In rare photos: The story of the ‘Golden General’, Abdel Moneim Riad



Fri, 09 Mar 2018 - 02:07 GMT


Fri, 09 Mar 2018 - 02:07 GMT

Undated photo of meeting - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

Undated photo of meeting - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

CAIRO – 9 March 2018: Martyrs photos are always disconcerting. Suddenly, they become much more graceful with their radiant faces which enfold the secret of their greatness and uniqueness in spite of the years that pass by, and which tell the story of why they deserve to have their names written with the utmost honor and light on the pages of history.

Exclusively and with rare photos, Egypt Today exhibits a family archive of photos for General Abdel Moneim Riad, the chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces who was nicknamed the “Golden General”. Every year on March 9, the same day Riad died in 1969, Egypt commemorates all martyrs on Martyrs’ Day, which was chosen to immortalize Riad and to pay homage to thousands of martyrs who sacrificed their lives for our country.

A family photo, undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

General Riad is one of the most well-known Arab military men in the second half of the 20th century; he fought against Germans and Italians in World War II in the years 1941 and 1942; in the Arab-Israeli war for Palestine in 1948; in the Second Arab-Israeli war in 1956, or the Tripartite Aggression; and in the War of Attrition in 1967; in addition to supervising the plan Egypt designed during the War of Attrition years for destroying the Bar Lev Line.

The night of March 9 was unlike any other night

The night of March 9, 1969, was not an ordinary night in the life of Azza El-Khouly, then only a child. Suddenly the telephone rang at a late hour on a cold winter night that most Alexandrians are quite familiar with. Dr. Weded Riad, Azza’s mother, answered the phone; she only managed to say one word, and that was “Hello”, after which she fell in a long silence with the caller who said a few words and then ended the brief call.

All of a sudden, the house turned upside down; pale faces, tears that ran down with sobs and groans, with everybody suddenly getting dressed and preparing to leave for Cairo. In the car they gathered together, and that was when little Azza asked her mother with a pounding heart “What’s the matter?”

General Abdel Moneim Riad (L) with late President Gamal Abdel Nasser (R), undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

“Your uncle was martyred” was her mother’s answer.

With an incessant flow of memory, Dr. Azza El-Khouly, Head of the Library of Alexandria’s Academic Services Department and General Riad’s niece, spoke to Egypt Today for the first time about the great fighter and military leader who died in an Israeli mortar attack. She talks about Riad as a person and as an uncle, as well as about his life, family and secrets. In addition, she shows us a collection of rare photos for the martyr who has become an iconic memory for a country whose history was written with the blood of its martyrs; and, just like a never-setting sun, the Martyrs’ Day was made to remind us forever of the day of his martyrdom.

The family: A mother who has a special place and a father who is a military idol
Family in Abdel Moneim Riad’s life was not just a solid family united with love and respect, but also a family where the mother had a sacred place and the father a colossal role. Dr. El-Khouly explained, “My uncle never got married, for he was a military monk who gave far less thought to his personal life than to every detail that could lead to the recovery of every inch of Egypt’s occupied lands, and he regarded the army as his family and his whole life.”

She added, “My grandmother held a sacred place in my uncle’s life, and he listened to everything she said, to the extent of joining the Faculty of Medicine for two years just to please her, like the rest of his siblings who were in esteemed scientific schools, before he quit and joined the Military Academy. The most influential example in his life was his father, though. Riad’s father was the main reason he joined the military, for Colonel (formerly known as Kaymakam) Mohamed Riad Abdullah was an instructor in the Royal Military Academy, and he taught many leaders in Egypt’s military establishment.

A night when Abdel Moneim Riad cried

Dr. Azza recalled an anecdote her aunt Samiha Riad had told her. She said, “Though the martyr joined the Faculty of Medicine for his mother’s sake, especially since his father had passed away when he was barely 13, he never stopped dreaming about joining the Egyptian military. His mother went to his room one night and saw him reading the Quran and crying so much his tears drenched the book. When asked why he was crying, he said ‘My father was an officer and I want to follow his footsteps, but I applied for the Faculty of Medicine. Today is the deadline for applying for the Military Academy.’ His mother was really touched and suggested he immediately applies for the Military Academy tests. She told him to tell them he’s Kaymakam Mohammed Riad’s son. He did the tests and was accepted in the Military Academy.”

The Russian doll
General Abdel Moneim Riad did not marry since he gave his life to the Egyptian military. He achieved great successes and took on top-notch military positions, finally becoming the Egyptian Armed Forces Chief of Staff. His military advancement and the nature of his work which required rigor and strictness still did not mask another aspect of a lenient character. Dr. Azza laughs, saying, “I still have a famous Russian Matryoshka doll he brought me from Russia that I’ve kept until this day. He was on a grant to the Soviet Union completing a tactical course at the Supreme Military Academy. He completed the course with honors, and the Russians called him the Golden General. I remember he showered the children of the family with gifts from England, as he traveled there to complete a special training on anti-aircraft artillery, after which he pursued his studies in the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

General Abdel Moneim Riad, undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

Golf, swimming, Umm Kolthoum and the Bolshoi

The Martyrs’ Knight, as he was called, was not only a strict military man. He was a courteous man who memorized the Quran as a child. He had a taste for sophisticated art and his own hobbies too, which formed many aspects of his personality, as his niece said.

“My uncle loved golf and swimming” she said, “He won many championships, especially in swimming. He was sensitive and romantic and loved poetry and reading all types of books. He was an avid reader and an extraordinary intellectual. He was also passionate about authentic Arab music, and the Star of the Orient Umm Kolthoum was his favorite singer. For all Egyptians, not just the Golden General, she represented an extraordinary singer. He met her several times, since he was keen on attending her concerts regularly if his time allowed him to. He also used to attend Russian Bolshoi ballet performances, especially ‘Swan Lake’.”

Predicting the occupation of Iraq
History will remember that this extraordinarily intelligent man (who never stopped studying, compelling military experts later to say he had a rare military and technical encyclopedia knowledge) predicted the occupation of Iraq more than 49 years ago. His niece said, “In a lecture he gave at the Command and Staff College in 1968, he said that America is running out of gas, and will look for Iraqi gas in approximately 30 years.”

He believed that gas was a defining aspect of Arab power, when it was used for lobbying or as a source of income. He also believed Arabs had an excellent strategic location in the world, and enjoyed manpower double the Israeli manpower. Riad also believed in Arabs’ Arab-Islamic power in Africa and Asia to be specific.

The details of his final moments

Dr. Azza said, “We later knew that the General supervised the Egyptian plan to destroy the Bar Lev Line during the War of Attrition. He decided to execute the plan himself and Saturday March 8, 1969 was set as its date. On time, Egyptians opened fire along the war arena, giving Israel the highest losses in a few hours, destroying parts of the Bar Lev Line and demolishing some of its artillery, in the most ferocious battle taking place before 1973.

A rare photo of young General Abdel Moneim Riad, undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

The next day, the General decided to head to the field to investigate the results of the battle closely and support his soldiers on the field. He decided to visit one of the most advanced fields, known as Number 6 in Ismailia, when they were attacked. The entire area was under fire they all had to hide in trenches on the field. The trench the General descended into was enough for two or three people max. A bomb exploded at the entrance of the trench where he was hiding, causing a powerful vacuum. His lungs almost exploded because he was the closest one to the explosion.

When smoke and dust settled, Abdel Moneim Riad was still in his place, but he was silent and his facial expressions showed his agony. A thin line of blood started following from between his lips, dripping slowly on his field military uniform, which he put on without the ranks, as he always did when he was in the field among his soldiers. One of his most important words of wisdom was, ‘A leader’s real place is among his soldiers and on the front line.’”

Badges, military decorations and heroism that knows no limits
General Abdel Moneim Riad took great strides on his journey to lead the Egyptian Army, deservedly. He exerted all possible efforts, was devoted to his work and respected it, so it was natural for the family’s home to have a special wall called “The Wall of Achievements”. They used this huge wall to record only a few of this great leader’s achievements.

General Abdel Moneim Riad (L) with late President Gamal Abdel Nasser (R), undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly

Dr. Azza said, “We have dozens of badges, medals and military decorations, Egyptian, international and Arab. One of the most important is the Military Honor Star, the highest military decoration in the United Arab Republic back then, when he was promoted to Colonel General. There is also the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, Golden Medal of Merit, National Order of the Cedar for a Senior Officer from Lebanon, Order of the Star of Jordan (first ranking), Medal of Honor from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense, Queen Victoria Golden Medal from England and the Military Medal (first ranking) from Sudan.

Medal of Honor from England, undated - Photo courtesy of Dr. Azza El-Khouly



Leave a Comment

Be Social