To commemorate the 1973 October War, Watani talks to the family of Field Marshal Fuad Aziz Ghali who was commander-in-chief of Egypt’s “Second Army” which spearheaded the entry of Egypt’s armed forces into the then Israeli-occupied Sinai.
The October War will remain a landmark event in Egyptian history and a matter of pride for all Egyptians who had lived the indignity and humiliation of Six-day War defeat in 1967. One of the heroes of the October War was the late Field Marshal Fuad Aziz Ghali, who led the Second Army that crossed the Suez Canal and won the Battle of Qantara. Ghali died in January 2000.
Matter of fate
Fuad Ghali was born in Minya, Upper Egypt, on 10 December 1927. He attended the Coptic school in Shebin al-Kom, Menoufiya, and Shubra Secondary School. Despite his wish to study medicine, he joined the military academy and earned top grades. The father of three children, Nagwa, Nadia and Sherif, Fuad Ghali was the first Copt to assume such a leading post in the army.
Watani asked his daughter Nagwa why Ghali joined the military academy even though he had sought to study medicine. She said it was a matter of fate. She told the story that he finished secondary school and received the marks required for medical school, but while he was passing through Abbassiya on his way to submit his papers there he saw a crowd of young men at the headquarters of the military academy. Hearing that they had come to apply for the academy, he spontaneously filed an application, and since his mental and physical capabilities were superb he passed the required examination. Ghali had a gift for communication and transmitting information which helped him in dealing with ordinary soldiers—particularly those who came from the countryside, most of whom were illiterate.
Indebted to Mother
Field Marshal Ghali kept his personal life private, Nagwa Ghali said. His family rarely saw him during the war and the preceding period, perhaps once every four or five months. However, he would telephone every other day. “He used to talk with each of us to learn in detail how things were going. But he did not have the time to interfere in our problems and my mother was managing the family issues,” she says. “My father used to give her his salary and she used to do everything. We were a middle class family, and were far removed from any signs of luxury. It was only after the end of the October War that my father went back to normal life.”
Ghali was tender with his children. “Things were resolved by discussion, not orders,” Nagwa recalls. “He was also exceptionally loving and caring with my mother. When she was sick and unable to move, he assumed the responsibility of serving her totally. He used to say that it was time to pay back his debt to her because she had always devoted her life to the wellbeing of the family.”
Hero of East Qantara
Nadia Ghali reminded how important it was to liberate East Qantara, one of the most important Israel-controlled strongholds on the East bank of the Suez Canal. “Before the war started President Sadat said to Ghali, who was then Lieutenant Major, that Qantara should be liberated in the first day of the war. The Egyptian 18th division troops, led by Ghali, managed to take the town on 7 October and completed the liberation process on the following day amid fierce fighting with the Israelis.
“During the battle, Major Assaf Yagouri, the commander of the Israeli 119th division, was captured along with a host of officers and soldiers, and he was handed over to the Egyptian intelligence. Israelis called the day Yagouri was captured ‘Black Monday’, and Ghali was called the Hero of Qantara. The Egyptian army managed to push on more than 20 kilometres into Sinai without incurring any losses.”
But not all went smoothly. “The lack of coordination between the second and third Egyptian armies gave the Israeli army the opportunity to penetrate the territory between them into Egyptian land,” Nadia went on. “My father survived many Israeli attempts to kill him and was all the time among his soldiers at the heart of the battlefield. When he met the Israeli leaders after the peace treaty, they told him how the Israelis had spared no effort to kill him. At the end of the visit, they offered him a book they had written on his achievements in the war”.
Defending national unity
General Maurice Bibawi who is married to Nadia, said Fuad Ghali was sensitive towards any attempts to sow seeds of division between Muslims and Christians. “He was adamant about rejecting all forms of foreign intervention….[and] during the war, when a report on religious liberties issued by the US department spoke of discrimination against Copts, Ghali condemned the report. He used to believe that the Coptic problem would be gradually resolved without need for US intervention.”
Ghali served in Syria and Yemen and was honoured several times, receiving in total 23 medals for his heroic performance in defending his country.