General Saad El-Shazli was born in April 1922, in the village of Shabratna, Bassyoun in the Delta governorate of El-Gharbiya.
He was described as “the mastermind” behind Egypt’s plan of attack which destroyed the myth of Israel's Bar Lev Line, paving the way for the crossing of the Egyptian forces into the Suez Canal, and the ultimate liberation of the Sinai from Israeli occupation. El-Shazli served as Armed Forces Chief of Staff between 16 May 1971 and 13 December 1973.
El-Shazli was the founder and first commander of the Paratroopers Unit in the Egyptian armed forces (1954-1959). He was commander of the unified Arab forces in the Congo, serving within the UN peacekeeping troops there (1960-1961). He also served as military attaché in London (1961-1963) and returned to Egypt to lead the Infantry brigade (1965-1966), followed by the Special Forces (paratroopers and commandos) (1967-1969). He was also appointed commander of the Red Sea zone (1970-1971) and finally, Armed Forces Chief of Staff (1971-1973).
After leaving the army, he served as Egypt’s ambassador to London (1974-1975). His last official post was as Egypt's ambassador to Lisbon in Portugal (1975-1978).
Military expert and historian Brigadier-General Safwat El-Zayyat described El-Shazli as “a brave hero and victimised general. I believe General El-Shazli was one of the best generals in the history of the Egyptian military," El-Zayyat told Ahram Online during an emotional interview. “He was of the same calibre as the heroic General Abdel-Moneim Riyad and the valiant General Mohamed Abdel-Ghani El-Gamassi. He was the only soldier who was able to push deep into Israel by penetrating Al-Naqab in the 1967 war and demonstrated valour in battle.”
“He was unique and had a formidable mind for strategic planning,” added El-Zayyat.
President Anwar El-Sadat recalled him from the battlefield during the October War to hand over his position as Army Chief of Staff to his successor El-Gamassi, which caused El-Shazli to break down after returning from the war front.
“Sadat blamed [El-Shazli] for the aftermath following the political decision that caused the breach on the battlefield,” explained El-Zayyat. “El-Shazli had become very popular among the people and Sadat wanted to end that, especially as El-Shazli was well aware of the mistake Sadat made in managing the battle after the seventh day and the dramatic transformation which took place in the days after that.”
El-Zayyat said that “Egyptian military chiefs of staff do not break down.”
The military historian added that El-Shazli “was further victimised during the Mubarak regime because under any regime there are always tensions between the politicians and the military brass. The general relinquished all official posts during Mubarak’s rule, which ended his distinguished military career.”
Speaking of the events underway in Egypt today, El-Zayyat said tearfully: “Thank God the general died as the revolution of the youth was underway. It is true that he did not talk much about democracy, but he always believed that Egypt is at the point of liberation but that it is not free.”
El-Shazli has written several books and articles, including his famous book The Arab Military Option published in 1983, which is a seminal work on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It documents the historical and religious roots of the conflict and the role played by the superpowers to manipulate this conflict to serve their own interests. His book also explored the elements of power and weakness in each Arab country and Israel, arguing that negotiating with Israel would never result in a just solution for the Arabs, unless Israel feels that the Arabs have the military capability to reach a just peace through war, if negotiations fail to achieve this.
“This history must be rewritten,” El-Zayyat asserted. “His memoir about the October War was banned in Egypt, although it is one of the best publications about that war. Unfortunately, he was sentenced to three years in prison for not having a license to publish it, which demonstrates that there were those who did not want him to publish details about the war from the perspective of one of its heroes.”