A Free Officer’s daughter shares memories of her forgotten father
By Farah El-Akkad
On a small street in Dokki sits the home of Soheir Seddik, who invited me to visit her. A high-spirited lady with a great sense of humor and obvious intelligence, Soheir is a charming storyteller who leaves you wanting to hear more and more. This was especially true when it came to stories of her father. Soheir welcomed me to her home and seated me at a big table covered with old papers, pictures, books and newspapers. Without a moment’s hesitation she began telling me the story of her “sweetheart,” her father and Free Officer Youssef Seddik.
“What many people do not know is that Seddik was actually the man who saved the July 23 Revolution,” says Soheir, who looks remarkably like her father. She explained that after King Farouk had received word of what the Free Officers were planning, he sent forces to arrest the conspirators and stop any movement against the king.
Seddik, however, took a very courageous step and arrested one of the commanders of the king’s forces. He then moved his troops ahead of schedule — some say because of a miscommunication — to take over key buildings, including the Army Headquarters at Kobri Al- Qubba, and other command centers, communications and utilities buildings in Cairo. His early start is credited with salvaging the exposed plot. Because of his shrewdness, his daring spirit and his astute vision, Soheir says, the 1952 Revolution entered the history books.
Following in the footsteps of a father and a grandfather who were both army officers, Seddik “drank the love his father had for the country [when] he was a young boy,” Soheir adds. She explains that he understood what national duty meant early on in his life. He went to military school and graduated in 1933, and then went on to study military history and completed a graduate degree in 1945. After graduation, Seddik joined several different political parties in an attempt to put his political beliefs into practice. “But no party met his expectations or his political beliefs nor aspired [to] the changes he wanted to make in society,” says Soheir.
Less than one year before the 1952 Revolution, Seddik was offered the opportunity to join the Free Officers movement by one of his former army colleagues. After learning about the purpose of the movement and that Mohamed Naguib was its leader, he decided to join.
Unfortunately, the role he played in saving the revolution was later forgotten, and Seddik struggled with the Revolution Command Council because of his disagreement with their policies and their deviation from the fundamental principles of the revolution.
“He was against many of their actions, such as the censorship of newspapers and martial laws against workers,” recounts Soheir. Precisely a year after the 1952 Revolution, Seddik made the decision to resign from the Free Officers in 1953. After his resignation he was arrested several times because he continued to call for democracy and a representative state, not a military one. He was also exiled to Switzerland and Lebanon for three months.
Soheir says the Egyptian government continued to deprive Youssef Seddik of his rights as an Egyptian citizen, explaining his legal rights as a military officer were revoked. Seddik was forbidden from working in any military or public institution and was placed under house arrest until the 1956 Suez Crisis, during which he led the People’s Resistance Movement.
Soheir also recalled some personal stories about her late father. She remembers him as a very devoted father, despite having very little time with him because he was “always burdened with the struggle of the country on his shoulders, on his mind and in his heart.” Even during his free time or on holiday, Egypt was all that he could think of and he was “always making plans and wanting to participate [in the country] with all he had.”
His family never saw much of Seddik, but he always made sure everything was in order at home. “Despite his absence, I never really felt he was gone,” Soheir recalls. “My mom would shout at me to finish my homework, as I was quite a troubled child. She would threaten me with ‘I will tell your dad you’re not studying well.’ I always knew deep inside that he was not really there and she would not be able to reach him, but I did not want to disappoint him. I wanted to make him proud.”
Seddik was not just a military officer, politician and revolutionary. He was also a poet and completed a diwan — a collection of poetry —during a 13-month prison sentence in a military jail. As Soheir recalls, “When I visited him there with his newly born grandson he wrote an Arabic poem in his honor.”
In the poem, Seddik wrote, “Shine your light for the days are dark with sorrow, the message has shone in our names and it has granted us faith and light.”
Two of Seddik’s poems were written for late president Gamal Abdel Nasser. “The funny thing is they are both quite contradicting,” Soheir says, explaining how they reflect Seddik’s conflicting emotions toward the charismatic leader. In the poem The Pharaoh, Seddik describes Nasser as a dictator, viewing him as a tyrant, despite their previously strong friendship and mutual struggle for freedom from British occupation. The other poem, written at the time of Nasser’s death, shows how grief stricken and devastated he was by the passing of his former comrade.
Seddik possessed a strong desire to devote his life to his country and was an instrumental part of pushing the 1952 Revolution forward. And his proud daughter describes Seddik’s personality, with his strong sense of identity, as that of a true Egyptian leader.