Cairo: Criticised by the opposition for allegedly failing to keep his election promises, Islamist President Mohammad Mursi on Saturday night showed up at Cairo Stadium to celebrate the 39th anniversary of a military victory long claimed by his toppled predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
As thousands of his supporters who packed the country’s largest stadium tumultuously greeted him, Mursi toured the place in a convertible car. “The October war ushered the nation and the people into new, vast prospects,” said Mursi in a televised address, referring to Egypt’s 1973 war against Israel. The celebration was the first since Mursi was inaugurated in June as Egypt’s first elected civilian president.
Without mentioning Mubarak’s name, Mursi said the popular revolt that deposed the long-time strongman more than a year ago, came to “say no to the one who attempted to exploit the October spirit to the benefit of very few”.
Mursi, who hails from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, called the anti-Mubarak revolt Egypt’s “second crossing”, invoking the Egyptian army’s crossing of the Suez Canal into Sinai at the beginning of its 1973 surprise attack on Israel. “The third crossing came on June 30 when the Armed Forces handed over power to an elected administration,” he added.
The military took over after Mubarak’s ouster and ruled the country through a turbulent 17-month transitional period. Nearly two months after his inauguration as a president, Mursi replaced the top military generals, including the head of the Supreme Council for Armed Forces Hussain Tantawi.
None of the sacked generals appeared at Saturday’s ceremony. Still, Mursi repeatedly lauded the army for being “united with the people” during the uprising against Mubarak.
Days before the Cairo Stadium gala, Mursi posthumously bestowed a prestigious medal on Anwar Sadat, who was Egypt’s president at the time of the 1973 war. Sadat was assassinated by Muslim militants at a military parade in Cairo in 1981.
“President Mursi seems keen to benefit from this military accomplishment to boost his stature,” said Hassan Nafae, a political science professor. “His gesture towards Sadat was good. The Muslim Brotherhood recognises the favours done to them by Sadat. But he [Mursi] should have also remembered [the late president Jamal Abdul] Nasser for having rebuilt the army after the 1967 defeat,” added Nafae.
The Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed in 1954 following an assassination bid on Nasser’s life blamed on the group.
Mursi used his Saturday address to defend his performance in the first 100 days in office, saying that around 75 per cent of his promises on improving security, garbage collection, the chaotic traffic, availability of fuel and bread have been fulfilled. “This nation, the people, the army and the president are moving towards one objective: a new Egypt,” he said.
Mubarak, who used to be described in the official media as the “commander of the first airstrike” in the 1973 war, was totally ignored on this year’s occasion.
The former president is currently serving a life sentence in a prison near Cairo after convicted of involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters.
Angered at what they see as deliberate omission of Mubarak’s role in the war, scores of his supporters on Saturday gathered outside the prison and greeted him. “Hosni Mubarak is a pilot. Down with anyone insulting him!” they chanted.
Mubarak, 84, was the chief of the air force during the war. He was Egypt’s fourth president to come from the army.