/ Published July 20, 2016
In 1967 the Egyptian military was crushed during the Six-Day War, and Israel occupied the West Bank of the Suez Canal. It was left to Gen Mohamed Fawzi, the new Egyptian armed forces commander in chief and subsequently Egypt’s war minister, to restructure the defeated military, both materially and intellectually, for the future effort to reoccupy the Sinai Desert. The story of this transformation from a shattered defensive military to a robust, offensively oriented force that pushed the Israeli Army to the maximum is presented in General Fawzi’s memoirs, translated and edited by Cdr Youssef Aboul-Enein of the US Navy. Although the book was originally published in 1984, Aboul-Enein’s work has made Fawzi’s memoirs available in the English language. For this effort, Commander Aboul-Enein, a Middle East foreign area officer and instructor at the National Defense University, must be commended.
Fawzi’s memoirs appear in three parts. The first part is a scathing critical analysis of the causes of the Egyptian defeat in 1967. In this reviewer’s opinion, Fawzi’s candid discussion is by far the most illuminating and valuable portion of the work. The first problem Fawzi notes is that the Egyptian Army’s conventional war skills deteriorated while it fought a five-year counterinsurgency in Yemen. A similar problem confronted the US military after Vietnam and again may be an issue after American forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan. A second problem was a disconnect between policy goals of the Egyptian civilian leadership under President Gamal Abdel Nasser and military plans prepared under the leadership of Field Marshal Ali Amer. The relationship between Nasser and Amer undermined civilian control, distorted and created chaos in the Egyptian command structure, and eliminated independent analysis of the military situation prior the Six-Day War. Third, numerous operational and intelligence failures led to the almost total destruction of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground and the Army’s lack of preparation in the Sinai. Finally, a dearth of organizational cohesion resulted in units failing to operate effectively and Israel’s rout of the Egyptian Army.
Fawzi’s desire to address these problems forms the basis of the second and third parts of the book: rebuilding the military to ensure operational effectiveness and organizational cohesion and developing a strategic approach to retake the Sinai. One of the more interesting portions of these discussions is Fawzi’s efforts, in conjunction with both President Nasser and his successor Anwar Sadat, to realign the Egyptian political and military policy-making structure so that the one would always support the other.
As interesting and valuable as some portions of the book are, fundamental organizational problems permeate the entire work. The author originally published the individual chapters as a series of articles in Infantry Magazine during 2012 and 2013. Although he has added some new information to the book-length version, the chapters are for the most part presented as they appeared in serial form. The result is repetitious language that made sense when the chapters to some degree stood alone but should have been excised in the unified version. A second problem is a tendency for some chapters to be disjointed from the others and, at times, to lack contextualization. Again, that was not as much of an issue in the original serial publication as it is in the current work. Third, when the chapters were published in Infantry Magazine, each was separately introduced, but these introductions now add little to the substance of the text and in fact can be distracting. Finally, the footnotes are much too sparse. This reader had difficulty determining whether nonquoted factual material is derived from the original Fawzi memoirs or is the result of the editor’s independent research. Certainly, Commander Aboul-Enein and the Naval Institute Press should be commended for bringing the ideas of an important Egyptian officer to the English-reading world, thereby giving insight into Middle Eastern military theory, but the final product needed a heavier editorial hand.
John C. Binkley, PhD
University of Maryland University College
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."