Ahmed Abdel-Aziz: 'He died a hero'

Al-Ahram Weekly , Wednesday 10 May 2023

Ahmed Abdel-Aziz
Ahmed Abdel-Aziz: At the front- The Iraq Suwaydan


From Al-Ahram Weekly archives: Fifty years of dispossession 1948-1998*

Issue: 20 August 1998


On 15 May 1948, the Akhbar Al-Yom correspondent in Palestine filed a lengthy report on the performance of the "young men at the helm". Topping a long list of these young fighters' names was that of Lieutenant Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, whose talent for leadership and outstanding performance in battle seemed to suggest an illustrious military career ahead. Abdel-Aziz was only 41 when he was named chief commander of the Egyptian volunteers.

Abdel-Aziz was certainly no stranger to army life. Born in July 1907 into a family which embraced the military career -- both his father, Brigadier Mohamed Bey Abdel-Aziz, and his brother, Captain Salaheddin Sherif, held high ranks in the military -- he naturally followed in their footsteps.

In 1928, he entered the Military Academy and later the Cavalry Division (today the Armoured Corps). Shortly afterwards, he was promoted to head of the military operations division. He also lectured in military history at the Royal Military Academy.

Events took a new twist when he decided to resign from the army and lead a volunteer battalion into Palestine. The victories he won during the first few days prompted King Farouk to name him commander-in-chief of the volunteer troops that went to fight in Palestine in 1948. The troops fought battles in Birsheeba, Al-Khalil and Bethlehem.

According to Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, who covered some of Abdel-Aziz's battles in Palestine, the irregular forces he led were charged with distracting the enemy and preventing the Arab soldiers from engaging in heavy fighting, which their military capabilities would not have withstood. 

A few days before he died, Abdel-Aziz was moving with his forces toward Jerusalem. According to the account published in Al-Ahram on 24 August 1948, he managed to raise the Egyptian flag over the municipality of Jerusalem. Following a conference in the city, where the terms of the truce between the Arab forces and the Zionist forces were to be ratified, he was mistakenly shot dead by Egyptian soldiers, who had taken him for an enemy. Back home, the news of Abdel-Aziz's death left the nation numb with grief over "the loss of a great commander", as Abdel-Rahman Azzam Pasha put it.


* This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly’s special pages commemorating 50 years of Al-Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Israel was created on 15 May 1948. These pages, published in 1998, were part of a year-long series of articles documenting the history and nature of the Arab-Israeli struggle, as well as that of Palestinian dispossession and exile.

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