18 - 24 July 2002
Issue No. 595
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
All the revolution's men
SECOND IN COMMAND: Abdel-Hakim Amer (1919-1967), was one of the nine- member leadership group of the Free Officers, and a member of the 14- member Revolution Command Council (RCC) formed to run the country following the success of the revolution. Amer was the effective commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army and second in command after Nasser between 1954 and 1967, the year when he committed suicide, according to the official announcement of the time, out of shame at the army's crushing defeat at the hands of the Israelis in June of that year. Strong rumours had it, though, that he was eliminated when he refused to share responsibility for the defeat alone, demanding that Nasser also should resign.
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Amer was a major at the time of the Revolution and was promoted to the rank of field-marshal in 1958 and also appointed vice-president and war minister of the United Arab Republic, the new entity established the same year as a result of the union between Egypt and Syria. He was also Nasser's special commissioner in Syria, and much of Syrian popular disenchantment with the union -- which eventually lead to Syria seceding in 1961 -- is attributed to the excesses of his men stationed in what was then called the North Region of the United Arab Republic.
Like Nasser, Amer graduated from the Military Academy in 1938, served in Palestine during the 1948 War and, at the time of the Revolution, was an instructor at the Army Staff College. His role on the fateful night of 22-23 July 1952 was an organisational one, and he was not in charge of any of the military units participating in the coup. He and Nasser were reported to have gone out on the streets in civilian clothes at midnight on 22 July, in order to inspect the success of their plans for taking over the army headquarters at Kobri El-Qubba, and they would have been arrested had another Free Officer not recognised them.
THE DANCING OFFICER: Salah Salem (1920- 1962) was another founding member of the Free Officers and a 1938 graduate of the Military Academy who served in Palestine in 1948. He was an infantry officer at the time of the Revolution, later becoming the revolution's minister of national guidance and minister of state for Sudanese affairs. He was nicknamed "the dancing officer" after the publication of a photograph showing him performing a tribal dance in Sudan. Salem was known for his fiery moods and sharp tongue, and he is said to have advised Nasser to hand himself over to the British to salvage the situation during the Suez Crisis. He is also rumoured to have helped one female member of the former royal family to smuggle her fortune abroad.
Salem worked as journalist and was made chairman of the Press Syndicate in 1960. He died prematurely in 1962 of a chronic kidney disease after seeking treatment in both the USSR and the US. When the ring-road round eastern Cairo was completed in the 1960s it was named after him, making his name possibly the most familiar of any of the Free Officers, apart from that of Nasser himself, though it is doubtful whether any Egyptian under the age of 50 would know anything about the man himself.
SECURITY MAN: Zakariya Mohieddin (b.1918), who joined the Free Officers on the eve of the 23 July Revolution, was appointed along with another four men -- Mohamed Naguib, Youssef Seddiq, Hussein El-Shafie and Abdel-Moneim Amin -- to the RCC after the revolution's success, in recognition of the instrumental roles these men had played in it. A 1938 graduate of the Military Academy, Mohieddin, like Nasser and Amer, served in the Palestine War and was an Army Staff College lecturer at the time of the revolution. He is said to have been one of the small group of men who drew up the plans the various army units participating in the coup were to follow in Cairo and in Alexandria, where the king and his cabinet were residing at the time of the revolution, as was the custom during the summer months.
Mohieddin was interior minister between 1953 and 1962, and he founded the Egyptian General Intelligence Service. He was also vice-president in 1961 and prime minister from 1965 to 1966. Among the key roles Mohieddin played in the political life of Egypt was his supervision of the sequestrated property of the Mohamed Ali dynasty, the country's former ruling house, his membership of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) Executive Committee and his role in establishing the ASU Youth Organisation. In 1967, when Nasser resigned after the June defeat, he designated Mohieddin as his successor, which earned the latter the wrath of the demonstrators who had come out onto the streets on 9 and 10 June to protest against Nasser's resignation. Mohieddin's credentials for the post of successor to Nasser appeared to include only his being the most suitable among the Revolution's old guard to appease the Americans, who had backed Israel in its war against the Arabs.
Nevertheless, when Sadat later embarked on his rapprochement with the US and then Israel, Mohieddin strongly opposed the resulting Camp David Accords, perhaps the only public position he has taken since his withdrawal from public life in March 1968. Today, Mohieddin is one of only three living RCC members, the other two being Hussein El-Shafie and his cousin Khaled Mohieddin, and he is said to live a reclusive life, refusing to talk to the press or write his memoirs.
THE REVOLUTION'S JUDGE: Abdel-Latif El- Baghdadi (1917-1999) was the most senior of the three Air Force officers who were founding members of the Free Officers leadership group and later members of the RCC, the other two being Hassan Ibrahim and Gamal Salem. In 1952 he was an Air Force group captain. Immediately after the revolution, he was appointed head of the Revolution's Court, set up to try pre-revolutionary politicians accused of corruption during the monarchy. He was also appointed inspector-general of the revolution's first political organisation, the 1953 Liberation Rally, and Speaker of the first post-revolution parliament, the 1957 National Assembly. Among the other key posts held by El-Baghdadi were defence minister for a brief period under Mohamed Naguib, and minister of municipal affairs after Nasser took power in 1954. He was also one of five vice-presidents of the republic between 1962 and 1964.
In El-Bagdadi's capacity as minister of municipal affairs he was responsible for the construction of the Nile Corniche road in Cairo, as well as the construction of many other new roads throughout the country, and for this reason he was sometimes referred to sarcastically by his enemies as Abdel-Rassif El-Baghdadi, rassif being the Arabic word for "pavement".
El-Baghdadi withdrew from political life in 1964, having reportedly fallen out with Nasser over the war in Yemen, though in his memoirs he says that Nasser had planned to appoint him as vice-president immediately before his death in 1970, in order to prevent Sadat's succession to power. El-Baghdadi opposed Sadat's peace treaty with Israel, as did Zakariya Mohieddin and all the other then living RCC members.
ACTION MAN: Youssef Seddiq (1910-1975) by his actions saved the Free Officers from the fate normally awaiting insurgent army officers who lead a failed military coup. For it was thanks to Seddiq's swiftly moving his forces to occupy the Army Headquarters at Kobri Al- Qubba one hour before the appointed time, some say as a result of a miscommunication, that the Free Officers became the rulers of Egypt and not simply the ringleaders of a failed coup attempt. As is now known, their plans had been learned by the then minister of war, Haydar Pasha, and had Seddiq not set out with his motorised columns from the Hikestep Army Camp before the appointed hour, the minister would have been able to act in time to thwart the Officers' movement.
In a 1962 speech, Nasser acknowledged the movement's debt to Seddiq, saying that without his action "all our efforts would have come to nothing." However, apart from these words, very little kindness was ever shown by the other Free Officers to Seddiq. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1933, and, senior in age and rank to most of the other Free Officers -- he was a Lieutenant- Colonel in the infantry in 1952 -- was approached by them a few months before the coup took place, the other Officers hoping to benefit from Seddiq's contacts and military skills.
According to Ahmed Hamroush, himself a Free Officer and the author of an eight-volume work on the history of the July Revolution, Seddiq had been a member of a Communist organisation, the Democratic Movement for National Liberation (DMNL), at the time when the Officers solicited his aid. Though the leadership group of the Free Officers later decided to make him a member of the RCC in recognition of his role in delivering the crucial blow on which the Officers' success had ultimately depended, Seddiq himself soon expressed staunch opposition to many of the RCC's decisions, foremost among which was the execution of two Kafr El-Dawwar workers in August 1952 for inciting strikes. He resigned from the RCC in March 1953, following which he disappeared from public life. In 1954, he was arrested and put in prison for over a year and then placed under house arrest until the end of 1956. President Sadat granted Seddiq a state pension during the last five years of his life, also sending him for medical treatment in Moscow, and when he died in 1975 he was given a full military funeral.
Asked by Hamroush whether he regretted not cooperating with the RCC after his 1953 resignation, Seddiq said, "any chance I ever had of cooperating with them became impossible. I could not possibly allow myself to go down in history as someone who had remained a member of a Council that abolished civil liberties, sentenced workers to death and placed patriots in jail."
AMERICA'S MAN: Abdel-Moneim Amin (1912- 1996) was a Lieutenant-Colonel on duty at the headquarters of the artillery forces on the night of 22-23 July 1952. When the coup took place, Amin ordered the troops under his command to occupy the entrance to the Suez Road east of Cairo and to arrest any officer trying to get into the city. After the success of the coup in Cairo, Amin traveled to Alexandria the following day, where he led the troops surrounding the royal palace of Ras El-Teen in which King Farouk was staying with his family. In recognition of this role he was appointed a member of the RCC, but, like Seddiq, he did not stay long on the Council, being forced to resign in 1953. Unlike Seddiq, however, he was treated kindly by his fellow Officers, who dispatched him to Bonn in 1954 as Egypt's ambassador to Germany, where he stayed until 1956. Following this stint in the country's diplomatic core, Amin withdrew from public life and became a businessman.
Amin is widely thought to have been "America's man" within the Free Officers' movement, as members of the RCC, including Nasser, used to meet the then American ambassador to Cairo, Jefferson Caffrey, at Amin's house in 1952 and 1953 when negotiations with the British regarding the evacuation of the Canal Zone bases were in full swing. Amin was also head of the military tribunal that tried the workers of Kafr El-Dawwar in August 1952, sentencing two of them, Mustafa Khamis and Mohamed El-Baqari, to death.
HEADLONG: Gamal Salem (1918-1968) was the elder brother of Salah Salem, part of the nine-member leadership group of the Free Officers and member of the RCC. When the revolution broke out Salem was a wing commander at the Air Force. Salem, who fought bravely during the 1948 Palestine War, sustaining serious injuries, was known for his tempers: he could be incautious, even downright insolent. He is known for having demanded that King Farouk be put on trial rather than being allowed to leave the country safely, and for having shown disrespect to the King while accompanying Mohamed Naguib aboard the royal yacht Al-Mahrousa to bid the king farewell before his final departure on 26 July 1952. Salem was put in charge of the first agrarian reform programme of the revolution; he was a member of the military court that tried the Muslim Brothers in 1954; again he was said to be rough on the defendants. As he suffered from a number of debilitating ailments he began to fade out of public life in 1959, going on longer and longer treatment journeys outside the country.
ECONOMY MAN: Hassan Ibrahim (1917-1990) was one of the nine-member leadership group of the Free Officers and a member of the RCC. Along with a number of officers, including Nasser, he was involved in a failed attempt on the life of Major General Hussein Serri Amer, one of the King's most loyal supporters, prior to the revolution. Ibrahim was an Air Force group captain in 1952 and was instrumental in organising the Air Force division of the Free Officers. He played an important role at the revolution's most decisive moments: one of those officers who took over Army Headquarters, he also participated in the siege of the palaces of Ras El-Tin and Montaza in Alexandria, forcing King Farouk to abdicate as well as ensuring that airports and air bases were swiftly taken over. He came up with the code word "Nasr" and the revolution's zero hour, midnight, while the final moves were being planned. A member of the revolutionary court that tried Kafr El-Dawwar workers in August 1952, he did not vote in favour of the execution of ringleaders Khamis and El- Baqari. He was among that group of officers assigned to inform Mohamed Naguib that he was to be deposed from office. Ibrahim occupied many economic posts, chairing the Economic Organisation founded in 1957 to administer state shares in newly Egyptianised foreign banks and insurance companies. He became a member of the executive committee of the ASU in 1962, to be appointed vice- president in 1964. Differences in opinion, especially on nationalisation policies of which he did not approve, resulted in his resignation from all his official posts in 1966.
BROTHER KAMAL: Kamaleddin Hussein (1920- 1999) was one of the Free Officers and a member of the RCC. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1939 and taught at the Staff College prior to the revolution. Hussein was known to enjoy good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. He occupied various positions under the revolutionary regime, supervising the National Guard and holding the social affairs and education portfolios. Hussein headed the Liberation Army in Port Said during the Suez War in 1956. In 1958 he became head of the Supreme Council for the Arts, Letters and Social Sciences, heading the Egyptian branch of the National Union under the UAR in 1959. He was appointed minister of local administration in 1961. After the secession he was appointed vice-president for social services and minister of local administration and housing. He served as secretary- general of the National Congress of Popular Forces and a member of the ASU executive. In 1963 he withdrew from the political arena. Nationalisation laws had affected his family's interests and property. He was placed under house arrest for opposing Nasser's views in the late 1960s but was released by Sadat. Yet he soon fell out with the late president. As an elected member of the People's Assembly he accused Sadat of "punishing the Egyptian people" which led to his expulsion from parliament.
THE SURVIVOR: Hussein El-Shafie (b.1918) was one of the Free Officers and a member of the RCC. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1938 and was commissioned as a cavalry officer. He took part in the Palestine War and was later put in charge of the Cavalry Division. After the revolution he occupied various ministerial and senior governmental positions including heading the war and marine ministry in 1954, the labour and social affairs ministries till 1958 and the planning ministry during Egypt's union with Syria. He was appointed vice-president shortly before the breakup of the UAR. In 1965 El-Shafie was put in charge of the Central Accounting Office, to be appointed minister of social affairs and pious endowments from 1967 to 1968. He resigned as vice-president in 1968. El-Shafie is one of the few old-guard leaders who stayed on under the Sadat regime, serving once more as vice-president from 1970 to May 1975. He is one of the opponents of Sadat's peace initiative and the Camp David Accords. He has disappeared from public life since the mid-1970s.
Letter from the Editor
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