By Farah El Akkad
Generals Sayed Wagdy and Hassan Abd El-Hamid survived but sacrificed their health for their country.
Sayed Wagdy recalls how he felt when the soldiers raised the Egyptian flag after crossing the Suez Canal. "It was a whole host of different feelings, I wanted to cry and laugh and hug every single Egyptian and I kept on going around kissing the land - we all did."
But the infantryman came perilously close to martyrdom when he was gravely wounded in the battle. He does not recall much about the moment of his injury: "I remember it happened after we crossed the Canal, I was one of the soldiers in the front line in the Second Army sector. All I recall is seeing black lights and being carried away, the sound of bullets and smoke. At the same time the sound of soothing voices telling me, 'You will survive.'"
The next thing Wagdy knew is waking up in Maadi Military Hospital, in a cold sweat, unable to move and totally disoriented. "I had a strong feeling we won the war, but I still needed to hear it," he says. "It was the first thing I asked."
Wagdy's war injury left him a paraplegic with a series of other health complications, and his ongoing treatment keeps him mostly confined to the Maadi Hospital grounds, where he has been living more or less for the past 40 years. Yet despite his physical incapacitation, Wagdy's eyes still carry the flame of that courageous young soldier and a brilliant tough adventurer whom he still is in his own way. An Akhbar El-Youm columnist and the personal secretary of former First Lady Jihan El-Sadat for more than 10 years, the general is an intellectual who can talk about almost everything from antiques to the effects of global warming to the history of the Roman Empire.
"Staying in a room in a hospital for most of the time does have its benefits," says Wagdy, referring to all the free time he spends mostly reading, particularly after retiring from both his writing and secretarial jobs in the early 2000s. Wagdy explains that having a job, "particularly a job I enjoy," has helped immensely in him adapting to this lifetime injury. Another savior has been his longtime friend General Hassan Abd El-Hamid. A retired engineer whose injury in the 1973 war left him with one leg paralyzed, Abd El-Hamid lauds his friend: "Wagdy is a very talented writer. Mrs. Jihan offered him the position after she was greatly impressed by his writing."
Over the decades, the veterans have had a host of other companions at the hospital: Actress Aziza Helmy and her friend Red Crescent volunteer Seham El-Bashshary were constant visitors.[caption id="attachment_332879" align="alignnone" width="620"] El-Bashshary treated the veterans like her own family.[/caption]
"Not just visitors," stresses Wagdy. "They were more like our mothers and best friends. They used to come three days a week and spend most of the time with us, going out to the movies or discussing politics or just sitting watching TV. They were always there for us."
Abd El-Hamid recals: "Mrs. Jihan insisted we call her Mama Jihan and would get really upset if we did not." Unfortunately, Helmy and El-Bashshary passed away in the 1990s, leaving a huge void in Wagdy and Abd El-Hamid's lives. El-Sadat, though, is still very close to them, Abd El-Hamid says. "She visits and calls regularly, and we are always the first to know if she is travelling and when she comes back."
In recent years, Wagdy and Abd El-Hamid have been spending most of their time on field trips around Egypt and visiting museums. Abd El-Hamid, now a grandfather, says he is "usually between the Maadi Hospital and Alexandria because my family lives over there."
Wagdy can sometimes visit his brother living in Tagammua, but lives full-time in the hospital. Abd El-Hamid spends about half of the month in Maadi hospital, in the room right next to Wagdy's. When Wagdy's condition is stable, Abd El-Hamid sometimes invites him to Alexandria. The buddies share a passion for fishing, and they both bet on who will catch more fish. "Yes, we're fishing experts, we catch the best fish in the whole of the Mediterranean," Abd El-Hamid asys with a laugh.
Since their injuries and to this day, Abd El-Hamid and Wagdy have been receiving complete medical care courtesy of the military, including medical tests, travel and accomodation in hospitals as well as travelling abroad in the 1970s and 1980s for rehab programs.
Looking back on the recent political turmoil, Wagdy recalls how earlier in 2012 he was "totally devastated and wished to die when the black flag (referring to the Al-Qaeda banner) was raised in Cairo. How many martyrs have died to keep the Egyptian flag high? Has Egypt forgotten its dead sons?"
Abd El-Hamid explains that after the January 25 Revolution, they had hopes that Egypt would be better after the 30 years of corruption of Mubarak's regime, which also neglected the rights of the injured and those who made many sacrifices for the country. He admits that under Mubarak, they have received sufficient medical care but he doesn't feel they got much social or psychological support, "what really mattered." Compared to President Anwar Sadat, whom up until his assassination in 1981 regularly visited and formed a very close relationship with all the injured soldiers, Mubarak did not give the veterans their due respect within the military institution. "When Mubarak resigned from office, I told myself that on this day, the youth of the 1973 War are now passing the flag to the youth of January 25 to continue the road of victory and make our dreams come true for a better Egypt. But unfortunately it turned out to be different than what we expected."
That said, Wagdy and Abd El-Hamid say their hopes were restored after June 30. "We trust the Egyptian army had to interfere to do the best for this country," says Wagdy. He explained that the army interfered when they felt Egypt's national security was under attack from "terrorists and extremists." He also believes that the army does not seek power as some people claim, but on the contrary, "they did what had to be done at the right time to avoid a civil war."
This article was first published in the October 2013 issue.