Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 January 2000
Issue No. 464
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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A hero bid farewell

Fouad Aziz Ghali (1927 - 2000)

By Galal Nassar

President Hosni Mubarak and other top state officials led mourners on Sunday at the military funeral of retired General Fouad Aziz Ghali, 72, one of the heroes of the October 1973 War and a former governor of Southern Sinai. The dignitaries present included Prime Minister Atef Ebeid, Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

Ghali's coffin was draped in the national colours and placed atop a gun-carriage, which was followed by bearers of flowers and the hero's military decorations.

Born in December 1927 in the southern governorate of Minya, Ghali graduated from the Military Academy in 1948 after which he was sent to the Soviet Union for advanced training. Ghali was involved in all of the 20th century wars fought by the Egyptian armed forces. A few days after his graduation, he took part in the 1948 battles around Gaza and Rafah. During the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, Ghali served with the national guard, which was charged with defending parts of Alexandria as well as the coastal highway to Libya. He was posted to the Syrian front in 1959-1961 when Egypt and Syria merged in the United Arab Republic. He later fought for three years in the Yemen War, winning the Military Star medal as well as the Yemeni Maareb decoration.

In the June 1967 War, Ghali was chief of opera-ions of the second in-antry division, which was involved in battles at Al-Qusseima and Abu-Egeila in the Sinai desert.

In the October 1973 War, Ghali was commander of the 18th infantry division, which was ordered to cross to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal and storm the Bar Lev Line, which bisected the town of Qantara East from north to south. In the early hours of the offensive, Ghali and his troops managed to seize Qantara East, as well as seven positions along the Bar Lev Line. Ghali's forces advanced 20 kilometres east of the Suez Canal, withstanding all counter-attacks and achieving their combat assignments according to schedule and with minimal losses.

Ghali was elevated to commander of the Second Army -- deployed in the Canal's northern sector -- on 14 December 1973, shortly before an agreement was reached on the first military disengagement, signaling the end of the October 1973 War. The promotion reflected the late President Anwar El-Sadat's confidence in Ghali's abilities at a time when the negotiations between Egypt and Israel were still hanging.

According to comrades-in-arms, Ghali's most prominent characteristic was his fatherly love for his troops and his "humane proximity" to them. He often repeated the argument that "as a commander, no matter how many plans you make and no matter how much technology you provide your army with, the fighter, his high morale and his faith in the battle he is fighting are the decisive factors on the battlefield."

The October 1973 War coincided with the fasting month of Ramadan. Some of Ghali's troops recall that he, a Copt, often partook in the sohhour [pre-dawn meal] and iftar [sunset breakfast meal] with his officers and men in a spirit of togetherness.

In 1978, Ghali was made chairman of the Armed Forces' Organisation and Management Authority and a year later he became assistant to the defence minister. Another prominent appointment was to follow in 1980 when Ghali became governor of Southern Sinai.

Speaking of his love for Sinai, Ghali once said that "following 1967, I spent the next six years in the trenches along the Suez Canal, to the extent that I thought that I wouldn't attend the wedding of President Sadat's daughter because I did not have a civilian suit. The same was true of Field Marshal Ahmed Badawi. At the insistence of Field Marshal Ahmed Ismail, civilian suits were made for the two of us in eight hours, so that we might attend".

After he crossed to the Suez Canal's eastern bank in 1973, Ghali said he broke down in tears and kissed the earth. "It tasted better than honey," he said.

During his 27-year military career, Ghali won several decorations and awards, including the Military Honour Star, Order of the Republic First Class, Order of Military Duty First Class and Medal of Long Service and Exemplary Service First Class.

In 1983, Ghali retired to a quiet family life in Alexandria, but he continued to lecture and participate in seminars on military issues.

In recent years, Ghali criticised American reports about alleged discrimination against Copts. "These reports are based on erroneous information provided by some [Coptic] expatriates with grudges," he once said. "There is no discrimination between Copts and Muslims. The proof of this is that I was chosen, during the October 1973 War, as commander of the Second Army, which is certainly a Muslim army. Had there been discrimination on religious grounds, there were many others who could have taken the post."

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