On June 27, 2007, Ashraf Marawan, the son-in-law of late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, a confidante of both Nasser and his successor Anwar al-Sadat, and a businessman, fell to his death from the balcony of his London flat in what could be anything between suicide, murder, or pure accident.
While investigations confirmed none, the mystery surrounding the death and Marawan’s life as a whole made murder the most likely scenario. Such assumption gained more momentum with talk about Marawan being a spy for Israel and considered by many as the greatest spy of the 20th century.
Rumors started getting factual as several references were made to an Egyptian spy codenamed “The Angel,” who supplied Israel with invaluable information about Egypt, including the date of the Yum Kippur attack.
In 2000, political scientist Ahron Bregman referred to “Anwar Sadat’s right-hand man who also worked for Sadat’s predecessor President Nasser” as an agent of the Mossad. In 2016, Bregman dedicated an entire book to the story of Ashraf Marawan and called it The Spy Who Fell to Earth: My Relationship with the Secret Agent Who Rocked the Middle East.
While this book received little attention, if any, another one that followed six months later became an instant success. It was The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Israeli international relations professor and intelligence expert Uri Bar-Joseph who obtained a detailed account of Marawan’s work as a spy from senior Mossad agents.
The following year, Netflix bought rights to the book and the film, by Israeli director Ariel Vromen, is scheduled to premiere in September 2018. While the book, which was translated into Arabic, already sent shockwaves across Egypt and the Middle East, its effect is expected to be mild compared to that of the movie.
Egyptian Journalist Ahmed Taylor noted that references to Marawan’s identity started in the 1990s when several Israeli journalists and historians wrote about an Egyptian agent who warned former Mossad head Zvi Zamir about an imminent Egyptian attack in October 1973.
“However, it was only when Marawan’s work for the Mossad was officially recognized by an Israeli court that his identity was confirmed,” he wrote, in reference to the lawsuit filed by former head of Israeli military intelligence Eli Zeira against Zamir for revealing Marawan’s identity to unauthorized persons.
The guilty verdict against Zamir was issued in March 2007 and became public on June 14, 2007. Less than two weeks later, Marawan was dead. Here is where the book, hence film adaptation, become most controversial in Egypt since it asks an extremely question: In whose interest was it to have Marawan dead?
“The book argues that the Egyptian state was placed in an extremely awkward position after the truth about Marawan came out,” Taylor explained.
“It would have been a disaster had Marawan been out on trial and confessed that he, who was for years part of the ruling elite, spied for Israel.” According to book, the fact that Egypt never tried to counter the Israeli story is quite suspicious.
Taylor quotes Amos Giboa, former head of the Research Division at the IDF Intelligence Branch as saying that when he saw Egyptian officials attending Marawan’s funeral and paying condolences to his wife Mona Abdel Nasser, he was reminded of the Mafia. “The Mafia would kill someone then attend the funeral and pay condolences to the widow and kiss the children.”
For journalist Hadeer Sanad the film marks another phase in a systematic attempt at falsifying history. “Israel wanted to invest in the success of the book in order to further spread lies about Egypt, hence totally ignoring that Marawan was working for Egypt and providing false information to Israel,” she wrote. Sanad argued that the book and the film totally overlook statements made by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak following Marawan’s death. “Mubarak explicitly said that Marawan was a patriotic man who always served Egypt.”
According to Sanad, claims promoted by the book and the film contradict the findings of the Agranat Committed, established to investigate the reasons for failing to be prepared for the Egyptian attack in 1973. “This same committee stated that an Egyptian agent infiltrated the Mossad and gave them wrong information about the timing of the attack.” Sanad also noted that Israel paid most of the budget allocated to that film while Netflix only bought the screening rights.
Journalist Karim Abdel Salam argued that while the content of the film was already discussed in the book, it will still be more shocking since it will promote on a much larger scale Israel’s version of the story. Abdel Salam, however, blames Egypt for not reacting. “When the book was first released, Egyptian media did not make any effort to refute the claims it contained. This looked like an assumption that not talking about the book would not draw any attention to it, but the exact opposite happened,” he wrote.
For Abdel Salam, the same mistake is being repeated now that the film is about to released, but with stronger repercussions. “Now, when the film is released, everyone will watch it and youths will think this is the truth because they simply were not offered an alternative version.” Abdel Salam expressed his surprise that a similar feature film or documentary was not made to show the opposite view. “There is nothing that shows how Sadat and the Egyptian army managed to trick Israel and to chronicle what really happened in the October 1973 war. What is documented at the moment is only that Ashraf Marawan was the best spy Israel ever had and until further notice this will be the truth for a while.”ا