Nasr October, or the ‘October Victory’, has come to occupy a central role in Egypt’s modern historiography. The term refers to the War of 1973, when Egypt launched a surprise-attack against Israel on October 6 and successfully crossed the Bar Lev Line. While this feat did not secure Egypt’s victory (Israel was able to reinforce its military with the help of the United States and attack Egypt deep within its borders), the attack did accomplish Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s most important objective, namely, demonstrating that Egypt was a force with which to be reckoned.
Thirty-seven years later, however, Egypt’s past and present seem still to hinge on this one victory. October 6 has come to occupy a crucial space in the collective memory of the Egyptian people, who consider this day to have redeemed the country after its shameful defeat by Israeli forces in 1967. So powerful is the government propaganda surrounding it, that most Egyptians incorrectly presume their country actually won the 1973 War and, for nearly 40 years, have contented themselves with this single victory to sustain national pride and loyalty. In these and other ways, the memory of October 6 has been used to invalidate the era preceding it and impose upon Egyptians an idealized conceptualization of post-1973 Egypt.
While the October 6 victory may have demonstrated Egypt’s renewed military strength to Israel and the United States, the peace agreement eventually brokered between Egypt and Israel had little to do with the events of that day. Rather, the 1979 Camp David Accords were a result of the precise reigning-in of Egypt, under the U.S. government’s influence. The United States had correctly perceived Egypt’s willingness to be tamed, beginning the process with a reinstatement of aid that would eventually transform the country into one of the greatest recipients of US material support (second only to Israel). Furthermore, Israel’s increasing concerns over Lebanon made peace with the Egyptians a matter of national priority for that country, in order to limit Egypt’s influence in regional affairs in general and in Lebanon in particular.
Listening to President Hosny Mubarak’s proclamations on this year’s anniversary of October 6th, including grand statements about the great strides and accomplishments Egypt has made thanks to this glorious event, one cannot help but wonder if the President is talking about the right country. The average Egyptian citizen need only contemplate his surroundings to lay bare the emptiness of Mubarak’s words. The President spoke of a presumably imagined economic progress supposedly propelled by Egypt’s policies of economics openness put forth after 1973, making grandiose claims about the strong private sector that emerged thereafter, and speaking of an impressive boom in industrial and agricultural production that has never occurred. In short, the President’s speech on the glories of October 6 were little more than statements on an Egypt that seems only to exist within the boundaries of a contrived historical revisionism.
What has been achieved since October 6? What can Egypt boast but a country with over 41 million below the poverty-line? How has the political structure within Egypt changed since then? Has the re-instatement of political parties really created an atmosphere of political pluralism? Have the policies of economic openness and privatization allowed for a competitive market in Egypt, accessible to the average citizen? Has Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel catalyzed a solution to the conflict as a whole? Has Egypt’s increased military spending since 1979 been used to protect Egyptian citizens? For the last 37 years, Nasr October has been paraded as a moment of dignity for all Egyptian citizens. It has also quickly become their only source of dignity in a country where only the past can legitimize the present.
*Nancy Elshami is a staff writer at Muftah.