Obituary: Lt-Gen Kamal Hassan Ali
Tuesday 30 March 1993
KAMAL HASSAN ALI, the former prime minister of Egypt, was one of a unique breed of Middle Eastern warriors-cum-diplomats: a handful of Egyptian and Israeli generals who were courageous in conflict in the line of duty, but also committed to making peace between their two nations.
Born in Cairo in 1921, Ali left medical school at the age of 19 to join the army, taking advantage of King Farouk's policy in 1936 of allowing boys from the middle classes to attend military school, which was controlled by Egypt's aristocracy.
By 1942, Ali was a second lieutenant with the elite 4th Armoured Division and fighting in desert tank battles. Before and during 1948 war (the Israeli war of independence) Ali's brother - who was a major in the army - tried, without success, to recruit him to Colonel Gamal Abd el- Nasser's Free Officers group who were plotting to overthrow the King. But Ali was none the less sympathetic to their cause: in July 1952 he refused to let the battalion he captained to attempt to foil the officers' coup, and he later became Nasser's confidant in charge of the joint command of all armoured divisions.
Ali's 2nd Armoured Brigade was one of the very few units to acquit themselves well in the Six Day War, in 1967, while the rest of the Egyptian army faced a humiliating defeat. Ali was also one of the main architects of Operation Granite-2, the crossing of the Suez Canal and the storming of the Barliv Line fortification during the Yom Kippur war, in 1973.
As Chief of Staff from 1974, Ali moved armour to the borders with Libya, which was proved to be prudent and necessary in 1977 and after. By 1975 he was a cabinet member in charge of Almukhabarat - the general and military intelligence.
The highly professional and courageous Ali was, like President Anwar Sadat, who lost a brother in 1973 war, committed to making peace with his battlefield enemies whose courage he always admired.
In 1978, Ali became Minister of Defence and went into diplomacy. President Sadat - in his own words - wanted 'someone who would be a match for the Israelis during the tough (peace) negotiations ahead'. A decade later General Ali gave a fascinating personal account of the years of both the military conflict and his negotiations with the Israelis that led to the Camp David agreements in his book The Negotiating Warriors.
Sadat made him Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in 1980 in an attempt to minimise the damage from the Arab boycott that followed peace with Israel. In 1984 Ali became prime minister, and announced that he was committed to a programme of economic reforms. But by the end of 1985 his health was deteriorating, and he left politics to become chairman of the Egyptian Gulf Bank, the position he held until his death.
Among the hundreds of politicians, diplomats and ordinary people who gathered on Sunday to bid him farewell, there were some who had been very close to him: former Egyptian and Israeli military men who had four times fought each other in the desert but walked together under the Cairo sun to pay tribute to one of the heroes who had won peace for the two
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