War and Peace (the short, Austral-Egyptian version)

The blog is quiet: I’m stuck inside working all week. Really, I could be anywhere, not in the raucous hype that is Cairo. The only difference is the phone is Skype and sending photo disks takes a week longer than if I was in Aus (Egypt Post fluctuates between unbelievably speedy and slower than a recalcitrant donkey).

Yesterday was a day the entire city caught up on its sleep thanks to a public holiday. It was 6 October, and the 36th anniversary the day Egypt took back the Sinai peninsula from the Israelis.

The TV was full of interviews with veterans, some even in tears as they recounted the horrors and glories (but mostly glories) of war.

Then the TV commentators gave a blow-by-blow description of Egypt’s glorious day in 1973: from 2pm – the time the Egyptians started to attack the Barlif Line, a massive sand wall the Israelis had constructed on their side of the Suez Canal – until 8pm, when the Egyptians had taken the 8km by 20m high wall through a range of cunning engineering tactics and strafe bombing.

Egypt is good at creating and then celebrating heroes (you only have to look at football to know that). And war is no different: the heroes of the war include the younger brother of the then president, Sadat, who was the first casualty, the man who raised the first Egyptian flag on Sinai soil, and the head of the communications department that coordinated the successful attacks by 222 planes and its foot soldiers on the Israelis. The old documentary reels shows Egyptian soldiers in bunkers with lots of black Bakelite telephones and a sophisticated tracking system, though the one thing missing is the inevitable cloud of cigarette smoke (this being the 60s, a stressful time and…Egypt).

If they hadn’t crossed the Suez Canal and won the war, Egypt wouldn’t control the Suez Canal (its largest single source of foreign income), the Sinai would be Israeli and that contentious Egypt-Israel border would be just 130km from Cairo.

When we have war remembrance days in Australia these days, it’s all talk about loss of lives and learning from our mistakes – ironically, our war anniversaries are a time for peace. But of course, apart from the mess of the Vietnam War, which our government is still confused about how it should feel about it, our last big war (and remember, we were on the winning side) was World War II in the 1940s – time has mostly healed this wound.

For Egypt, the anniversary of this great military victory is a time for patriotism and retasting the victory after years of humiliation at the hands of its neighbours. The taste of revenge is still sweet.

In comparison, we now quite like sushi and going to Japan (which bombed Australia in WWII), for the shopping and skiing…

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad, and occasionally I chat on radio, too, from Essentials Magazine to 3AW or the Irish Times.

4 thoughts on “War and Peace (the short, Austral-Egyptian version)

  1. Well, you may have my comment. It is a complicated case what is between us and Israel. A lot of what you have seen in TV in this day is just to convince the Egyptian people that they have good governments and leaders and I think you have already known the truth !!.Yes we can't go to Palestine, officially as Egyptians we can yes, but emotionally we can't pretend that Israel is like Japan! And forget Palestine and the Palestinians. Beside I think you really know the global policy roll behind the Medill east conflict. Anyway I think the war still going on that is why the comparison between what was happened in Japan and Aus and what was going on till now between Egypt and Israel is not a right comparison.
    Well this is what I can say in English and I know that such subjects need a lot of political expressions but if good enough in Arabic we may complete this discussion. 😉

  2. Aladin, obviously no war is the same, and the Middle East has always claimed it is a special case (not unlike the wars in Northern Ireland, which also likes to set itself apart from more mundane skirmishes). The Australian example is just to illustrate my experiences, and how far away we are from such a situation as the Egypt-Israel one- in years as well as physical distance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *