Book review: The book never written by Hosni Mubarak

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Monday 28 Oct 2013

40 years after confiding 1973 combat stories to the editor, Mubarak's memoirs of the Egypt-Israeli war see the light at a strange timing


Kalemat Al-Sirr (The Password) by Hosni Mubarak, edited by Mohamed El-Shinnawy and Abdallah Kamal, Cairo: Nahdet Misr Publishing, 2013. 534pp.

At the time General Hosni Mubarak, the 1973 War air force commander, was being appointed vice president in 1975, president Sadat ordered all war commanders to write their memoirs and English Literature professor Rashad Rushdie was chosen as editor for Mubarak's. However, Rushdie apologised, for after completing Sadat's memoirs, Searching for Oneself, he felt it unsuitable to edit the vice president’s words after having edited the president’s, and so Mohamed El-Shinnawy, the radio editor, was chosen for the task.

This information was noted by journalist Abdallah Kamal in his introduction to Hosni Mubarak’s memoirs, which he re-edited. Being one of the journalists associated with Gamal Mubarak's Policies Committee of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party, Kamal is known to having been close to the Mubarak family, especially after his appointment as chief editor of the daily Rose Al-Youssef and his visible defence of the ‘inheritance plan’ grooming Gamal Mubarak for the presidency after his father.

Memoirs, as described in the title, are none but the transcripts of tape after tape of interviews between then vice president General Mubarak and editor El-Shinnawy, detailing stories strictly related to the 1967-1973 military operations, the preparations leading to the 1973 War, and ending with the success of the 1973 air strike.

Written between 1975 and 1981 (the year Mubarak was appointed president), the book expresses Mubarak’s viewpoint as a military commander who fully adopts Egyptian military values, considering the first enemy of the state to be Israel. According to the book, the war never ended in October 1973 – a combat doctrine adopted since the 1948 War, re-instated after the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 defeat.

In the introduction, Kamal explains how the memoirs found their way to print after the 25 January Revolution when he was introduced to a young director, Karim El-Shinnawy, the grandson of Mubarak’s interviewer.

Surprised that such a text could be forgotten nearly 40 years after months of recording and editing -- El-Shinnawy wrote the original 400-page text by hand, with remarks by Mubarak in red -- Kamal was able to collect the memoirs which were passed down in the El-Shinnawy family from father to son to grandson. 

As Kamal described, the text was handed to him in early 2013 by El-Shinnawy’s grandson, who asked that the memoirs be published. The publication date, September 2013, marks only one month since the court ordered release of Mubarak while awaiting retrial for the case of killing protesters, though he remains under house arrest.

There's no direct mention of approval from Mubarak -- after a request was submitted through his lawyer, Fareed El-Deeb -- but Kamal mentions instead that "Mubarak forgot about them." The last statement is very difficult to believe, especially considering that the October War was the most significant incident in Mubarak's military history and that the decision of writing memoirs was originally made by Sadat.

The most likely scenario is that, following Sadat's trip to Jerusalem and the Camp David peace agreement, the rhetoric changed, and statements to the effect that ‘October is the last of all wars’ started filling the air, which rendered the strict combat doctrine against Israel in Mubarak’s memoirs unsuitable.

Although the introduction is not devoid of attacks on all who opposed Mubarak, including leftists and the Muslim Brotherhood, Kamal’s exact role in 'editing' the text is not explained, as it would appear that said role is confined to compiling and publishing, in addition to the introduction. Kamal wrote "I took upon myself the task of modernising the text to suit the year of publication, 2013," yet the changes he claims to have introduced remain unclear since the entire text is confined to the 1967-1973 period.

The memoirs, which make no mention of the Egyptian people’s revolt against the October War Air Force Commander, would appear to be an attempt to save the face of the ousted president, but nothing can beautify the corruption and oppression of 30 years of dictatorship rule.

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