Armed Forces Day 2018 and 2019
Armed Forces Day in Egypt is observed every October 6th as the anniversary of the successful crossing of the Suez Canal by Egyptian forces during the October War of 1973, which was fought to re-take the Sinai Peninsula from Israel.
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This war is also called the “Yom Kippur War” because it began on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“the Day of Atonement”). This led to the taking of a string of forts along the eastern side of the canal called the “Bar Lev Line.” Egypt was eventually defeated in the war, but they did still get the Sinai back at war’s end.
During the Six-Day War of 1967, Egypt, Syria, and other Arab states attacked the fledgling state of Israel simultaneously, hoping to quickly overwhelm it. Instead, Syria lost the Golan Heights and Egypt the Sinai Peninsula to Israeli forces. In an attempt to recapture this lost territory, on October 6th, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel called the “October War,” which would last a total of 19 days.
Israeli generals at the time and historians after the fact both agree that Israel’s attempt to defend the Sinai with forts on the Suez Canal was misguided. Israel’s military strength had been their “agility” rather than the ability to sit inside fortifications and ward of offensives. Additionally, the Bar Lev Line was simply too long to successfully defend without a much larger force than Israel possessed
Egyptian forces showed great ingenuity in crossing the canal and destroying Israel’s defences. They used water cannons, for example, to shoot at packed dirt and sand barriers built by Israel and wash them away. They pinned down troops stationed inside the forts with a massive artillery and air barrage while their army crossed the canal on small bridges.
Although Israel counterattacked and won the war by October 25th, Egypt commemorates October 6th as a day they struck out to retake lost land and a day of victory for their armies. Additionally, Israel did agree to withdraw from the Sinai after the war and peace between the two nations was finally obtained in the Camp David Accords of 1977. Later, in 1981, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6th, the day took on added meaning to Egyptians.
Egypt’s Armed Forces Day is a time of military parades, fireworks, patriotic songs, flag displays, patriotic TV and radio programming, and other expressions by Egyptians of pride in their homeland. The biggest Armed Forces Day celebration is held in the capital city of Cairo, but there are other similar celebrations throughout Egypt.
Besides attending the official Armed Forces Day events in Cairo and other cities, tourists and locals may wish to visit the Sinai if in Egypt at this time since reclaiming the Sinai was the object of the October 6th attacks. Some of the most popular activities for tourist in the Sinai Peninsula include:
- Do “eco-tourism” at the Ras Muhammad National Park, which was declared a protected area soon after the Sinai was returned under Egypt’s control. The park is part of the famed “Red Sea Riviera” full of resorts, beaches, and beautiful natural scenery. At Ras Muhammad, at the southern tip of the Sinai, you can see coral reefs inhabited by 1,000 species of fish and numerous other examples of sea life. You can dive and explore the reefs or the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm. You may also wish to visit the on-shore desert dunes and see the renowned medicinal acacia trees.
- Visit Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Aqaba. On the island, you will find a citadel built by crusaders. Off-shore, there are many coral reefs to explore. The island is one of the most popular attractions of the eastern Sinai.
- Ascend Mount Sinai, identified by many as the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. There is a steep path and a longer but less arduous path, either of which will lead you to the summit. You will see Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot and both a small chapel and a small mosque on top of the mountain.
Touring Egypt and the Sinai on Armed Forces Day will bring you in contact with many memorable sights and experiences. Just be sure to book early to ensure you can arrive in time for the Armed Forces Day festivities.