Egyptian surface-to-air during Tripartite Aggression in 1956 - Wikimedia Commons
CAIRO - 2 November 2019: In the 63rd anniversary of the Tripartite Aggression waged by France, Britain, and Israel against Egypt, Egypt Today spoke with former members of the popular resistance in Port Said, a governorate bordering the Suez Canal.
The aggression, which came in response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956, started on October 29, 1956 and ended on November 6, 1956 following the United States' mediation.
Mohamed Mahran refused to supply the British with information on the locations of resistance members so he was captured and his eyes were gouged out. Mahran became the commander of the Popular Resistance when he was 18. He was assigned to defend the western entrance of the town, the airport, and Al Gamil Bridge. On October 9, 1956, Mahran officially joined the national guards’ first battalion and became commander of the second company. He captured many British soldiers.
Mahran says that between 1957 and 1966, there used to be a big ceremony attended by Late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the ministers. Military parades used to be held and President Nasser used to deliver a speech that included announcements on key decrees. The radio used to start the broadcast with “This is the Voice of the Arabs from Port Said” or “This is the Broadcast of the United Arab Republic from Port Said.” The president used to meet with members of the Popular Resistance.
As a child and a young man, Mahran used to sneak with others into the British military camps, particularly the Gulf Camp in Mohamed Ali Street. “After each raid, British soldiers would break into the streets carrying their rifles and driving their tanks on the eastern side of the street. We, Egyptians, would stand on the western side. They would open fire on us and we had nothing but stones, empty bottles, and incendiary balls. After the 1952 revolution, the Popular Resistance's work became legal and supported by the ruling regime. The Armed Forces inaugurated a camp in Port Said to train members of the movement under the name 'the National Guard Guerrillas of Port Said',” the national hero says.
“We, the youth of Port Said, joined the camp and got trained on guerilla war. We used to chase British forces on the streets and inside their camps. At the time, the British were present only in Port Said and Ismailiyah. As a result of guerilla operations, a treatment was signed on October 19, 1954 and was called ‘the Withdrawal Agreement.’ The last British soldier left from Port Said Port early in June 1956. On June 18, 1956, Britain declared its withdrawal from Egypt. President Nasser was among the people celebrating the withdrawal in Port Said. When he arrived, he took down the British flag that defiled the sky of Egypt for 74 days. We, the guerrillas, got the flag and tore it part. President Nasser raised the Egyptian flag instead in Port Said's Port as an announcement of Egypt’s independence. While we [Egyptians] were celebrating the anniversary of the revolution in the evening of July 26, 1956, President Nasser announced in his speech from Alexandria the nationalization of the Suez Canal,” Mahran says.
“While Britain and France were preparing for the aggression against Egypt in partnership with Israel, the guerillas of Port Said were summoned on July 27, 1956. On the same day, the first battalion of Port Said National Guards was formed. It was my honor to be the commander of the second company of the first battalion. I was commanded to defend Al-Gameel airport. We moved and started to receive training on the prospective combat zone until October 29, 1956.” He pointed out that “brutal raids on Port Said started Monday, November 5, 1956 as the British Forces burned Al-Manakh neighborhood to the ground using Napalm. "In the Arabs neighborhood, their fighter jets bombed the old customs area and some residential buildings. During the marine landing on November 6, 1956, they destroyed the whole beach of Port Said,” Mahran explains.
“On November 5, 1956, the [British] fighter jets bombed Al-Gameel zone and other residential areas. At around 7:30 a.m., the first landing of the British parachutes in Al-Jameel occurred.
My company eliminated the first batch but the jets returned to heavily bomb Al-Gameel. At noon, the air attack stopped and I found a helicopter guarded by three fighter jets. Armed British equipped with walkie-talkies had got out of the helicopter before it rose higher. I understood they came for observation so we left them do their work before the helicopter got back as they did a screening of the zone using Vickers Vigilant anti-tank missiles for around 20 minutes. Afterwards, the sky was full of aircraft carriers and the second batch of paratroopers landed in Al-Gameel,” Mahran elaborates.
“The real combat between members of the Popular Resistance and British paratroopers started. We killed large numbers but many were still able to land because they were numerous. I ordered my colleagues to level up the attack. My colleague Zakaria Mohamed Ahmed, who was with me in the same hole, removed the cover and rushed into the lines of aggressors to engage with them but he got injured in his back. So I had to throw two grenades and rushed back into another hole which later got encircled by aggressors. We exchanged fire and a bullet hit my head. They dragged me out and disarmed me. They took my identity card and other documents having information on the company. They knew everything about me. When I woke up, I found out they occupied Port Said airport and Al-Gameel zone,” Mahran says.
“The aggressors interrogated me. They tried to get information on the Port Said members of the Popular Resistance but I refused to answer them. So they decided to gouge out my eyes and give them to a British officer who lost his in the combat. They moved me by air to Larnaca Airport in Cyprus, then to the British Forces Hospital. Although I was an injured captive, the British did not hesitate to physically torture me until a British doctor arrived and bargained with me to leave me one eye in return for the information they want and an audio-recording of me talking about the failed Egyptian policy and how the people of Port Said welcomed the British Forces. He gave me time to think then he brought a device and put it in front of me to talk,” Mahran says.
“I said, 'From here, I pray for the victory of our Egyptian leaders over the enemies of Egypt.' The doctor removed the device and slapped me several times. He transferred me to the operating theater and gouged out both my eyes and transplanted them into the British officer. They returned me to Port Said and told me we took your eyes so you would be an example for people like you in Egypt. After I had arrived in Port Said, member of the Revolution Council Kamal Refaat kidnapped me and I was transferred to the Military Hospital in Cairo. Once President Nasser knew I arrived, he rushed with Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer (then defense minister) and others to visit me and asked me to tell the whole story,” Mahran recountes.
“When I came to the part of 'so you would be an example to people like you,' President Nasser told me: 'The British made a huge mistake, Mahran. They took your eyes not so you would be an example for people like you but for you to be an idol for any Egyptian or free person in any country. The world will watch the brutality of the colonization that gouged out the eyes of a person defending his country. There is no Egyptian or a free person worldwide who would allow soldiers to occupy his land even if the price would be their life. I tell you that you deprived the soldiers of the colonization from many advantages,'” Mahran concludes.
Zeinab al-Kafrawy, 78, was the first woman to join the Popular Resistance. The icon was 15 when she first joined the movement in 1954 and she received military training in the Military Guard Camp in Port Said. She points out that she was trained to use arms before the aggression.
Her struggle against the colonizer started out with distributing flyers calling on citizens to rise against the colonization. After the 1952 Revolution, she took part in a campaign that collects donations for arming the Egyptian Army to defend the country against the colonization.
Kafrawy says that her father played a major role in rearing and motivating her to join the Popular Resistance as he was an officer in Al-Arab Police Department. The father helped her a lot to join the National Guard Camp before she joined the Popular Resistance. During the aggression, Kafrawy helped her father hide important documents belonging to the department so that the British would not find them.
“Fighter jets bombed Port Said and we could not know what was happening. It was a shock. The people of Port Said suffered immensely during the tripartite aggression, particularly because of the shortage in food. Flour, potatoes, and beans were distributed on dwellers. We were besieged but we had no fear. We fought the enemy without getting bored or scared,” Kafrawy says.
During the aggression, Kafrawy took part in kidnapping British Officer Meir House. Members of the Popular Resistance once asked her to bring them weapons and grenades from a hideout in Al-Nahas Farm where British soldiers were deployed and used to patrol the surroundings of the area. She brought 10 grenades and four rifles and hid them in a baby carriage, carrying a baby mattress and her nephew. Although she was stopped by a British patrol, her steadiness and lack of fear made her accomplish the mission successfully.
Kafrawy says, “the British colonization used Napalm against the people of Port Said and that has been a motive for members of the Popular Resistance and dwellers to stand together in order to eliminate the occupation and free the country.”
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi honored Kafrawy on the sidelines of the third National Youth Conference, held in Ismailiyah in April 2017 and attended by 1,200 youth from the Suez Canal governorates.