It takes a lot of noise to make Cairenes break from their day-to-day routines and turn their attention elsewhere, as this city's daily dose of honking, shouting, braying, falafel-munching, etc. rivals the decibel level of a rock concert. But pause and gaze skyward a lot of Egyptians in central Cairo did on Tuesday and Wednesday, as fighter jets flew in formation over the city in a show of force and celebration ahead of Thursday's Armed Forces Day.
Observed annually on October 6, the national holiday marks the anniversary of Egypt's victory in the first couple days of its 1973 war with Israel. What the military leaves out is October 9 to 25, when Egyptian forces fared somewhat less successfully. Put it this way: It's kind of like if Japan commemorated the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor as the day they beat the United States in World War II.
But the holiday is just as much about demonstrating the current power of the armed forces as it is about selectively ignoring history, and there's no doubt that last week's display had particular relevance as a council of generals continues to hold on to power in Egypt. With extensive economic holdings, strong ties to Egyptian political leaders over the last 60 years, and a compulsory draft of most young Egyptian men, the military remains a major pillar of the Egyptian state. Military leaders are intent on keeping it that way even as protestors more often and more pointedly direct their anger at the ruling generals themselves.
If only they didn't have to show off their prowess as I attempt to cross the street in downtown Cairo. Do you know how hard it is to avoid getting hit by a bus as you try to take a photo of a F16 soaring overhead?