Defeated, victorious and alleged victories

Defeated, victorious and alleged victories

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The scene will remain vivid in the memory, as if the event had occurred just minutes ago. Not because it defied the laws of nature or seemed more like fiction than reality, but because the words sounded like an alarm bell ringing at the door, with the hope that someone would wake up and correct a misguided approach that had long prevailed, settling in minds and dominating thoughts.

That day, I was listening to a very important witness to the era between the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 and the tragedy that befell the Arabs in the 1967 war. Prof. Mohammed Hassanein Heikal was not merely a very important witness, he was one of the key participants in the transformative events of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era. Heikal’s influence spanned from the Suez War in 1956, through the July socialist decisions in 1961 to the impulsive and uncalculated actions that led to the withdrawal of international emergency forces and the closure of the Suez Canal to international navigation. These events culminated in the outbreak of war at dawn on Monday, June 5, 1967.

This scene took place in the mid-1980s, when I was interviewing Heikal for Al-Thadamun magazine, commissioned by its publisher and editor-in-chief, Fouad Matar. At the beginning of the interview, I asked him about the impact of the June defeat on the situation in Egypt. To my surprise, the renowned writer angrily interrupted me, with a hint of panic, asking: “Are you one of those who call it a defeat?” I responded, “Yes, of course it was.” He stood up and exclaimed, “What does that even mean? This is completely unacceptable.”

The error of insisting on the sin of alleged victory and denying the reality of a significant defeat did not end with the 1967 war

Bakir Oweida

He explained that, yes, we lost Sinai and this was an undisputed setback, but the Israeli war failed to achieve its primary goal: the overthrow of Nasser’s regime. That was the real objective of the conspiracy. I understood that this “structural” interpretation of the Six-Day War’s outcome was well-known and widely propagated through Nasser’s media institutions, beginning with Heikal’s own articles in Al-Ahram newspaper under their famous and distinctive heading, “Bi Saraha” (meaning “Frankly Speaking”), every Friday. In fact, the internationally circulated The Times newspaper in London mimicked this style with a prominent headline on its front page: “A victorious leader and a defeated nation,” commenting on the June 8 and 9 demonstrations that rejected Nasser’s resignation from power.

However, the error of insisting on the sin of alleged victory and denying the reality of a significant defeat did not end with the 1967 war. This pattern has been repeated in several subsequent conflicts in the Arab world, fueled by historical buildups. A prominent example is then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s claim that Iraq was not defeated when its invading army was expelled from Kuwait in the spring of 1991. Such assertions not only belittle people’s intelligence but also defy logic. Is another supposed victory waiting in the wings? Yes, this is a very real possibility, and it may happen sooner than we expect.

  • Bakir Oweida is a Palestinian journalist who pursued a professional career in journalism in Libya in 1968, where he worked at Al-Haqiqa newspaper in Benghazi, then Al-Balagh and Al-Jihad in Tripoli. He has written for several Arab publications in Britain since 1978. He worked at Al-Arab newspaper, Al-Thadamun magazine and the international Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. He has also worked as a consultant at the online newspaper Elaph.
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