Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1399, (28 June - 4 July 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1399, (28 June - 4 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Obituary: Baki Zaki Youssef (1931-2018)

Baki Zaki Youssef

Engineering victory

In a sombre but serene ceremony at the Mar Morcos Church in Heliopolis family, friends and a handful of state officials bid farewell to a man whose name will be forever associated with the successful breaching in October 1973 of the Bar Lev Line, the supposedly invincible fortification built by Israel on the east bank of the Suez Canal following its occupation of Sinai in June 1967.

Baki Zaki Youssef was born on 23 July 1931. He graduated from Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Engineering in 1954 and then joined the army’s engineering unit.

It was in the summer of 1969 that Youssef came up with the idea of using high-pressure water pumps to undermine the Israeli fortification. As a plan it had the great advantage of minimising risks to the lives of Egyptian soldiers.

“At the time everyone wanted to be on the frontline; nobody hesitated about giving their lives to reverse the defeat; however, it was this idea that just hit me when I was attending one of the meetings in the preparation process for the war to regain the occupied land that helped save the lives of many brave Egyptian soldiers,” Youssef said in an interview with Ahram Online.


Youssef’s idea was duly processed up the command chain and was successfully implemented.

“It was an inspiration that I got from our work to construct the High Dam in Aswan where we used water to dismantle the tough natural sand blocks. I got the idea at the meeting where we were examining the construction of the Bar Lev Line but I had not thought about it before to be honest, it was just the inspiration of the moment,” he said in the same interview.

In 1973 Youssef was awarded the Military Medal of the Republic, first rank, for his contribution to the 1973 War.

In 1984 Youssef retired from the army with the rank of major general, and was awarded the Republic Collar of Distinction.

Many thought the decorations he received were inadequate given his contribution to the 1973 victory, arguing his name should have graced a souvenir coin and been celebrated in the history curricula in schools.

Youssef always shrugged off such remarks. Though he was happy with the results of his brainwave, it was never something of which he would boast. He always believed credit for the victory in the 1973 War should go to the brave soldiers on the frontline. It was their resolve, he said, and the resolve of the military leadership that opted to implement the idea, that brought down the Bar Lev Line and allowed Egyptian soldiers to cross the Suez Canal.

Youssef was married to Awatef Naguib, with whom, he says, he fell in love the very first moment he saw her. He recalls it was “a lovely summer evening and she was wearing a lovely summer dress”.

Though they had no children of their own their elegant house in Heliopolis was always full of smiles and flowers brought by the children of family and friends. It was a house full of joy, compassion and great memories, among the most cherished of which was the day the radio broadcast the news of the fall of the Bar Lev Line.  

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