General Mohammed Fawzi

Egyptian Defence Minister appointed by Nasser to rebuild the army after its defeat in the Six Day War

GENERAL MOHAMMED FAWZI, who has died in Egypt aged 85, was a loyal member of President Nasser's inner circle and the man entrusted with the task of rebuilding the shattered and demoralised Egyptian army in the aftermath of the Six Day War of 1967.

Such was his loyalty to Nasser that when Anwar Sadat became President on Nasser's death in 1970, Fawzi played a pivotal and secret role in planning a military coup that would oust Sadat and return Egypt to what was seen to be a stricter application of Nasser's principles of Arab socialism.

When Sadat uncovered the plot in May 1971, Fawzi and scores of complicit army officers were given lengthy prison sentences, which Sadat in most cases later commuted, in recognition of their earlier military service. Fawzi's career in effective politics was at an end, and he spent the last three decades of his life writing books and lecturing on the military history of the Nasser period.

Mohammed Fawzi was born in 1915 and graduated from the Egyptian Royal Military Academy in 1936. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli war (where he first met Nasser), he commanded an artillery unit and was wounded when a land mine exploded under his vehicle.

Nasser appointed Fawzi Commandant of the Military Academy in 1957. At the same time he served as head of the Joint African Forces, aiding liberation movements on the continent. In March 1964, he was appointed Military Secretary-General of the Arab League.

In 1962 he commanded Egyptian forces in the Yemen civil war, the struggle between Saudi-backed royalist tribes and Egyptian-supported republican revolutionaries in what became North Yemen.

As war with Israel approached, in 1966 Fawzi co-ordinated with Syria, represented by Major-General Hafez al-Assad, the plans for a joint Egyptian-Syrian military deployment. This alliance expanded into a military coalition including the armies of all the Arab countries surrounding Israel.

As chief of staff of the army during the Six Day War of June 1967, Fawzi was third in command of the combined Arab forces that Israel routed. The political consequences of that outcome are still the dominant fact of Israel's relations with her neighbours.

In one of the books he later wrote, Fawzi recalled the dismay with which he received the orders of his military superior, the Defence Minister Field Marshal Abd al-Hakim Amer, which were based on a wildly unrealistic estimate of Egyptian capabilities.

Within days of the defeat, after submitting and then withdrawing his resignation as President, Nasser sacked Amer. Indignant at being blamed for the defeat, Amer refused to resign and held out in his Cairo villa with a force of hundreds of loyal soldiers to protect him. To Nasser, who at this time slept with a pistol beside him, this looked like the makings of a coup.

Nasser charged Fawzi with quelling the revolt, and Fawzi led the military force that surrounded the villa, with the object of arresting Amer. Before he could be seized, Amer swallowed a dose of cyanide, but was given medical treatment before the poison could kill him. Fawzi and his deputy were later ordered to hold Amer in custody, but a second attempt at suicide proved successful. Amer's death was a murky episode, provoking lingering suspicions of official murder.

On June 22 1967, less than two weeks after the end of hostilities, Fawzi was appointed General Commander of the Armed Forces and in January 1968 he became Defence Minister, a promotion that took place amid a general purge of the upper ranks of the Egyptian armed forces. A feared disciplinarian, he was put in charge of restoring morale and discipline in the army, and preparing it for a sequel to the Six Day War in which Egypt would reclaim the Sinai peninsula which it had lost to Israel.

In the meantime, in the two years following the June conflict, he led the "war of attrition" - the intermittent clashes with Israeli forces that took place along the banks of the Suez Canal.

Fawzi remained hawkish about Egypt's prospects in a further war with Israel. Judging the Israeli army to be unsuited to protracted fighting, he envisaged a savage and drawn out conflict, with the aim of killing the largest possible number of Israeli troops.

When Nasser died in 1970, Fawzi was among the group at his bedside. His veneration of Nasser made him suspicious of his successor, Anwar Sadat, and Fawzi and like-minded Nasserites became a fifth column inside Sadat's government.

In May 1971, the Nasserites' plan to seize power from Sadat was discovered. Fawzi and his associates had even engaged a medium to consult Nasser's spirit for advice on the timing of the coup.

Sadat's reaction was to remove the Nasserites from positions of power and to reorientate Egypt away from Moscow and towards Washington. Fawzi's life sentence was commuted to 15 years' hard labour, but he was pardoned in 1974. He then joined the opposition Arab Nasserite Democratic Party and became a member of its political bureau.

Fawzi was married and had two sons and four daughters.