.
It took the alliance of the Egyptian army with the Egyptian masses to work that miracle. On 30 June, more than 30 million Egyptians took to the streets demanding an end to the Islamist regime and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Mursi. On 3 July this was fulfilled, and Egypt was finally free of Islamist oppression. The Egyptian soul was healed.
On to democracy
Just as the Canal crossing in October 1973 was just the first step that opened the road to full triumph, so has 30 June been the first step to the creation of a modern Egypt. And just as the road to peace was arduous back in 1973, the road to democracy is even more gruelling today, fraught with hazards as the remnants of Islamists vow vengeance.
Yet, in face of all the hazards, a new constitution is being written that should safeguard a democratic Egypt. Parliamentary and presidential elections will follow, and Egyptians can look forward with pride to a brighter future for an Egypt that embraces equally and justly all her children.
2 October 2013