Agence France-Presse CAIRO: Fifty years later, Adel Ezzat remembers every minute of the day former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser took the world by surprise and nationalized the Suez Canal. Only three of us were in the know. President Nasser had chosen us to carry out the nationalization, says Ezzat, who was then a 30-year-old engineer working with Mohammed Yunes, Nasser s adviser on petroleum affairs. On the 23rd July 1956, I met Nasser for the first time during the celebrations for the fourth anniversary of the revolution. The president whispered something in Yunes ear, Ezzat recalls. Over the next 24 hours, Yunes seemed agitated and preoccupied. The next day, he summoned me and my colleague Abdel Hamid Abu Bakr in his office and locked the door behind us, which I found very odd. Speaking to AFP from his Cairo home, the octogenarian remembers Yunes words. The president has tasked me with nationalizing the Suez Canal, he said. This decision had to remain top secret. The three-man commando had 48 hours and little information to carry out Nasser s wish, a move that would spark a war with the West but reshape Egypt s economy by regaining control of the most crucial chokepoint in world trade. All we had was a few publications on the canal given to Yunes by the president. We didn t even have a mole in the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez that ran the waterway, Ezzat remembers. The trio gathered a wider group of around 30, who were to break up in three groups tasked with overrunning the company s offices in Port-Said, Suez and Ismailia. We weren t armed. Our instructions were to carry out the operation peacefully, says Ezzat. Little did he know that his “peaceful takeover would prompt a military offensive led by Israel, Britain and France and marked a turning point in the Cold War. Ezzat recalls that the signal for the operation s launch was when Nasser, who was delivering a speech in Alexandria, pronounced the words de Lesseps, in reference to Ferdinand de Lesseps who founded the canal in 1869. Our mission was so secret that the drivers who took us from Cairo didn t even know our destination. Except us three, the people who were with didn t know. They had only been told to bring a few clothes. The three groups were only informed of their respective assignments upon arriving at the Al-Galaa military base near Ismailia on July 26, at around 4:00 p.m. Some of them hesitated. They were afraid of the reaction of the British troops guarding the canal. But we refused to abandon our plan; history was on the march, Ezzat says. The three groups fanned out. They crept up to the company s offices but stayed out of sight, as they listened to Nasser s speech, their hearts throbbing with anxiety. The president said de Lesseps . Then he repeated it a second time, and a third, as if he feared we hadn t heard him. Ezzat says the commandos went in at around 7:00 p.m., found mostly empty offices and simply informed the guards that they had come to nationalize the Suez Canal. No blood was shed. The president then delivered his speech on the nationalization. People poured into the streets and their support gave us more strength, he recalls. At that moment, Egypt regained control of the canal for whose construction an estimated 125,000 Egyptians perished in forced labor. Adel Ezzat, who was denied a job with the Suez company in 1950 because his French was too weak, rose through the ranks and was the Canal Authority chairman between 1985 and 1995.