The war of memory: State media’s twist on a Mubarak-less 6 October

The celebrations for the 6 October anniversary have, over the past three decades, always been overblown, with the emphasis on the airstrike that was led by the then commander of the air forces, Hosni Mubarak.

In the first celebration of the 1973 war since Mubarak’s ouster, many have wondered how the state-owned media would cover the event, used as it was to branding the conflict as a Mubarak achievement.

With the country in a new phase post-Mubarak and with friction beginning to emerge between the de facto rulers – the armed forces – and those who participated in the revolution, the anniversary was a moment when the state media could run wild with the importance of the military in Egyptian history and how it was just as relevant today.

In his speech commemorating the 38th anniversary of the 6 October War, Field Marshall Hussain Tantawi paid homage to former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, someone whose role has been diminished in public perception as the years passed, while he was president during the war.

State-owned Al-Ahram ran a piece on 6 October that quoted Professor of Media at Cairo University Mona al-Hadidy as saying that the 25 January revolution would not have been possible if not for the victory of 6 October 1973. In fact, al-Hadidy said, the revolution was necessary after the October war and was late by 38 years because the social and political developments required after the war didn’t occur.

The live coverage of the air-show and parades on state television was expected to be over-the-top, as it is every year. This time, however, it was done with a different twist. The commentator for Egyptian Channel 1 was bombastic in his praise for the armed forces and its role in safeguarding Egypt.

The coverage showed military celebrations in Cairo, from parades on the ground to air shows in the sky, a scene not witnessed by Egyptians for some time. Then then, Egyptians have long grown used to a reserved military, whose presence has been somewhat eclipsed by the Mubarak regime and his security apparatus.

State media also lauded its own position during the 1973 war, with the commentator stating that it played an important role in the victory and “displayed the whole truth” through the military communiqués that were being televised throughout the day.

State television coverage was composed of a step-by-step play of events of the day on 6 October 1973 when Egyptian forces made it to the eastern shore of the Suez Canal. Footage from 1967 and 1973 was generously used to illustrate a retrospective of events.

“This army is the safety valve for this region, not just Egypt,” the commentator droned.

“Egypt is in a tenuous position, which calls for us to remember the Egyptian soldier of 1973 who sacrificed his life in return for dignity, security and stability where the higher interests of the country was above us all,” the commentator scolded.

Much was also made of the numbers present in Tahrir Square – which were minuscule by recent protest standards – and how the people of Egypt were celebrating the victory of the armed forces with them. The armed forces had called on Egyptians to go out to Tahrir, where recent protests had been staged against military rule, and to other public places to celebrate the occasion.

In his speech, Tantawi evoked 1973 when, he said, the Egyptian people supported the armed forces wholeheartedly and steadfastly defended the internal front with complete faith in its military.

The field marshal said something the commentator later echoed: “Our anniversary comes at a sensitive time in Egypt’s history, where it is undergoing great change and facing many a crises, and requires all people to be aware of the potential consequences.”

The head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces described the 25 January revolution as being sparked by the youth, adopted by the people and protected by the armed forces.

“Motives are being questioned,” Tantawy continued, “and we have to face these obstacles so that Egypt becomes a strong country. Our great people can get through this period also by sticking to their national goals in creating a modern civil state built on democratic principles.”

“We believe that the people are capable of rebuilding an Egypt strong in its stability and security and not swayed in other directions,” he added.

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