Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
8 - 14 October 1998
Issue No.398
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

'God wanted to reward me'

By Jailan Halawi

Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Khalil Maj. Gen.
Mahmoud Khalil
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Khalil is a hero. He lost his eye-sight on the battlefield, but not his will to live and fight on. For him, this has always seemed a modest sacrifice to make for the homeland.

After graduating from the Military Academy in 1953, Khalil fought in the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars. In 1973, he served as a colonel and the commander of an armoured brigade.

According to Khalil, the dawn of 16 October saw the commencement of the main battle in which his troops were involved. "Shortly before, Israel had managed to establish a beachhead on the western bank of the Suez Canal. My mission was to protect our own positions near Ismailia against the attacks of an enemy brigade. I advanced with my troops and we engaged in combat with the enemy forces until, by sunset, I saw them withdrawing. I felt triumphant," he said.

On the morning of 19 October, Khalil was driving to his headquarters along a road that runs parallel to the Suez Canal. An Israeli warplane fired an air-to-surface missile which exploded only half a kilometre from his car. He suffered severe injuries to his eyes and was evacuated to the Maadi Armed Forces Hospital in Cairo. After undergoing six months of treatment, he was informed by doctors that he would never recover his sight.

"Although crossing to the eastern bank of the Canal was not an easy task, our forces were determined either to win and thus regain their national pride or to die," he said. "Our land is our honour. Our land is sacred and should never be tarnished. I used to tell my men that it is our duty to restore the honour of the armed forces after the humiliation and bitter defeat of 1967. As soldiers on the battlefield, we were determined to regain our land, regardless of casualties. It was with this spirit that we fought, and won."

According to Khalil, the 1973 victory was not a stroke of luck but the harvest of six years of extensive training and preparation. "Following the humiliation of 1967, our forces had learned their lesson," he said. "They knew that victory could only be achieved through knowledge, hard work and a strong sense of belonging. After that setback, we engaged in a war of attrition with the enemy. But full-scale war was the dream of all the troops who had been on the front line for six years, longing for the zero hour."

Now, Khalil continued, 25 years have passed, "but I do not regret being injured. On the contrary, I believe that God wanted to reward me. Losing my sight on the battlefield while defending my homeland is an honour. It was the least I could give to my beloved nation."

Khalil's determination was not defeated by his injury. In 1976, he obtained a diploma in politics from the Arab Institute for Economic Research, in 1985 a doctorate in strategic philosophy, in 1986 a diploma from the Institute of Islamic Studies and in 1996 a Master's degree in political science from the Institute of Arab Politics.

'I played my part'

By Jailan Halawi

Maj. Gen. Hamdi El-Hadidi Maj. Gen.
Hamdi El-Hadidi
Though he had both his legs amputated as a result of injuries caused by an air-to-surface missile strike, Maj. Gen. Hamdi El-Hadidi has no regrets. "I played my part in the realisation of the dream that had haunted the Arab nation for years, the dream of regaining our lost pride. My injury is something I am proud of and cherish. It means that I performed my duty fully and I am proud of this."

After graduating from the Military Academy in 1952, El-Hadidi took part in the 1956, the Yemen, 1967 and 1973 wars. He refused to call 1967 a setback or a defeat, but referred to as a "contingent situation" facing the armed forces. For El-Hadidi, 1973 was the only real war in Egypt's contemporary history. In that war, El-Hadidi was a colonel and the commander of a mechanised infantry brigade.

El-Hadidi recalls how, with the first light of dawn on 8 October, the enemy launched a counter-attack with warplanes and artillery against his beachhead on the Canal's eastern bank. They even managed to infiltrate the front lines of his brigade. "Immediately, I ordered my troops to stick to their positions and prevent the enemy from establishing contact with their fortified strongpoints. Consequently, the counter-attack was aborted and the enemy withdrew, leaving behind 18 wrecked tanks."

As El-Hadidi's brigade expanded its onslaught eastward, one of the brigade's battalions, led by Col. Youssri Emara, came across some enemy soldiers hiding behind the carcass of a tank and training their sub-machine-guns in their direction. An exchange of fire followed which ended with an Israeli surrender. One of the captured Israelis was Col. Assaf Yagouri, commander of the Israeli 190th armoured brigade. By the dawn of 15 October, El-Hadidi's troops had advanced 15km east of the Canal -- the final objective of their mission was obtained.

As of 17 October, the Israeli air force intensified its attacks against the Egyptian positions. And in the evening of 20 October, El-Hadidi was injured as a result of strikes by two Israeli air-to-surface missiles. "My soldiers dragged me to shelter and I was later transported to hospital," he said.

El-Hadidi was unconscious upon arrival at the hospital, and the doctors thought that he was dead. He lay in the hospital's basement together with other "martyrs" until one of the doctors realised that he was still alive. "Although I was in a terrible condition, the doctors did everything to save my life. It is God's miracle that I am still alive," he said.

"We entered the war with a single strong belief -- we would accept only victory or martyrdom. Accomplishing our mission on the battlefield was the one and only thing that mattered," said El-Hadidi.