|ABDEL ABU GHAZALA (ap file)|
Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, 78, Egypt's former defense minister
CAIRO - Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, Egypt's former defense minister and a veteran of Arab-Israeli wars who was once touted as a possible successor to President Hosni Mubarak, has died at age 78.
Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported that the former field marshal died late Saturday at a Cairo military hospital from complications related to throat cancer.
Mr. Abu Ghazala served in the late 1970s as Egypt's military attache in Washington, where he developed close ties with the US military after Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Mr. Abu Ghazala became minister of defense in 1981 shortly before the assassination of President Anwar Sadat during a military parade. Like Mubarak, Mr. Abu Ghazala was sitting next to Sadat when he was assassinated.
As defense minister, he worked with Mubarak to hold together the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that Sadat had signed with Israel's Menachem Begin in the face of popular opposition.
For the next eight years, Mr. Abu Ghazala, who was close to the United States, was considered the most influential figure in Egypt after Mubarak because of the vast power the Egyptian military then wielded in the country's political and economic life.
Mr. Abu Ghazala had joined the military in 1948 as a cadet in the Egyptian military academy and participated, along with Sadat, in the 1952 coup against King Farouk that brought Gamel Abdel-Nasser to power.
Though Mr. Abu Ghazala was careful not to appear to be a political rival to Mubarak or to undercut his authority, he was widely regarded as a natural successor to the president.
Mr. Abu Ghazala was also very popular with the Americans, who developed extensive contacts with Egypt's military after the Camp David treaty. He became part of a secret network that smuggled arms to Afghan insurgents during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s.
In 1989, Mubarak moved Mr. Abu Ghazala from minister of defense to the ceremonial post of presidential assistant after media reports surfaced about Mubarak's alleged fears of the field marshal's ambitions.
There were also allegations that Mr. Abu Ghazala was involved in an illegal plan to import missile parts from the United States.
Two years after Mr. Abu Ghazala was moved from the post, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi took over. Tantawi, widely regarded as a more low-key figure, has remained in the crucial post since that time.
In February 1993, Mr. Abu Ghazala resigned and focused on writing military books.
The news agency said Mr. Abu Ghazala received degrees from both the Soviet artillery academy and the US War College.
Mubarak led a military funeral on Sunday for Mr. Abu Ghazala, who leaves two sons and three daughters.