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Monday, 19 November 2018

Two notes from my diary

Mohamed Salmawy reflects on Mohamed bin Salman’s vision for the Arab world and what made possible the Arab victory in 1973

Mohamed Salmawy , Saturday 3 Nov 2018
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I recorded some thoughts about recent events in my diary, among which were the two following observations:

- The crown prince and the Piercing Star.

A nightmarish black cloud still hovers over Saudi Arabia because of the fallout from the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It will probably be some time before that cloud either passes or unleashes a torrential deluge that will alter everything.

While Khashoggi, himself, is not above suspicion due to his Muslim Brotherhood affiliations and his CIA relations, the crime is unmatched in its atrociousness except by the crimes that Israel perpetuates systematically against the Palestinian people.

But these abuses go unnoticed in the Western press which is always so vigilant in its defence of human rights!

Still, what particularly impressed me this week was how Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has managed to rise above the turmoil and impose his presence and strength of character during the “Davos in the Desert” conference in Riyadh.

For a while, at least, he helped dispel the pall as he unveiled his vision for a bright future for the Arab region.

His explanation was anchored in facts and figures, as opposed to the perceptions and suspicions that manufactured the cloud.

As he spoke, the crown prince projected his self-assurance and his confidence in the information he was imparting, and the force of his arguments swayed the audience towards conviction in his forecast.

He sees opportunities that will make this region surpass Europe as a centre of the next renaissance because of the progress that is being made, right now, in many Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, “and even Qatar in spite of our differences with it”.

Also, among these countries, was Egypt with regard to which he said that he, himself, had seen the mega projects that will change the face of life there.

The Saudi crown prince presented a vision that we had long been lacking in the Arab region. With the exception of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s vision for a thriving and prosperous Egypt, the Arab discourse we hear only speaks of the daily destruction we see in the countries around us.

But Crown Prince bin Salman proved not only able to rise above the Khashoggi incident, but also to rise above the prevalent rhetoric of destruction and gloom as he heralded a future in reach for the Arab region.

It was like the distant Piercing Star which emits a light bright enough to penetrate the murky gloom.

- It is not Nasser versus Sadat

Our celebrations of the 45th anniversary of the victory of the October 1973 War was an opportunity for me to give pause to contemplate the ability of the Egyptian people to persevere through so many different transitions from one ruling regime to the next.

The October War is the best example of this type of continuity. Frequently, we only see that war in the context of the Sadat era since it occurred under his rule.

However, that war did not happen out of the blue. Preparations for that war began many years earlier under Nasser.

Despite the differences between the political leaderships from the period of preparation to the period of execution of the October War, the Egyptian people remained active and effective in propelling the political leaderships in both the Nasserist and Sadat eras to take the necessary actions.

In the aftermath of the defeat in June 1967, the people in Egypt and, indeed, the entire Arab world poured into central squares and streets in millions.

For two days, on 9 and 10 June, they called on Nasser to retract his resignation and remain president. In his speech afterwards, he said that he had received the message the people had conveyed to him during that two-day long demonstration and that the message was to turn defeat into victory.

Accordingly, Nasser immediately set to work on rebuilding the army at three levels. The first was to change the nature of the Egyptian soldier.

Previously, the army had been made up primarily of conscripts from the agrarian and urban working classes. After June 1967, it would also be made up of university graduates. I recall how easily I had obtained an exemption from the draft simply because I wore glasses.

That would not work for my younger brother who became eligible for the draft after the war, even though his eyesight was weaker than mine.

Secondly, it was necessary to compensate for all the military hardware that was lost during the war and that Nasser acknowledged had accounted for 80 per cent of our military strength. Towards this end, he concluded major arms deals with the Soviet Union.

Later, Sadat would repeatedly stress that he had not received a single weapon from Moscow since coming to power. The third level was training. This would be provided in the War of Attrition, which began almost immediately after the June defeat with the battle of Ras Al-Eish followed by the sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat.

Israel sustained heavy military losses during the three-year long War of Attrition. Had it not been for the work to change the quality of the Egyptian combatant, to rearm and to provide training, it would not have been possible to wage the October War and achieve victory.

As was the case when the people pushed Nasser to prepare for this war and the troops would press him with the question, “when are we going to cross the canal?” whenever he visited the front, it was the people who compelled Sadat to take the decision to launch the war.

In the early 1970s, there were increasing and widespread demonstrations demanding an end to the state of no war, no peace that prevailed after Nasser’s death.

This popular adamance and unrest ultimately made Sadat take the crucial decision that would lead to victory for the Arabs.

In light of the above, it seems very superficial to divide our history on the basis of different periods of rule and, accordingly, associate the defeat with Nasser and the victory with Sadat.

A river of continuity flows between the two eras as powerful and constant as the eternal Nile. That river is this ancient people who link the successive historical eras together and who drive great events into a single cohesive flow.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Two notes from my diary 

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