Book review: memoirs of the late General Shazly
The testimony of the man who was at the head of the Egyptian military during the October war in 1973 is finally available in Egypt
Mahmoud El-Wardani, Saturday 17 Mar 2012
Harb October (The October War) by Saadeddin El-Shazly, Cairo: Dar Ru’yah, 2011. 612pp.
Less than one month after the first Egyptian edition of the memoirs of Saadeddin El-Shazly, the second edition is already out. This, despite the fact that two other pirated editions are spreading through the market, in addition to the non-Egyptian editions (1979-1998) and the many pirated versions of these. The evidence points in one direction: throughout its 30-year life, this has been a very popular book. It is popular not only because it is the testimony of the principal Egyptian Army commander during the October War of 1973 but also because it expresses a viewpoint markedly different from the official version of events – especially as regards the Defreswar gap, the epilogue to the war which all but reversed Egypt’s victory.
It is worth noting that this edition is dedicated by Zeinat El-Seheimy, the wife of the late general, to the "youth of January 25 who staged the greatest of revolutions, without which the book would have never seen the light". Indeed, this book is one of the direct fruits of the revolution, for El-Shazly's point of view had been suppressed for years, and for that point of view he suffered a year and a half in prison, prior to which he had been chased out of the country and watched closely for three decades. This was largely due to Shazly’s conflict with the late President Sadat (his military superior) regarding the significance of the Defreswar gap. As it turned out, Shazly was right: the gap would widen quickly, especially after the media campaign Israel launched against Egypt (photographing the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Mayer, in Adabeya Port in Suez, supposedly in the hands of Egyptians), leading to the withdrawal of Egyptian troops and forcing a ceasefire that enabled Israel to make important gains.
Having ignored his advice to move some troops from east to west, an action that would have closed the gap and sealed Egypt’s victory, Sadat never forgave Shazly for having the right idea. Shazly was dismissed from his position (which he assumed in 1971) a few months after the war, in December 1973. Between 1974 and 1978 he was made a diplomat, serving as ambassador to the UK and Portugal, but he eventually resigned in protest of the Camp David accords and henceforth lived as a refugee in Algeria – where he wrote this significant document of the October War and sent a copy of the manuscript together with a statement against Sadat to the Prosecutor General. Tried on charges of revealing military secrets, he was sentenced to three years in prison; his assets were confiscated. After 14 years in Algeria, Shazly returned to Egypt in 1992 – only to be arrested on arrival at the airport and put in prison. On his release one and a half years later, Shazly chose to retire in his home, preferring isolation and suffering from old age. Shazly's dramatic life had an equally dramatic ending, for he left this world and was buried the day Omar Soliman announced Mubarak's stepping down, on 11 February 2011.