A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cold Cases and Deep States: Suad Husni Case Dismissed for "Insufficient Evidence"

Suad Husni about 1972
I think it may have been Yossarian in Catch-22 who first remarked that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. And just because Middle Easterners tend to see plots and conspiracies everywhere doesn't mean that some of them aren't real.

A couple of days ago, an Egyptian judge dismissed a case seeking to uncover the truth behind the 2001 death in London of Egyptian actress Suad Husni, who fell, or jumped, or was pushed, from the balcony of her London high-rise apartment. Longstanding rumors that she was involved with Egyptian intelligence have led to speculation of foul play.

Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But consider this; between 1973 and 2007 four prominent, well-known Egyptians in London, three with known intelligence links and Suad Husni with rumors of same, all died mysteriously. But: three of them died by falling from their apartment balconies (or jumping, or being pushed). Starting to seem to push the coincidence level a bit? Oh, did I mention that two of them, though nearly 30 years apart, fell from balconies in the same apartment tower? The Stuart Tower in Maida Vale. No cause for suspicion in any of this, right?

The official Egyptian explanation is that most or all committed suicide,  while the British authorities found cause for suspicion, but no proof.

The four were:

1) El-Leithy Nassif. Commander of the Republican Guard under Nasser and the early years of Sadat. Named Ambassador to Greece, he went to London for medical treatment. Found dead on the pavement under his apartment on August 15, 1973. His wife claimed he was pushed and blamed Anwar Sadat. He lived in and fell from the Stuart Tower.

2. Ali Shafiq. Major General Ali Shafiq's case is unusual in that he did not fall off his balcony. A former Office Director for Nasser's number two man, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amr, who committed suicide (or in some accounts, "committed suicide") after the 1967 war, he was later linked with Saad al-Din al-Shazly, fired by Sadat during the 1973 war. On July 5, 1977, he was found dead in his home in Harley Street in London, having been dead for some days, but was reportedly found in a pool of blood.

3. Suad Husni. The subject of this post; details momentarily. Died 2001. Fell from the Stuart Tower.

4. Ashraf Marwan. We've written about the Marwan case several times. Marwan was Nasser's son in law. In the Sadat era he headed the Arab Organization for Industrialization, which ran a large segment of Egypt's military industries, and later became an international businessman and apparently a back-channel diplomat and intelligence agent.  In 2007, amid Israeli reports that he was the double agent who tipped off Israel the day before the 1973 war and other allegations, he was found beneath the balcony of his home in St. James Park. His wife (Nasser's daughter Mona) insists he was killed. Some blame Mubarak, others Mossad. depending on their preferred conspiracy theory. But if he was a Mossad asset, why would they kill him? It's said he was trying to market his memoirs when he fell/jumped/was pushed.
Stuart Tower: Watch Your Step

Coincidences? Or perhaps a singular lack of originality on the part of the hit squad's modus operandi over three decades?

Back to Suad Husni. In the 1960s and 1970s she was Egypt's superstar, beautiful, captivating, conveying both innocence and sexiness. She dominated Egyptian films for years. When I arrived in Egypt in 1972 her film Khali Balak min Zouzou (Watch out for Zouzou) had already been in theaters for much of a year, and in that pre-VCR/DVD era, was still playing when I left. It's the usual realistic plot: college student moonlights as a belly-dancer, falls in love with her professor, etc. etc.

She continued to make films through the 1980s and into the 90s, but she also became the Egyptian equivalent of a tabloid sensation with multiple marriages. rumors of a secret marriage to singing superstar Abdel Halim Hafiz. and so on. There would also be rumors that she had links to Egyptian intelligence and to senior political leaders. Born in the poor Cairo quarter of Bulaq, she was popularly called "Cinderella," having become a princess.

In the 1990s she moved to London. She suffered from a back injury and other health issues and gained weight. (There are some mysteries about the nature of her illnesses, which further fuel the conspiracy theories.)

On June 22, 2001, she fell from her balcony. The balcony was, of course, at the Stuart Tower in Maida Vale, the same building from which Nassif fell back in 1973.

She was given a huge burial in Egypt, but rumors began immediately. Suicide was blamed, but it was noted that one slipper was found in the bathroom and one on the balcony, suggesting she had been forcibly moved. More crucially, friends and family said she had contracted for her memoirs and had been making tape recordings of those memoirs.

Only those of you who've never seen a single spy thriller will need to be told that the tapes, which some claim to have seen, were not found in her apartment and have never been found since her death.

Opposition press reports and, eventually, her own younger sister told a different tale: she had been recruited by Egyptian intelligence and worked for it for many years. One of the key figures in this was Safwat Sharif, an intelligence man under Nasser, Information Minister for decades under Sadat and Mubarak, and finally head of the Shura Council until the fall of Mubarak. In short,. one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Other names mentioned include Zakaria Azmi, Husni Mubarak's Chief of Staff. It is also alleged that she was required to provide sexual favors both to intelligence targets and to senior regime figures. And I should note that her own younger sister supports this narrative, despite its scandalous aspects.

I have no knowledge of the facts beyond the press accounts, and while I'm usually skeptical of conspiracy theories, sometimes they're pretty obvious.

But the judge decided a couple of days ago that there's "insufficient evidence." He may well be right: the British courts couldn't find a smoking gun either, but seemed to still be a bit skeptical of the suicide theory. (And please, let's do more for safety measures on balconies of London flats.) Then again, "insufficient evidence" may mean "nothing to see here: move along now."

Am I suggesting that the Egyptian intelligence and security services are still protecting themselves despite a Revolution and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood? That the spooky parts of the Egyptian establishment (the "Deep State") are unchanged? ("Deep State" is a term used of foreign countries like Turkey and Egypt, but how many Presidents of both parties did J. Edgar Hoover serve as FBI Director in the US?)

Oh, why would I even hint at such a thing? I know that the old, hated, evil and all-powerful State Security Apparatus (jihaz amn al-dawla) was abolished and replaced with the totally new and utterly different National Security Sector (qita‘ amn al-watani). (It works for the nation, not the "state," and it's just a "sector," not a sinister "appartus." Nothing in common but that word "security." Hey, they even fired a handful of people at the top and no doubt bought new stationery. No Deep State here.

And insufficient evidence about Cinderella's fall.

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