- Kalemat as-Ser: Mudhakkirat Mohamed Hosni Mubarak: Yuniu 1967–October 1973 by Mohamed Hosni Mubarak
The fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt amid mass unrest in early 2011 allowed observers to look back on Mubarak’s role as the commander of the Egyptian Air Force (EGAF) during the October 1973 Mideast War—a role that constituted one pillar of Mubarak’s legitimacy during his 30-year rule. Most notable is the republication of the memoir of Lieutenant-General Saad Shazly, former chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces (1971–1973), which challenges the accepted Egyptian historiography, particularly its emphasis on the role of the EGAF strike at the war’s outset, the adverse role of the Soviet Union as Egypt’s main arms supplier at the time, and the marginality of the Israeli penetration west of the Suez Canal in the war’s final stage.
However, anyone hoping that Mubarak’s own firsthand account would engage with Shazly’s memoir, would offer explosive revelations about these three significant issues, or would discuss the decision-making process under President Gamal Abdel Nasser or Anwar El Sadat is destined to be disappointed. The Password, which covers the period from 1967 to 1973 in which Mubarak reached the highest position at EGAF, narrates in detail the efforts to rebuild the EGAF after it suffered major casualties in [End Page 152] the Israeli air strike of 5 June 1967. Not only does the memoir offer no new facts about this important episode, but it is also told in a way that is closer to polemics than to writing history.
On one level, Mubarak’s memoir needs to be seen and assessed against the anomaly of the motivation behind its writing. As the editors state in the introduction, Mubarak’s narration of his story in the late 1970s to a ghostwriter came not at his own initiative but at the behest of President Sadat (pp. 8–9). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the whole memoir is strongly supportive of Sadat’s policies.
Although the text includes minute account of events, including long citations, it conspicuously omits Soviet-Egyptian military relations from 1967 to 1973. These were the years when the two countries had reached the peak of their alliance after the Arab defeat in June 1967. Also, the failure of the EGAF to repulse the Israeli aerial bombing deep inside Egypt triggered the first Soviet military intervention outside a Warsaw Pact country. The USSR sent an entire air-defense division to Egypt in 1970, but one would never know this from Mubarak’s account. Likewise, the last four chapters covering the October 1973 war are completely silent on the significant disagreements within the Egyptian High Command—particularly between President Sadat and his minister of war, General Ahmed Ismail Ali, and Lieutenant-General Saad Shazly—regarding the critical decisions concerning the renewal of the offensive in the Sinai and on countering the Israeli penetration west of the Suez Canal afterward.
One plausible explanation for these glaring omissions is political correctness. The memoir was written after Sadat’s selection of Mubarak as vice president in 1975, at roughly the same time that Sadat terminated Egypt’s treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union and shifted allegiances to the United States. Another explanation lies in the fact that the relative weakness of the EGAF, under Mubarak’s command during the war, constituted the major limit on Egyptian war plans. Regardless, scholars of this period will not find much of interest in the memoir from an academic point of view, particularly because Mubarak’s cautious detachment impedes any attempt to learn more about his contemporaries or the historical events he witnessed.
Another consideration when assessing The Password’s merit has to do with the timing of its publication in late 2013. Egypt’s hope for a democratic, prosperous future following the 2011 revolution soon evaporated in...