CAIRO: When Abdel Salam Hassan took a cab in late August, little did he know that he shares a common history with the driver, Haj Mahmoud. Both have fought the Oct. 6 war. But their feelings of victory and enthusiasm in 1973 have turned into frustration over the years, as both feel underappreciated, socially and financially.
Once the war was brought up in the conversation that ensues in any cab ride, Mahmoud asked to change the subject. He doesn’t want to remember what he did and what he didn’t get in return. It was easy to recognize the sorry tone in his voice, regretting his participation in the war.
“After 12 years of service in the army, I never got anything in return, said Mahmoud.
One day, when Mahmoud was trying to finish some paper work at a government office, and in an effort to get the responsible employee to help him, he told him about his participation in the 1973 war. “Big deal, what did you give us? the employee said, mocking Mahmoud’s once-treasured achievement.
Now, Mahmoud curses the country he once fought for, complaining that he can’t afford a living with the low pension he receives every month.
The government has increased the pensions of war veterans as well as other state employees by 30 percent but war veterans – many of them disabled – say that the pension is not their only problem.
“I can’t find a regular job neither for me nor my son or get the appropriate attention from the state, Mahmoud said
“What they couldn’t take from us with blood, they are now taking it with money, Mahmoud continued angrily.
While Hassan shared the same frustration over the lack of appreciation, he remained proud of the 35-year-old achievement that he was part of.
After serving at the army for 24 years, he holds on to the belief that if people do forget what he and his fellow soldiers did, history won’t.
The war, also known as the 10th of Ramadan War, and the consequent peace talks saw Egypt reclaim the Sinai Peninsula, which it lost in the humiliating 1967 defeat, known as Naksa.
The 1973 war left around 8,000 dead and between 19,000 wounded on the Egyptian side.
The Forgotten”Sixty-five percent of the current Egyptian population didn’t witness the war so you can’t ask them to admire war veterans much, General Adel Soleiman, executive director of the International Center for Strategic and Future Studies and a war veteran himself, told Daily News Egypt.
According to Mohamed Kadry Saied, military expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Egyptian society looked up to the war and its veterans in the 60s and 70s, but consequent generations started to forget and their appreciation for the role of the army decreased.
Two main factors contributed to such results, Saied explained. First, appointing former officers in civil positions that they are not specialized in. Secondly, the mandatory military service has become associated with unnecessary suffering rather than with its original target: to properly preparing individuals for their normal lives.
“Some people tend to approve of means to escape from the military service by either leaving the country or forging official papers. This reflects their feelings, Saied said.
“The social and media portrayal of the military organization must be given more importance to correct these bad perceptions, he added.
But this change of times doesn’t deter war veterans from demanding what they see as their natural right.
Adel Abdel Fattah, a former soldier and former prisoner of war, also complains of the lack of appreciation.
After the vehicle he was in was shot in an air strike during the war, he was imprisoned by Israelis, whom he said “treated me very well. Abdel Fattah underwent the necessary surgery to treat his wounds while he was a POW.
Abdel Fattah, who now works at Al Ahram Foundation, was among the first POW exchange group and was then moved to Qasr El Einy Hospital, in which he spent a year, and was moved again to the Armed Forces Hospital in Maadi. He left the army in 1976.
Abdel Fattah doesn’t receive any pension and depends on his job.
Lost Rights?”Despite the existence of organizations like the War Veterans Association that take care of injured soldiers, we need more moral and financial appreciation, said Abdel Fattah.
He suggests creating a special ID for war veterans to help them in their daily life when issuing papers or allow them special discounts.
For General Solieman not everyone who participated in the war is entitled to ask for such privileges.
“Egyptians like to complain even if there is no real problem; war veterans are offered the same services as ordinary citizens, they also face the same problems and difficulties of ordinary citizens, Soleiman said.
“The war veterans association provides many services; however, the priority is given to war veterans who are injured or disabled, and those receive high quality services, Soleiman added.
The Egyptian Veterans and War Victims Association was formed in 1951. Twenty years later, it became an affiliate of the Ministry of Defense.
It aims to help war veterans deal with financial problems, lead a normal life, and provide them with their due respect and appreciation. But the organization’s modest services are limited to its registered members.
The association gives a monthly pension of LE 200-300 to those who have a serious injury that prevents them from working, in addition to discounts on transportation, medical treatment, education and tourist sites.
It also provides wheel chairs for the disabled and a monthly pension for the families of martyrs.
Sports and arts festivals are organized annually for its members and their families as well as Mecca pilgrimage trips.
“Those who have no pensions are soldiers who were serving the mandatory military service during the war, and under military law they are not entitled to any special services or pensions after they finish their services, Zakaria Hussein, a strategic analyst and former army General, told Daily News Egypt.
“During the reign of Marshal Abu Ghazala, army officers enjoyed for the first time the privilege of owning apartments and cars with very low prices and had their pensions increased, Hussein added
An annual celebration is organized on March 9 to commemorate and honor war martyrs and veterans and their families. This marks the day General Abdel Moneim Riad, one of the prominent commanders of the army at that time, was killed by the Israeli army.
But while streets were named after some of the war heroes, others cannot afford to spend their vacation in Sinai, the land they liberated, and others remain with no regular jobs, consequently limiting their sources of income.
This year saw the death of war veteran Garallah Mohamed Abdel Hady in one of the “bread queues that plagued the nation. Abdel Hady died due to overcrowding.