Thursday, August 25, 2016

by Uri Bar-Joseph

The funeral for Ashraf Marwan in Cairo that took place on July 1, 2007, was a virtual who's who among the Egyptian elite. People from the areas of government, business, and security came to pay their respects to one of their own. They knew about his patriotism to his country and wanted to honor him. But, there were others who did not feel this way. They considered him to be a traitor.
Marwan was the son-in-law of the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and worked as a top-level official in his administration. Nasser never really trusted Marwan and didn't really give him anything important to do. Frustrated by being looked down upon (he had quite an ego), Marwan decided that he wanted to go back to school and get a master's degree in chemistry in London. Nasser approved and off Marwan and his wife, Mona, with their son, Gamal (named after his grandfather) went. London was perfect for Marwan and he had the time of his life. Soon he got into trouble financially (he had a weakness for gambling). Nasser was not too happy and wanted Mona to divorce Marwan, but she said no, that she loved him too much and would stand by him. They returned to Egypt and Marwan was only allowed to go to England for a few days at a time for his studies. He was back to the position where he was constantly scrutinized and he knew that he had to change it. On one of those days where he came back to England to continue his education, Marwan called the Israeli embassy in London and offered his services.
Marwan became a spy for the Mossad (Israel's intelligence service). His handlers called him "the Angel." Israel considered him to be the most important spy they ever had. He saved Israel from losing the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack during Yom Kippur in 1973. Marwan worked for them for years and gave Israel incredible information. After Nasser died of a heart attack, Anwar Sadat took over. He treated Marwan like a son and so Marwan had access to even more secrets. Amazingly, nobody in Egypt knew about his other life. It was not until 2001 that details began to come out.
If you like espionage, you will definitely like The Angel. Without Marwan being around, Israel would have lost the 1973 war. There's so much information here. What is really interesting is the blow-by-blow account before the attack. Anybody who enjoys reading about  Middle Eastern history, military intelligence, and spying should not hesitate to read this book. It's an amazing story.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

by Hisham Matar

When Hisham Matar was eight years old, he and his family left Libya in 1979 and settled for a long exile in Cairo, Egypt. They thought they could be safe here. Libya was ruled by Muammar Qaddafi, a tyrannical dictator. If you opposed him, you were hanged in a public square; those who departed were pursued. Hisham's father, Jaballa, was one of these dissidents. Qaddafi considered him to be a dangerous enemy.
Eleven years later (1980) while Hisham was studying at a university in London, his father was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police. He was brought to a prison (Abu Salim) in Tripoli where the regime stuck people that they wanted to forget. Hisham never saw his father again. He never gave up hope, though. that his father was still alive.
Fast forward to late August 2011. Tripoli has fallen, Qaddafi is deposed, and the revolutionaries have taken over. The prison cells are emptied, but none of the men are Jaballa Matar. There is no sign of him. Nobody knows anything. Hisham decides that he must take a trip and return to Libya to find out what really happened to his father.
The Return is a book that should be read by everybody so that they can learn what it was like to live under a diabolical monster. In beautiful prose, Hisham gives you an early history of Libya, the period of time when Qaddafi was in power (1969-2011), and what's happening currently. The writing is powerful, honest, revealing, and extremely moving. One has to be very strong to go back to the homeland where there are strong memories and where it took so much away.
Highly recommended.