The October War and another weird MB moment

Abdallah Schleifer
Abdallah Schleifer
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There is something utterly bizarre about the Muslim Brotherhood calling for massive demonstrations today to denounce the Egyptian army. This is the 40th anniversary holiday that commemorates that heroic moment in 1973 when the Egyptian Army staged an amphibious assault against the theoretically invincible Israeli-held Bar Lev Line, crossing the Suez Canal while Egyptian artillery fire and jet fighters streaked across the skies.

Indeed over the past few weeks, pro-Mursi demonstrators have intensified the anti-army venom that surges forth from their rhetoric, denouncing the army and its commander, General al-Sisi (which is understandable yet intransigent and obtuse considering his incredible popularity). They are also calling upon members of the armed forces to rebel against Sisi or desert. Again, this is understandable, but the Brotherhood should in turn understand that this alone is grounds for an even more massive sweep of arrests under the most serious change of inciting treason, more serious than incitement to violence.

The last mutiny in the army was when the Free Officers arrested their senior officers loyal to the constitutional monarchy, unlike July 3rd when the entire army moved as one, and this mutiny by a faction of the younger officers was the pre-requisite step in a coup that overthrew the existing government, sent King Farouk into exile and banned all political parties except the Muslim Brotherhood which at that very moment was in secret alliance with the Free Officers.

And on October 6th, when this army which the Muslim Brotherhood despises and denounces, stormed across the Suez Canal it was to the massive shouts of “Allah Akbar;” amplified by loudspeakers on the Egyptian-held side of the canal.

Abdallah Schleifer

Given that Egypt at that moment had a freely elected parliament, multiple parties and a relatively free, entirely private-owned press, the Nasserist coup which almost immediately evolved into dictatorship and which the MB had no objections to at the time --their own problems with Nasser would come later -- was far less justifiable in the language of defending democracy which now gushes forth from the remaining MB spokesmen. Nor did the MB condemn the softer, quiet coup, but a coup nevertheless, that deposed Mubarak in response to the massive demonstrations against him, and the prospect of Gamal Mubarak (along with his civilian band of crony capitalists) inheriting the presidency, which displeased the armed forces command, nearly as much as everyone else.

The determination of all ranks in the Egyptian army from 1967 until 1973 to restore both the Sinai and the honor of the Egyptian army, manifest in the vigorous training in preparation for the war, as well as the courage of the Egyptian infantrymen and the air force in the actual attack was extraordinary. No one was more surprised at this determination than the Israelis.

Secret simultaneous tracks

What nobody knew at the time but Sadat, his closest aide --National Security adviser Hafez Ismail, Israeli prime Minister Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, was that the preparation for the war was one of two secret simultaneous tracks -- the other a secret peace offer conveyed by Henry Kissinger to Meir on behalf of Sadat -- the return of Sinai to Egypt in return for a peace treaty with Egypt. Dayan was interested -- the peace plan, unlike the eventual Camp David Accord allowed Israeli listening posts on the Egyptian side of a restored border with Israel.

But Gold Meir’s contempt for the Egyptian army and her indifference to the obvious implications of rejecting the peace plan, given her arrogance (which was all pervasive in most of the Israeli military and nearly all of the civilian leaderships) as well as her plan to keep sizable chunk of Sinai in any way-down-the-road eventual peace treaty, was why she dismissed the proposal, burying the Egyptian peace track.

This secret pre-war peace initiative involving Kissinger was uncovered two year ago by an Israeli scholar Yigal Kipnis going through the now unclassified documents in The Nixon. Library. His book “1973: The Road to War,” just published in Hebrew will soon to be available in English.

Going to war for the sake of peace

As for Sadat he would make no secret at the moment of the attack, that he was going to war for the sake of peace.

The October War, whatever the setbacks that followed after the first two stunning weeks of fighting shifted the focus of global as well as Arab attention back to Egypt, and away from Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian fedayeen movement which by then had lost the initiative against Israel only a five and a half years after its meteorite rise in the wake of the humiliating 1967 defeat.

I know this on a personal level – before October 1973 I was covering the Fedayeen from Amman and Beirut; by 1974 I was covering Sadat as NBC News bureau chief in Cairo.

Sadat was so pleased with the first day’s results that he allowed the foreign press corps to visit the front and report freely. This was the beginning of the rapid restoration of freedom for the foreign press, and in time, if to a somewhat lesser degree, for the Egyptian press.

But not all the credit belongs to Sadat. Shortly after the 1967 debacle Gamal Abdul Nasr ordered an investigation into the poor fighting spirits of the Egyptian Army-- the answer that came back was that for the ordinary soldiers and officers, fighting for the Arab Nation had little impact-- instead they would fight with fervour if fighting for God and for Egypt.

Nasser said: “Do it” and so, Muslim values -- not Islamist politics -- became a major portion of morale building. And on October 6th, when this army which the MB despises and denounces, stormed across the Suez Canal it was to the massive shouts of “Allah Akbar;” amplified by loudspeakers on the Egyptian-held side of the canal. A shout which Egyptian Christian soldiers then had no trouble joining in: For it was for the sake of Egypt and in the Name of God -- not Islamism -- that they fought.

Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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