Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Field Marshal Mohamed Ali Fahmi (1920-1999)

Father of the 'fourth force'

By Amira Ibrahim

Mohamed Ali Fahmi
Mohamed Ali Fahmi
Field Marshal Mohamed Ali Fahmi, head of Egypt's air defence forces during the 1973 War and a veteran of other Arab-Israeli wars, passed away on Sunday while receiving medical treatment in London. He was 79. The nature of his illness was not disclosed. President Hosni Mubarak led mourners at his funeral on Monday.

His coffin was draped in the Egyptian flag and mounted on a horse-drawn gun carriage. A number of top officials marched behind the carriage, including Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri, People's Assembly Speaker Fathi Sorour, Shura Council Chairman Mustafa Kamal Helmi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Magdi Hatata and top military commanders.

Fahmi took part in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, as well as the War of Attrition which preceded Egypt's last war with Israel.

< Funeral

Mubarak marches with mourners at Field Marshal Fahmi's funeral; a horse-drawn carriage carrying the late war veteran's coffin

Born in the Giza Governorate in October 1920, Fahmi joined the military academy, graduating in 1939. In 1959, he graduated from the military staff college. During the following years, Fahmi received several promotions to various military posts.

After returning from a military scholarship at Moscow's Lenin Military Academy in 1965, Fahmi delivered a lecture to a group of air force officers on the new air defence strategies. The lecture was attended by the late Field Marshal Abdel-Hakim Amer, at the time deputy supreme commander of the armed forces. In 1966, Fahmi was appointed as commander of an anti-aircraft missile base.

In June 1969, Fahmi was promoted to commander-in-chief of the air defence forces. At the time, the air defence network had been seriously weakened as a result of the 1967 defeat. Fahmi's first task was to build a surface-to-air "missile wall" to stop continuing raids by Israeli Phantom, Sky Hawk and Mirage warplanes.

"I sympathise with you for taking on such a responsibility," the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser told him.

In his book, The Fourth Force (the three other forces are land forces, the air force and the navy), Fahmi wrote that building the "wall of missiles" was implemented in three stages and completed in a year. On 30 June 1970, the air defence network proved successful when the first Israeli Phantom was brought down. In a week, 26 Israeli warplanes were downed. The surface-to-air missiles were at that time deployed 50 kilometres west of the Suez Canal. By July, the "missile wall" was moved forward to a position 30 kilometres west of the canal and the number of downed Israeli warplanes rose to 51.

Before a cease-fire took effect on 7 August, the scope of Israeli air attacks was shrinking, becoming limited to high-altitude flights, as a result of the missile wall's success.

On 6 October 1973, Egyptian air defence forces proved noticeably successful in deterring Israeli warplanes, which could not approach the canal and had to keep at a distance of 15 kilometres eastward.

In 1975, the late President Anwar El-Sadat promoted Fahmi to chief-of-staff of the armed forces, a position which he occupied until 1978, when he was appointed as the president's military adviser.

Fahmi was also a respected writer on military and political affairs. Besides The Fourth Force, he authored several books such as Palestine 1914-1918 and Germany from East to West.

On the 20th anniversary of the 1973 War, President Mubarak promoted Fahmi to field marshal in recognition of his many achievements.

A few weeks ago, Mubarak visited Fahmi at an Alexandria hospital, where he was being treated, and ordered that he be flown to London at state expense for additional treatment.

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