About the League of Arab States | Previous Secretary General

    Mahmoud Riad (1972–1979)

    Mahmoud Riad (1917-1992) was one of the most privileged Egyptian diplomats who served his nation in a variety of capacities. A serious student, he enrolled in the army and, in time, joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he recorded a stellar diplomatic career.

    Mahmoud earned the confidence of his superiors early on. Many came to rely on his raw talent and mild temperament, which were valuable assets at a time of great upheaval in Arab affairs.

    Present at the creation of some key events that shaped contemporary Egyptian affairs, ranging from the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Conference to the 1952 coup d'état that overthrew King Farouq I to the cataclysmic 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Riad represented his government with poise and dignity. Often, it was his burden to present tempered versions of the hugely popular Jamal Abdul Nasser's rants, even if the latter dominated Arab affairs between 1956 and 1970.

    True to his character, Riad fell back on erudition to master all aspects of the Palestine question, which quickly transformed him into his country's premier resource on the matter. In fact, senior leaders relied on him for expertise, though few displayed the diplomat's rare insights. A loyal Nasserite, Riad managed with gusto his love for Egypt with his genuine beliefs in Arabism, which grew intrinsically more difficult to implement in the age of the nation state.

    Mahmoud Riad was born on January 8, 1917, in Al Qalubiyyah, Egypt, into a modest family. A serious student, the young man joined the army and graduated from the Egyptian War College in 1936, where he specialised in intelligence affairs. One of his first postings saw him in charge of military intelligence in the Gaza Strip before the 1948 war with Israel. Noticed for his talent, Riad was asked to join the official delegation representing his country at the February 1949 Rhodes Conference, which concluded a set of Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. He continued to serve on the Egyptian-Israel Armistice Commission between 1949 and 1952, when a coup d'état overthrew King Farouq I. In 1954, Riad was promoted to the directorship of all Arab affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he personally trained a slew of young diplomats. At the height of the proposed Egyptian-Syrian Union, Riad was appointed ambassador to Syria in 1955 and actually worked in earnest to fulfil Nasser's 1958 union with Damascus. When that ill-fated project failed, Nasser recalled Riad to Cairo, where he served as a special adviser to the hugely popular president until 1962. It was also that year when Riad was appointed Egyptian envoy to the league. Nasser appreciated his input and designated Riad as minister of foreign affairs in 1964, a position he kept until 1972, that is two years after Nasser's sudden death in 1970. As such, Riad was present on the Arab scene during one of the most difficult periods in contemporary Arab affairs, when Egypt, Syria and Jordan lost the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

    Two years in the post-Nasser era, president Anwar Sadat appointed Riad as his political adviser before elevating him to become the third secretary-general of the League of Arab States in 1972, a position he held until his March 1979 resignation.

    Interestingly, and long before he joined the Egyptian Foreign Service, Riad was a distinguished student at the military academy, where he found time to study for and successfully complete a doctorate in engineering.

    Riad wrote several books about the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict, including a three-volume memoir titled ‘Mudhakarat Mahmoud Riyadh' (Memoirs of Mahmoud Riad), published in Cairo in 1986. The first volume of these highly interesting memoirs focused on the Egyptian views of the UNEF withdrawal, which literally accelerated the 1967 war. The third volume contained the author's particular interpretations of the events that led to the war itself and, according to Riad, US responsibility. In 1981, Riad published ‘The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East' in English, which was received well by critics. He died on January 25, 1992, in Cairo, survived by his wife and three children.

    Source: Gulfnews

    << Back to Secretary General page