I am almost 34 years old. Out of those 34 years, I have lived 32 in Egypt. Throughout these 32 years I never told anyone or was told by anyone “kol sana wenta tayeb” on 6 October, which is what we usually say to each other on special occasions, whether they’re religious, like Ramadan, civic, like sham el nseem or simply human like New Year’s. And this is not because I am an evil bastard who shows no loyalty and patriotism to this country and one of its heroic national victories, or because all those that I know and have come across over more than 30 years are coincidentally people of my ilk. It is simply because, despite what you read, hear and see in the media, Egyptians do not celebrate 6 October as a national holiday.
6 October has never been the day that represented any social significance to Egyptians. It is not a day where they necessarily get together, it is not a day where they go some place special or do something special even if it was just cooking a meal specifically for the occasion like we unfortunately do in all occasions we celebrate here. You want to know the real meaning of 6 October to Egyptians? It’s a day off. It is usually an incredibly nice day off where the streets are empty, where you can sleep in till noon or even be lucky enough to take a long weekend if it turns out to be a Thursday or a Sunday.
However, how we celebrate 6 October has nothing to do with how we feel towards the event itself. I, personally, am one of those who take a lot of pride in 6 October. It is one of those days where Egyptians have worked together to return what has been unlawfully and unwarrantedly taken from them. I am even not embarrassed to say that sometimes I’m very emotionally moved (to the extent of watery eyes) with eloquent and dramatic resurrections of that day’s memories. But, simply, that does not make 6 October a nationally celebrated occasion. Acknowledging the real significance of the day to Egyptians does not by any means undermine or try and compromise the victory achieved on that day. I am not against the armed forces or against recognizing their victories, which happen to be national victories as well, but I am against creating a false sense of patriotism and a staged national celebration.
The current political authorities in Egypt are trying to use the event to create a sense of patriotism out of it. More sophisticated people would tell you that the army is trying to establish its legitimacy through popular perceptions, which would definitely explain the clearly organized media campaign centred around 6 October this year. Others, especially those who watch a lot of TV, would tell you that it is all a grand plan that the army is carrying out to face the destructive and terroristic attacks of the Muslim Brothers. While a Muslim Brotherhood member would tell you that “we just want Morsi back,” they usually don’t say anything else.
From very early on, the day has been heavily politicised by the army, more specifically by the political ruling wing of the army. The different political meanings ascribed to 6 October throughout the four different military-political administrations have never crossed paths with the cultural concept of national celebration in Egypt.
But what we should realize is that patriotism itself has evolved and emerged into a more inclusive concept: citizenship. Citizenship is not created by media rhetoric or by hanging millions of flags in the streets all over Egypt. It is a contract that, until today, we lack, even when the constitution committee finishes its work, we would still lack that contract in the proper sense of the word. And more important than that contract is a set of practices and processes that every individual senses their effect on their own private life, starting from presidential election and all the way down to your most simple right to use all that is public. Anyways, this is not an essay about citizenship, but it is clearly not what the army is doing. The army’s patriotism means that the people are “compelled” to be happy for what happened on 6 October. The whole element of coercion is no longer a part of the relationship between the citizen and the state. This is what the army and those politically advising it should really realize.