One of the happiest periods of my life began in May 1934, when I was transferred to the Frontier Corps. In August of that year, forty days after divorcing my first wife, I married `Ayshah Labiyb. Like my father's second wife, my mother, `Ayshah was an orphaned daughter of a lieutenant colonel of infantry. `Ayshah lived with her widowed mother, a brother, and three sisters in a large house in Hilmiyat al-Zaytuwn, the same suburb of Cairo in which we were to settle after the Palestinian War.

I hope you understand our financial situation," she said, after I had obtained her brother's permission to take her as my wife. "We used to have a large income but now all we have is debts."

I chided her jokingly for cutting off my line of retreat.

"If I don't marry you now," I said, "it will look as if I were interested only in your money."

Actually her whole family was living on an income of £ 80 (then about $390) a month. Hasan Kashif Nuwr al-Diyn, her maternal grandfather, had owned 512 acres of farmland near Baniy Mazar in Lower Egypt. Before his death he had converted his estate into a private trust fund to be administered according to Islamic law by the Ministry of Waqfs. The executors appointed by the ministry had so mismanaged the estate that his heirs owed £26,000 (then about $125,000), which was almost half as much as the land was worth. After the Revolution the antiquated system of administering private waqfs, or trust funds, was abolished. Nuwr al-Diyn's estate was liquidated, and, after the payment of debts and taxes, `Ayshah inherited seventy acres, the income from which, £1400 (now worth about $4000), amounts to almost half my salary as the President of Egypt. But I have never used any of my wife's income, even on clothing for our sons, for I have always felt that the bulk of such money rightfully belongs to the fallahiyn.

During the first year of our marriage we lived at al-`Ariysh, on the Mediterranean coast of Sinai, but I was seldom at home for very long. Most of my time was spent in the desert chasing smugglers. If my father's duty as a district commissioner in Sudan was comparable to that of a Texas ranger, my own duty as a captain in the Frontier Corps was comparable to that of an internal revenue agent before the repeal of prohibition in the United States. The drug traffic is a serious problem in every country, but it is far more serious in the Muslim East than it is in the Christian West, where the drinking of alcohol is a commoner vice than the smoking of hashiysh, or marihuana, the cheapest and therefore the commonest of the drugs to which non-drinking Muslims are addicted. Since the Revolution we have increased the penalty for illegal possession of drugs to life imprisonment, but even today it is no easy matter to obtain a conviction, for the law still provides, as it must, that the accused be caught with the drugs in his actual possession.

One of my first successes as a captain in the Frontier Corps was the capture of Sallam Qadir Abuw Fadil, one of the most dangerous of the smugglers then operating in the Eastern Desert. Unfortunately Abuw Fadil, was able to unload his camels and throw his bales of hashiysh into the sea before I caught him. It was not until several years later that he was finally caught with the evidence in his possession and sentenced to a long term in prison.

On another occasion I led a chase that resulted in the capture of five smugglers and the seizure of 9140 bundles of Hashiysh. (I have never forgotten the number because the first three figures corresponded with the last three figures of the year in which the First World War began.) With the help of an elderly tracker named Dumah `Awad, I overtook the five smugglers as they were leading four camels laden with Hashiysh up the Wadiy al-Gidyy toward Misbah Pass. They retreated up a boulder-strewn hill and opened fire on us before we could close in on them. Our only alternative was to take cover and return their fire until the issue was resolved. I exposed my cap and ordered Dumah to expose his turban in the hope of giving the impression that we were four instead of two. But the smugglers were undeceived and presently they began to advance down the hill, firing five shots at us for every shot that we could fire at them.

Inasmuch as I was armed only with a revolver, and Dumah was showing signs of fright, I seized his rifle to prevent him from escaping. Fortunately I killed one of our five opponents with a lucky shot, whereupon Dumah recovered his courage and begged me to return his rifle, which I did. He wounded one of the four remaining smugglers just as the sun was setting. The others, instead of trying to hold out until darkness fell, decided to surrender just as another patrol approached us from the opposite direction.

A month or two later Dumah and I set out after another band of smugglers. This time the chase lasted for fourteen days. The smugglers kept zigzagging back and forth from one side of a sandy ridge to the other in the hope that the wind would obliterate their tracks. Within a few days we and our camels were approaching exhaustion. I had to fight with Dumah to prevent him from drinking our last half bottle of water. We finally found a well, but the water it contained was so brackish that, after drinking it, we both came down with diarrhea. We might have died if we had not been found by a wandering goatherd, who sold us a Skinful of milk and directed us to a more potable well. After filling our bottles we continued the chase, but before long the weaker of our two camels fell and refused to rise again. We left him behind and continued on foot, leading his stronger companion. On the ninth day we found the smugglers retreating before another patrol. Together we pursued them back and forth across the dunes and mountains until, on the fourteenth day, they chose to surrender rather than die of exhaustion. We ourselves had eaten nothing for two days except the gum from occasional thorn trees.

At lunch in Suez a few days later my good friend Shawqiy `Abd al-Rahman, who is now a major general, predicted that I would be decorated for bravery. I was feeling rather sorry for myself and predicted that I wouldn't. He suggested that we make it a bet, and so we agreed that whoever lost would have to buy the other a full-course meal at his first opportunity.

My next patrol was in the vicinity of St. Catherine's Monastery (1), which lies at the foot of Gabal Muwsa or the Mount of Moses, otherwise known as Mount Sinai. It was here, according to the Book of Exodus, that Moses saw the Burning Bush. I was escorted through the monastery by an Orthodox priest, an Arabic-speaking Greek, who called my attention to an icon of the Virgin Mary. A small silver hand had been affixed to the icon immediately above the lamp that was burning in front of it. The hand, said the priest, was in memory of a miraculous occurrence. The priest whose duty it was to fill the lamp with oil each morning had once overslept. just as the lamp was going out he was awakened by an invisible hand that slapped his face. He was so ashamed of himself that he affixed the miniature hand to the icon in the hope of atoning for his sloth.

The Virgin Mary (pbuh) is revered by Muslims as well as Christians. Though we do not regard her as the mother of God, or even as the mother of the son of God, we do regard her as the mother of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), , who was as close to God in his own way as the Prophet Muhammad (SA`ws) was in his. I was therefore glad to join the priest in praying before her image.

On my return to Suez a few days later I learned from `Abd al-Rahman that I had indeed been decorated as he had bet me that I would be. I had been decorated, moreover, on October 21, the very day that I had prayed before the Virgin at St. Catherine's Monastery. I bought `Abd al-Rahman the most sumptuous meal that either of us had eaten in weeks.

I enjoyed patrolling the desert as much as anything I have ever done. It was a hard and dangerous life, but it was full of compensations. It gave me a sense of physical and spiritual well-being such as I had never experienced before and have seldom experienced since.

Occasionally, on my patrols, I would be called upon to play the role of healer. The beduin of the desert, Eke primitive people everywhere, suffer from numerous chronic ailments that can be easily cured but seldom are because of their poverty and ignorance and their nomadic way of life. In my pack I carried a first-aid kit containing a supply of aspirin, eye lotion, unguents, astringents, and laxatives, as well as iodine, medicinal alcohol, and bandages. Whenever I visited a beduin camp I was usually called upon to treat one or more persons for sore eyes, stomach-ache, or infected wounds.

Once I was asked to treat a child who was suffering from insomnia. I couldn't very well refuse, and so, praying to God for His forgiveness, I gave the child an aspirin tablet, passed my hand before its eyes in the manner of a hypnotist, and murmured some meaningless incantations. The next time I encountered the same band of beduin I was greeted with cheers. The child, thanks (it was supposed) to my ministrations, was now sleeping normally.

My undeserved reputation as a healer spread to such an extent that hardly a day passed from then on without my being called upon to cure somebody of his ills. I was even asked to treat a woman with a swollen belly, which was a mark of great confidence, for desert Arabs are reluctant to let even genuine physicians examine their womenfolk for fear of their being dishonored. I decided, after examining her, that the woman was suffering from a tumor of some sort and that an operation would be necessary. I sent her to the hospital in Suez, where one of the surgeons confirmed my amateur diagnosis and performed a successful operation. The end result of such attentions was that the beduin kept me informed of the movements of the smugglers I was seeking to arrest.

My greatest success as a healer resulted from the treatment I prescribed for a young husband who complained of impotence. I gave him half a dozen eggs, two cans of bully beef, and two of my four remaining laxative pills. I told him to take the pills as soon as he had consumed the rest of my prescription. I warned him that the pills would make his belly ache, but I also hinted that they would restore his powers if he only stopped worrying about his supposed loss of virility.

Eleven years later, when I was the deputy governor of Sinai, I returned to the same area to preside over a peace conference between two tribes that had been engaged in a long dispute over the use of certain grazing lands. One of the lesser Shaykhs who was present suddenly prostrated himself before me. He then presented one of his sons-the result, he said, of the magic pills that I had given him eleven years before.

(To be continued)



(1) St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai .  Located at the foot of Mount Moses (pbuh), St. Catherine's Monastery, was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD. It is built around Moses' Burning Bush, which has a chapel built atop it.

St. Catherine who was tortured and beheaded for her Christian beliefs, lends her name to Sinai's center of religious tourism. A Sinai monk once had a vision of her body at the top of a nearby mountain named Mount Catherine which is the highest summit in Sinai, where her remains were discovered. The Monastery was originally ordered built by Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, but was actually built by Emperor Justinian to house the bones of St. Catherine of Alexandria. St. Catherine, whose body was reportedly carried away by angels, was discovered 500 years later at the top of the peek that now bears her name. Her relics are stored in a marble reliquary in the Basilica of the Transfiguration.



The Egyptian Chronicles is a co-op of Egyptian authors. 
Articles contained in these pages are the personal views, or work, of the authors, 
who bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work.



For any additional information, please contact
the Webmaster of the Egyptian Chronicles: