Abandoned ideals

FILE - An Egyptian watch tower is seen close to the construction site of a fence on the border between Israel and Egypt along Israel's Highway 12, a desert road north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, February 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Saturday marks the anniversary of the October War of 1973, which the Israelis call the Yom Kippur War, while the Arabs have a few additional names for it. Some, like the Egyptians, might refer to it called the Ramadan War, because the month of fasting in which it took place, while the Syrians officially refer to it as the War of Liberation.

There is no agreement on how to classify the conflict. Countries such as Syria celebrate the event as a victory, but some experts have called it a case of political victory, despite the actual military defeat.

Egypt and Syria might not have been able to coordinate their war efforts well enough at the time, but the October War did stand out as a significant moment. Two large Arab countries launched a surprise attack and their military effort redeemed Arab honor; it was an event that millions of people from Morocco to the Gulf could follow with a sense of pride, and not humiliation.

But Saturday’s anniversary is a stark reminder of how much things have changed since then.

Today, the Arab world provides a test case of dysfunction when it comes to regional cooperation and solidarity. If people look at the performance of Arab countries they are appalled to discover how much time and money has been spent on rhetoric, with no tangible results. Political rivalries between states have become more pronounced, and there is no event like the October War for people to rally around. Countries today not only fail to work with each other, they also see their armies mobilized to deal with internal unrest, instead of fighting external enemies.

During the Arab uprisings, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Egypt all experienced seeing their national armies take part in suppressing civilian protesters. Iraq, which has been at war or under sanctions for much of the post-1973 period, now lacks a strong national army. Arab armies have been the beneficiaries of millions of dollars of government spending, but as anyone can observe, security and stability have not followed, meaning a huge waste of resources.

The PLO of 1973 is a far cry from today’s Palestinian Authority and the continuing division between Fatah and Hamas. In the decades since that military achievement of October, there have been a string of political defeats, punctuated by events such as the Camp David agreements and the Oslo Accords, in which the Arab side was the only one asked to make concessions.

The state of affairs today among Arab countries is characterized by fragmentation and weakness, and this is the ideal gift that Israel would like to receive as the war is commemorated. People in the past were willing to undergo sacrifices because at the least their armies were working to achieve the goals of liberation, and not carry out the task of internal repression.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 06, 2012, on page 7.




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