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…