In Photos: Egypt's unsung war photographers - Immortal images of the October War victory

Sayed Mahmoud , Friday 4 Nov 2022

On the afternoon of 6 of October 1973, the Egyptian Armed Forces shook the world with a courageous and surprise attack on Israel to liberate Sinai. Someone had to capture this and other moments of bravery that led to victory - and send them back to the people to confirm the good news.



On that day, Egyptian soldiers had managed for the first time since the 1967 defeat to cross to the Israeli-occupied eastern side of the Suez Canal and to bring down the reputedly impregnable Bar Lev Line.

Starting 7 October, Egyptian dailies began posting news and pictures of the war.

Given the trauma that resulted from the falsely declared victory in the 1967 War still lingering in their minds, people sought proof of the crossing in pictures taken from the front.

These were the pictures that the photojournalists were taking and sending to Cairo for publication – just as they had done during the 1956 War and the 1967-1970 War of Attrition.

Shawky Moustafa: 'An image for forever'

Shawky Moustafa

On the morning of 8 October 1973, a certain picture was posted that was to become ubiquitous and iconic.   

The picture shows an Egyptian soldier raising his gun in defiance, joy and pride upon getting to the eastern side of the Suez Canal.

It was captured by the late Shawky Moustafa, a photojournalist who was working for the state-owned Dar El-Helal at the time.


A social media post by Moustafa's grandchild  to express pride in the immortality of their granpa's work and iconinc image

“At that time – and for many years to come – not many people cared about crediting photojournalists for their work," said Sherine Shawky, Moustafa's son.

"This photo, which was inscribed on a postage stamp in the glorious memory of the October Crossing, was re-published over and over by the press but without credits,” Shawky lamented.

Moustafa, who passed away over 10 years ago, covered more than one of Egypt's wars against Israel and worked for almost all the country's dailies throughout his distinguished career. 

The first shot he took in an Egyptian-Israeli war, however, was during the 1956 Suez War when he was an army conscript.

Shawky said that though his father had taken many photos on various frontlines he was especially proud of the pictures he took during the October war.

Sherine Shawky

Shawky recalls with joy how his dad kept sending photos non-stop from 7 October till the end of the war.

“Many of his photos capture the bravery of Egyptian soldiers. The picture, however, that he would stare at and that remained his favourite is the picture of the soldier crying out ‘victory,” he noted.


Antoine Albert: 'Not to be deterred'

Antoine Albert

Another iconic photo, published on 8 October in Al-Ahram, depicts the first soldier to plant the Egyptian flag on land that had just been liberated from Israeli occupation.

The shot was taken by Antoine Albert, another photojournalist with a long history of photographing Egyptian-Israeli wars.

According to his widow, Alice Aiyyad, Albert, who had passed away 10 years ago, was once held captive by the Israeli army during the war of attrition.

Before he was captured, Albert had been with two prominent journalists at the time, Anis Mansour and Gamal Helal.

Mansour returned to Cairo carrying  a love letter from Albert to his then young fiancée Alice.

“Antoine had wanted to reassure me that everything was alright, but for some reason Anis Mansour never handed this letter to me. Perhaps he thought I would get more worried when I read it, or maybe he learned of Antoine's capture before he had a chance to call and pass the letter to me,” she recalled.

Alice learned of this letter when Albert returned home after spending over two months in Israeli custody.

She stressed that his imprisonment by the Israelis never deterred him from wanting to go back to the front to take pictures.

He wanted to take pictures of the soldiers who were getting ready for the day when they will reverse the defeat, she said.

“He never hesitated for a moment when he was summoned to go to the front and take pictures; for him his mission had not yet been accomplished,” Alice added.

More heroes: 'Send me to the frontline'

Many journalists had been keen on taking photos from the front during the October War.

Tony Fares and Mohamed Lotfy, two photojournalists from Al-Ahram, spent days at the front.

Fares was among the first photojournalists to request to go to the front soon after he heard the news of the crossing.

He should have been given credit for the large number of photos he sent, which depicted the defiance of Egyptian soldiers, their joy over the crossing, and their pain over losing comrades who fell for the glory of Egypt.

His photos also included unique shots of the damage that the Egyptian Armed Forces had inflicted upon the Israeli army.

Lotfy is another Al-Ahram photojournalist who should have been given credit for so many photos of Israeli prisoners of war - photos that are still in print today.

Tony Fares

Tony Fares at work

Mohamed lotfy on the frontlines

Israeli soldiers coffins - Photo by Mohamed Lotfy

'We document courage'

Makram Gad El-Karim and Farouk Ibrahim went to the front with Gamal El-Ghitany, the prominent novelist who started his career as a war correspondent.

Their photos still reflect the sentiments and memories that Ghitany captured in his book The October Dairies: At the Frontline.

The book, which falls in three parts, spans the period between the war of attrition and the October War.

El-Ghitany dedicates a large part of the book to portraying the courage and fortitude of Egyptian soldiers, whose faces are documented in the iconic photos taken by Gad El-Karim and Ibrahim.

Images are constant reminders

The archives of the photos of the October War are largely fragmented and incomplete.

In October 2014, however, the Bibliotheca Alexandria uploaded on its website a large collection of these photos.  

These photos thus act as constant reminders of the valour of these soldiers.

They also document their individual feelings and emotions and articulate what this war meant for every one of them.

Finally, for a generation that has never witnessed the war, these pictures will remain a source of inspiration and pride long after the guns were put down.

Short link: