Spy fiction in the Arab world

The Arab-Israeli wars could be divided into four parts, starting with the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948. This was followed by the 1956 triparty war (a collation of England, France and Israel against Egypt — also known as the Sinai war). And then came the heavy loss of the 1967 Six-Days war (known to us as ‘The Setback’) that ended with the Israelis getting hold of the strip of Gaza and the West Bank (Palestine), the Golan heights (Syria) and the peninsula of Sinai (Egypt).
The Arabs won the final war on October 1973 (also called the 10th of Ramadhan). This led to the Camp David Accord in 1978 and the return of Sinai back to Egypt.
All these political events gave birth to Arabic spy fiction in the 1970s. A famous leading figures of this category was Saleh Mursi (1929-1996), an Egyptian novelist who worked closely with the Egyptian Intelligence.
Saleh Mursi’s work revealed the massive intelligence war that was going on between the Egyptians and the Israelis during these wards. One of Saleh Mursi’s famous books that was turned into a three-parts Ramadhan series called “Ra’afat Al-Hajjan” was based on the true story of the Egyptian spy Refaat Al-Gammal, who lived in Israel and owned a travelling company as a front.
For seventeen years, Refaat (known to the Israeli’s as Jacques Beton) provided the Egyptians with vital military information including the timing of the attacks for the 1956 and 1967 wars. He was also a close friend of Israeli militants such as Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman and David Ben-Gurion.
After his death and the publication of his diaries three years later, the Mossad claimed that Al-Gammal was a double agent that worked for them for twelve years. But a book published by two Israeli journalists called “Spies” discredited this claim and proved that he had only worked for the Egyptian intelligence. Going back to the series that started in 1987, it was an instant hit and Ra’afat Al-Hajjan became a beloved Arab hero.
However, this series wasn’t the first of its kind. Seven years before it, Egyptian TV had produced another espionage series by the same writer called: “Shameless Tears” which was about another real spy: Ahmed Al-Hawwan, a double agent who provided the Egyptian intelligence with an advanced transmitting device made by the Israelis.
But the magic of Ra’afat Al-Hajjan was different. The roads were empty during the show time. Everyone owned a cassette of the famous opening and end scores composed by the music genius Ammar El-Sherei. Not to mention the affection that people fell for different series characters such as Esther Polanski and Hellen Samhoon.
Lately, I watched a movie by the same writer produced in 1978 called “Climbing to the Abys”. The movie is based on the story of Heba Selim, the Egyptian student who was recruited by the Mossad while studying in Paris in 1969.
What’s astonishing in Heba’s case was that she was a wealthy girl studying in the Sorbonne. She succeeded in recruiting her fiancé Farooq El-Fiqi — an engineer working for the Egyptian military. Farooq passed important information to the Mossad regarding new missiles launching location. In 1973, the Intelligence arrested Farooq who confessed immediately.
They set a plan to trap Heba in Libya, using her father who worked there as a bait. She was caught and transported to Cairo at once. Golda Mair — the Israeli foreign minister — asked Henry Kissinger to speak to Anwar Al-Sadat to reduce Heba’s sentence. But then it was too late. Farooq was already executed and Heba followed, on the same day of Kissinger’s visit.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com