Various Representations of the Martyred Soldier in the 1967 June War and the Victorious Hero in the 1973 October War
It was not surprising then that a great number of writers, poets, artists, filmmakers and singers (including Abdel Halim Hafez) who supported Nasser and his policies were deeply shaken by the crushing defeat in the June Six Day War with Israel and the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula by the Israelis. On 9 June 1967, Nasser delivered a speech to the nation, which came to be known as ‘khitab al-tanahhi’ (the resignation speech), in which he shared with the masses his devastation about the war defeat, referring to it as al-Naksa (severe setback). His view was that an imperialist conspiracy against the pan-Arab project took place, which transpired with the massive military support which the USA and Britain provided to Israel. However, Nasser also declared that he was taking full responsibility for the defeat, and announced at the end of this speech that he was stepping down. Following the speech, and in an act of defiance, millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding that Nasser stay and continue the fight against the enemy exemplified by the foreign imperialist forces.
Immediately after the military defeat was announced, Abdel Halim Hafez released a song entitled ‘Adda al-Nahar’ (Daylight has Come our Way) written by poet Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi and composed by Baleegh Hamdi. In this song, we do not hear any nationalist rhetoric in support of the regime as we have seen in Hafez’s songs of the 1950s and 1960s, but rather there is much contemplation and quiet reflection on the
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017 D.S. Mostafa, The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-59372-6_3
situation the country was in. The song came to reflect the sombre mood which characterised Egypt at the time. The lyrics allude to the symbolism of ‘daylight’ to prompt Egyptians to think ahead. They need to keep dreaming of a ‘new morning’ and to work even harder for a better future. Although melancholic in melody and tone, the song reflects hope in the people in their factories, schools, in the squares and on the battlefield, and their ability to move on from the ‘sad night’ to a new bright ‘daylight’. The song ends with the following lines, thus prompting the Egyptian people not to surrender to the defeat:
Kol el doroub wakhda baladna lil nahar Wi ihna baladna leil nahar BitHib mawwal el nahar Lamma ye‘addi fil doroub Wi yeghanni uddam kol dar
[All pathways are leading our country to daylight
And our country, night and day
Loves the song of Daylight
When the music passes through the pathways
And is heard at the doorsteps of each house].
Nasser stayed in office until his death on 28 September 1970. On the day of his funeral, 1 October 1970, it was estimated that at least 5 million people joined in a mass funeral on the streets across Egypt to bid farewell to their beloved leader. The 30-minute film entitled Unshoudat al- Wada‘ (A Farewell Ballad, 1970) documents footage of Nasser’s funeral and the mass of Egyptians who filled the streets, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria, joined by at least 20,000 leaders and delegates from all over the world. The documentary was made by directors Hassan Reda, Khalil Shawqi, Shadi Abdel Salam, Ahmed Rashad, Mohammed Kinawi, Ali Abdel Khaleq and the New Zealand cinematographer John Feeney (Youssef 2015). The narrative is voiced over by actor Mahmoud Yassin, who starts by reciting a verse from the Quran, and continues by saying: ‘Today, the sky is sad, the earth is sad, and the river is sad’; and that ‘Gamal was in the heart of Cairo, and the people of Cairo today are marching to bid farewell to their beloved leader’. The song which accompanies the black-and-white footage, entitled ‘A Farewell Ballad’, expresses the feelings of anguish and sorrow which people felt on that day. It has become iconic in the popular imagination, particularly when the people chanted the lines:
Thawretak thawret kifah ‘ishtaha toul el senein el wada‘ ya Gamal ya habib el malayeen
[Yours was a revolution of struggle which you lived for all your life Farewell Gamal
the beloved by millions of people].
The documentary captures visually the story of a people and their passion for a military leader (Nasser), whom they perceived as their saviour against foreign aggression; hence, for them, he represented the archetypal protector of the nation. Yet, and despite the love, support and respect which millions of Egyptians granted Nasser until the last day of his life, a critical body of work in the context of popular culture appeared in Egypt in condemnation of the military defeat and the killing of thousands of soldiers, whilst reflecting a popular demand for a thorough and transparent investigation into the reasons which had led to it, to charge the military personnel who were responsible for it and to rebuild the army for the next military battle with Israel to liberate the occupied lands.
The period following the naksa was indeed a reflective one, when writers and artists throughout the Arab world attempted to interpret the consequences of the war and the reasons for such a quick and crushing defeat. The Arab nation had put its trust in Nasser and his policies, and the people believed what was announced day and night on radio and TV about the military capacity of the Arab armies to win the war against Israel and regain the Palestinian homeland for millions of Palestinian refugees scattered all over the world. It was traumatic to bear witness to Nasser’s political and military downfall as well as the occupation of Arab lands by Israeli forces.
Interestingly, many great works sprang from the rubble of the defeat across the Arab world, for example at the hands of playwrights such as Sa‘dallah Wannous (Syria) and novelists like Ghassan Kanafani (Palestine). In Egypt, groundbreaking works appeared, including, for example, a number of novels by Naguib Mahfouz, Sonallah Ibrahim and Yehia al-Taher Abdullah; vernacular poetry by Fouad Haddad, Salah Jaheen, Abdel
Rahman al-Abnoudi and the duo poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and singer Sheikh Imam; music by Baleegh Hamdi and Ali Ismail; films by Youssef Chahine and Tawfiq Salih; and many other works. The naksa certainly had its implications for how the military figure came to be perceived in the popular cultural production of the time. Yet it was the image of the ‘war martyr’ (shaheed al-harb) that came to be revered and began to be represented in countless forms and genres. I argue that this image was perhaps the most popular in Egypt in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat, mainly because the war martyr embodied the people’s perception of heroism and patriotism in the face of the enemy—sacrificing his life for the nation to survive. It is through the martyr’s image that the people and the army are united in grief for the wounded nation.
In this chapter, I begin by providing a broad overview of the impact of the 1967 June defeat on the cultural realm in the Arab world, in order to contextualise this event within larger political and historical parameters. This will eventually demonstrate the extent to which Egypt was culturally influenced by the naksa. I then move on to discuss a variety of representations of two popular images that recurred in numerous cultural products in the aftermath of the 1967 June War defeat and of the 1973 October War victory: those of the martyred soldier on the one hand, and of the victorious war hero on the other. This comparative analysis further complicates the relationship between the people and the army and allows for the investigation of multi-layered dimensions of this relationship in popular cultural outputs. It also shows how the concept of nationhood was being reshaped in the cultural field in the aftermath of 1967 and 1973.