“The Eye of Horus: Egyptian Intelligence” – with Dina Rezk
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. Please support the show for free by giving us a five-star review on Apple podcasts. If you can leave a single sentence, it will help other listeners find us. It can literally take less than a minute. We appreciate you. This week's guest is Dina Rezk. Dina's a British Egyptian expert on intelligence in the Arab world and Egypt, in particular, and she joined the podcast from Cairo. She's an associate professor in Middle Eastern history at the University of Reading, UK, and the author of the book, The Arab World and Western Intelligence, which was published in 2018. For more information on this episode or Dina, go to our web page at thecyberwire.com /podcasts/spycast for extended show notes, links to further resources, and a full transcript. In this episode, Dina and I discuss Egypt's leadership and intelligence; the intelligence landscape of Egypt; Egypt's relationship with neighboring countries, including Israel; and the legendary Angel, Ashraf Marwan story from an Egyptian perspective. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Well, thanks ever so much for joining me to speak about Egyptian intelligence. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Dina Rezk: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Andrew Hammond: So I think the first thing to ask just before we get going because I know that you're actually in Egypt now. So can you just tell our listeners a little bit more about where this interest in Egyptian intelligence comes from? 333 Sure. I think for me it really had its origins in 2013, 2014, the run-up to the election of the current president who was himself a former spy chief. He was head of military intelligence and makes a very sort of easy transition to Egypt's most powerful, important role in the country. So we're talking about el-Sisi.
Dina Rezk: Yes, exactly. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Yeah. And part of what I found so fascinating about Fattah el-Sisi's presidency was how he was able to garner a significant amount of real support for his rather authoritarian politics. And so I suppose my interest in el-Sisi raised bigger questions about the nature of Egyptian intelligence and the way that it's intersected with political authority and political life.
Andrew Hammond: Just for our listeners, very briefly, just so they have some context about who you are, you're in Egypt now, and you have extended family in Egypt. So if you just tell our listeners a little bit more about -- about your background because I guess that's part of the reason why you're interested in it too.
Dina Rezk: Yeah. Yeah. I'm Egyptian and also British. I was born and raised in the UK, in London. I guess I was very much a child of 9/11 and the sorts of narratives and discourses and conversations that were being held in the aftermath of 9/11 about how, you know, America's or the world's most well-resourced, capable intelligence institution could have failed to predict an attack of that magnitude. And a lot of the conversations being had at the time was around Arab culture, and some sort of a cultural divide, Samuel Huntington's idea of The Clash of Civilizations. You know, these morals, sort of phrases that were milling about my -- my consciousness, my teenage consciousness or sort of early 20s. So I -- I found myself in a position to kind of be able to explore that question in a more historical sense. At Cambridge, I did a module on intelligence history. It was led by Christopher Landry and went on to do a PhD, looking at Anglo American assessments of the Arab world, specifically focused on Egypt, partly because it was -- you know, it's an interesting and important question. You know, what intelligence analysts had understood, what they hadn't understood; what role culture had played in their understanding, analysis, and their assessments but also, I mean, from a personal perspective, I just wanted to find out a little bit more about my own history and my own past and Egypt that my parents had left behind in search for a better life. So that's why I was focused on -- on those decades, late '50s, 60s, and 70s, right up to the assassination of President Sadat, when Egypt retakes the identity that it currently has.
Andrew Hammond: And the assassination of Sadat, can you just tell the listeners when that took place?
Dina Rezk: 1981. So, yeah. Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
Andrew Hammond: And when you say intelligence assessments of Egypt, do you mean just purely factual? What did, for example, CIA analysts make of Egypt in 1956 during the Suez Crisis? Or do you mean the sort of cultural understandings that they had and how that, if they're Arabs, they're Egyptian, therefore X or Y or Z?
Dina Rezk: Exactly, exactly. It was both. It was both.
Andrew Hammond: It was both. Okay.
Dina Rezk: So I'm seeking to -- to kind of write partly a sort of institutional history in terms of what the CIA and the British intelligence community, let's say, got right and wrong, or that approach about that kind of they did this right and they did that wrong was also something that I was really seeking to challenge through my work and kind of bring to the fore some of Edward Said's ideas of Orientalism and the lenses through which Westerners have tended to see the Arab world and the degree to which stereotypes are featured sometimes served and sometimes hindered analysis but also how these stereotypes were used and manipulated by Arabs themselves in what Edward Said might call sort of native Orientalism.
Andrew Hammond: And just very briefly for our listeners that aren't up to speed with this, can you just tell them about Oriental, just the idea of it.
Dina Rezk: Sure. So Orientalism is a term coined by Edward in his book called Orientalism, in 1978, that basically sought to prove and demonstrate the extent to which Western observers, Western writers, Western artists painted literally and metaphorically the Arab world in a particular denigrating way and sort of expose the very common stereotypes that were used and what he saw as a kind of pattern, a linguistic visual pattern of interpreting the Arab world and essentially made the case that it was almost impossible for Westerners to truly understand the region because they were so limited by these kind of stereotypes that had taken form through colonial encounters. That was the, in brief, ultimate affordances.
Andrew Hammond: And you mentioned there the General Intelligence Service. So I think it'd be useful at this point just to very briefly lay out the Egyptian intelligence landscape. So, as I understand it, there's three main agencies. But can you just tell us what those are and if there was any more, and tell us briefly what they do and so forth. Just give us some context, please.
Dina Rezk: So the General Intelligence Service is the one that I suppose is the most well-known, internationally, at least. It reports directly to the President. And it's Egypt's first civilian agency, and it was founded in 1954. It's kind of modeled on the CIA in the sense that it's supposed to be both supervisor and coordinator of all of Egypt's Intelligence Services and also conduct covert operations. So, in brief, that's its kind of mandate.
Andrew Hammond: And it's also known as the Mukhabarat. Does that sound right?
Dina Rezk: Mukhabarat.
Andrew Hammond: Mukhabarat.
Dina Rezk: A Mukhabarat, yeah, is the Arabic term for Intelligence Services, more broadly speaking. So you could -- you could use the term to describe the other two agencies, as well, although they have their own specific names. But I think it's useful to also think about the sort of hierarchies of these agencies and who they report to because that's quite revealing in terms of understanding the political makeup of the regime and some of the rivalries that exist within it. So you have the GIS that sort of reports to the President. And then you have military intelligence, which is under the purview of the Ministry of Defense. And that has a sort of older background in Egypt and was very much one of the kind of principal agencies for a period of time. It's also the agency that President Sisi came from, which gives an indication, I think, of its power.
Andrew Hammond: He was the head of intelligence.
Dina Rezk: Exactly, exactly, during the 2011 revolution, in fact, and made some controversial claims about some of the accusations of sexual assault perpetuated by the military during that time. And the third major organization, which is perhaps the one that you choose are most familiar with and aware of is what's now called El Watani but, essentially, this is the state Security Service. It's -- it's had various kind of names over the years. In theory, it was -- it was disbanded after the 2011 revolution in response to some of the controversies that were associated with the Ministry of Interior's torture and sort of, you know, security policies. But it was -- it was quickly reinstated with the counterrevolution. And that organization is under the purview of the -- of the Ministry of Interior. So what you effectively have is three centers of power: the President, the military, and the interior ministry, a really good work on this that explores the dynamic between these three sectors is Hazem Kandil's Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen, a Cambridge sociologist who's written extensively about the relationship between these three centers of powers and really gone into incredible detail as to the rivalry that exists between them.
Andrew Hammond: So, when you say the internal security, we're talking about counterintelligence, find foreign spies, protecting Egypt secrets at home, internal security. But there's also a sort of internal state police aspect to it, as well; is that correct?
Dina Rezk: Yeah. And I would say that is the primary sort of concern. I think that's one of the ways in which the Egyptian Intelligence Service sort of conceives of its primary responsibility. It's about maintaining internal security and particularly, at the moment and since 2014, I would say, sort of eliminating any sort of political opposition, any possibility of political opposition. And -- and, in that sense, it really kind of harks back somewhat nostalgically to the Nasser era where there was similar levels of control, particularly over the media and kind of an ability to control information and control the narrative that I would argue is the principal focus of the intelligence community at the moment.
Andrew Hammond: So we had a guest on a former head of intelligence in Kenya. And he was saying that the Intelligence Services grew out of the British colonial legacy. But, effectively, before he took over, there was a special branch derived from a British idea of the special branch. But with this organization, it was one where the general citizenry -- you know, it was one that you sort of whispered or was hush-hush because it was notorious for being very repressive. Is that the case in Egypt? You go there. You go about your life. And if you're not involved in, you know, revolutionary politics or so forth, you've got nothing to worry about. Or, like, just on a spectrum of complete oppression through to complete laissez faire, like, where -- where is Egypt? Is it something that everyday people fear? Is it omnipresent? Is it more of a myth than a reality? Help us understand it a little bit more.
Dina Rezk: Well, I think this has kind of varied through time. So, in general, I would say if you were not involved in Egyptian politics, if you're not involved in activism, if you're not in some sense opposing the regime, then you were relatively safe. But, in recent times, that's very different. And, you know, just to give one example, in 2015, an Egyptian lawyer was arrested for photoshopping Mickey Mouse ears onto, you know, a picture of the President. But this also has kind of older historical precedents. Nasser apparently had an entire corpus analyzing and reporting jokes that were circulating about him that he thought, you know, the American Embassy was behind. And these were actually -- you know, these were written up and sent through as regular reports. So this kind of obsessive preoccupation with anything that could be conceived as threatening is a real thing that Egyptians have to contend with.
Andrew Hammond: I don't really know how I could deal with a self-inflicted weekly roast, hear what everyone was saying about me.
Dina Rezk: Have to develop quite a thick skin, wouldn't you.
Andrew Hammond: You really do, yeah. I don't know if I've got the stomach for this.
Dina Rezk: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Hammond: So can you give us an example of -- maybe there's some example in recent history of where these state organs have came into play? I don't know. Feel free to choose a different example, but the obvious one is what's known in the West anyway as the Arab Spring. Is there -- do they feel them all, like, kick into gear when the Arab Spring happens? Or feel free to choose a different example. Is there some episode or example that we can use to bring these agencies alive for our listeners?
Dina Rezk: I mean, I think, yeah. The Arab Spring is a really good example in terms of unpacking some of the internal kind of rivalries and dynamics that existed between the various components of the state that we discussed, the presidency, the military, and the Ministry of Interior because what you essentially see in 2011 is the military finding an opportunity to reclaim some of the power that they've lost since a really humiliating defeat in 1967 in what was known as the Six-Day War. And President Nasser at the time, you know, publicly decrying that Egypt -- that Egypt had become a Mahabharat state and that he was looking to sort of diffuse some of the military's power that they had been wasting time and effort spying on their own citizens, rather than getting important up-to-date intelligence on Israel and on the real threats to Egypt's security. And what you see after Nasser dies in 1970 with Sadat's presidency and then even more so with the Mubarak regime is a kind of downgrading of military power and an expanding of the Ministry of Interior as a counterweight to the military. So, in 2011, when protesters come to the streets in the way that they do, calling for Mubarak to step down, protesting the really sort of vicious excesses of the Ministry of Interior through, for example, the torture and murder of Khaled Said. You might have heard of the Facebook page. We are all Khaled Said. The military see an opportunity themselves here. They see an opportunity to stand with the people, people in the Army, on one hand, that was one of the big mantras of the early 2011 protests and sideline the power, both of the presidency and of the Ministry of Interior that has become incredibly unpopular, unpopular in the eyes of Egyptians. And so you actually think about the 2011 to 2013 period, if you were on the streets in Egypt, you would have noticed that police suddenly weren't around, you know. What had previously been an extremely, you know, police heavy presence in places like Cairo and Alexandria, etc. was kind of empty. And so that was reflective of some of the power struggles that were taking place. Now, since Sisi has come to power, very aware of this kind of this -- this internal rivalry, he sought to manage that by obviously using his previous background as head of military intelligence but also making sure that he has really good control over the General Intelligence Service through the appointment of Abbas Kamel, who is his kind of right-hand man and also his son within the organization. So, yeah. I think actually the Arab Spring is a really good example of how on the surface this looked like popular protests bringing down a president, and that was part of the story, actually the sort of what's called the deep state was operating beneath the surface as well.
Andrew Hammond: To help you digest this episode, here's a short primer on the Arab Spring. In 2010, a working class Tunisian man set himself on fire in front of a government office. He made his living from selling produce, and his cart had been confiscated. This trigger sparked a revolutionary uprising against the established order that has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Many across the Arab world, that is, around 20 or so countries across North Africa and the Middle East, were similarly dissatisfied with government repression, harassment, and corruption, as well as a chronic lack of economic opportunity and inequality. After a mass uprising in Tunisia, President Ben Ali eventually spread to Saudi Arabia. The Arab Spring was important for many reasons, not least the role that social media and cell phones played in the uprising and in the spread across the region, in Egypt, it led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who'd been in power for 30 years and would also lead to political change in Libya where Colonel Gaddafi had been in power for 42 years. In places like Sudan, Yemen would culminate in Civil War and humanitarian crises that last to this day. Historians will debate the Arab Spring for decades to come. But it did lead to widespread political change, both in the region and geopolitically. For example, shifts in alliances, war, migration, refugees, energy markets, resurgent authoritarianism, you name it, all packages. To close out, it was called Spring, not after a season but after the Prague Spring, mass protests that took place in 1968 against the oppressive Soviet model that was imposed on Czechoslovakia and the People's Spring of 1848 which aimed to shake off the arch conservative regimes that had been in power across Europe, really since the end of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in 1815. Just help me understand that. Presumably the interior minister reports to the President, and the head of the military reports to the President. So -- but what -- but what you're saying is that, although the General Intelligence Service is the only one that reports directly to him, the Interior minister or the military would use the other two to build semi-independent power bases that -- that were trying to take power away from the President. It wasn't a clean bureaucratic flow of power to the President.
Dina Rezk: Exactly. That historically has been the case, certainly, under Nasser. He complained about there being essentially a state within a state in terms of how the military operated. His control over the regime was far from the sort of complete authoritarian law that people perhaps associate with his leadership. Currently, in practice, although these theoretical sort of hierarchies apply, el-Sisi I think is far too smart to allow that kind of centers of power, let's say, to gather under his regime. And so, yes. Everybody reports to him. He has avenues, I would imagine, to ensure that he's sort of I wouldn't say full control but that he seems to be would not let, let's say, what happened in the run-up to 2011 happen under his watch. He's very aware of the kind of lessons of history in that regard.
Andrew Hammond: But the military -- just for our listeners, again, that aren't up to speed on the history, the military have been historically quite important. Nasser was a military officer, Sadat and Mubarak, Sisi. You say military officer, and that could mean they were, you know, a private for one year, you know. Or it could be they were career military officers, right. And then, when you say, well, it was all military officers, if it's somewhere like Israel, the next door neighbor, then there's a pretty good chance that they're going to be ex-military because pretty much most people go to the military. So just help us understand. Is there conscription in Egypt? Does everybody serve in the military? Were all of those presidents career military officers, or was it just it was a right of passage thing that they've done briefly? I'm just trying to understand how much of a grip the military has on power.
Dina Rezk: No. I mean, these were all career military officers. Yes, there is conscription in Egypt. There are some exceptions. Everybody does some military service. But all of these presidents that we're talking about are people who have wholly fair such as their political leadership skills within the military. And I would say also it's important to understand the role of the military pays, not just in, like, let's say pure politics but in the popular imagination and the sort of political imaginary that animates ordinary Egyptians. For a long time, the military was seen as almost -- had almost a religious authority. You know, you don't challenge the military. The military are the organization who liberated us from British rule and liberated us from decades of humiliation, achieved what's very much regarded as a military victory in the 1973 war. You know, they have occupied this kind of quasi-religious role within the Egyptian imagination. And so, for example, if we go back to 2011, you have lots of high-profile educated activists saying the military will never fire on the people. Military will never turn on the people. And I'm sure they believed that. You know, such was the -- was the sort of the reverence that was -- such was the reverence that the military was the guarded way. And I think that's a large part of how and why Sisi comes to power in the way that he does. The military are seen as the ultimate -- you know, the ultimate salvation of Egyptians in 2013. They will save Egyptians from the center and from all the destruction that's associated with their brief time in power.
Andrew Hammond: So one of the questions that I have is how powerful are the heads of these respective intelligence agencies politically? Are they kingmakers, or are they completely ineffectual? But it sounds like we've got a pretty decent answer so far. They're very powerful,
Dina Rezk: Incredibly powerful, incredibly powerful. And I think what's interesting also is the degree to which their power has allowed Egyptian Intelligence Services to do things and to occupy spaces within the Egyptian body politic that you wouldn't see in Western contexts. So, for example, the Egyptian Intelligence Services have bought out, more or less, most of Egypt's private media and created an organization called the United Media Services that effectively gives it direct control over what content is being produced and disseminated throughout the Arab world. Take a more recent example, COP 27, which was held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, the International Convention Center is actually the property of the Joint Intelligence Service. It was bought in 2017. So you have this kind of expansive reach that has more recently been legally backed, a parliamentary decree that has really given the Intelligence Services, the power to establish its own economic enterprises similar to that which has always been the case for the military. What we're seeing at the moment is this quite, you know, unprecedented expansion of intelligence power within the Egyptian regime.
Andrew Hammond: This is really, really fascinating. So this is a little bit like in Iran where you have the Revolutionary Guards or other organizations who start -- they're acquiring property. They've got money-making ventures. They've got their fingers in the pie all over the place. This is something similar.
Dina Rezk: Yeah, yeah. Fingers in many pies, essentially.
Andrew Hammond: Every pie.
Dina Rezk: Every pie. Egyptian -- Egyptian Intelligence Service I would say does not want there to be a pie in which it does not have a finger.
Andrew Hammond: Okay. Actually, I like that. Yeah.
Dina Rezk: Yeah. They are seeking absolute, you know, full control.
Andrew Hammond: So for intelligence specifically, so I understand the military has always played a role, has always play a powerful role. Career military officers have been the President. But as the -- as the -- the power of intelligence agency specifically as opposed to the military, is this a more recent evolution, or is this something that has always been the case?
Dina Rezk: No. I think -- I think that is definitely a more kind of recent evolution. I think it's useful to kind of think about some of the statistics that are associated with the expansion of the Ministry of Interior. If we think about sort of this dynamic that previously where Sadat begins the process of kind of curtailing military power, in the mid-1970s, you have military spending constituting about a third of the annual budget. And, by 1980, this has dropped to a fifth. And, by 2010, the eve of the Arab Spring, military spending constitutes just 2.5% of GDP.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's like France or Belgium.
Dina Rezk: Exactly, exactly. And you compare that to spending on the Ministry of Interior, which more than doubles between 1974 to 2002. And, you know, 21% of state employment comes under the purview of the Ministry of Interior. So there is definitely a -- from the 1970s a push to expand the purview of the Ministry of Interior's intelligence capabilities at the expense of the military, which I think it counts for part of how and why Intelligence Services have such an important and substantial role as they do currently.
Andrew Hammond: And what it is, is Egyptian intelligence strong and in what areas are they less strong in. And, you know, just give us a picture. There's a whole pantry of different things that you could mix and match. Like, what are some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of Egyptian intelligence?
Dina Rezk: I mean, I think analysis has definitely featured quite low on their levels of priority. One of their sort of founding fathers of Egyptian intelligence, a notorious spy chief by the name of Salah Nasr. He was actually imprisoned in 1967. And whilst he's in prison, he wrote both autobiography and a two-volume work, which was called Psychological Warfare, The Battle of Words and Perceptions. He writes about the sort of Hobbesian-centered nature of the international system, this kind of eat or be eaten environment in which we can see Egypt operating and the importance of controlling the narrative. The role of intelligence analysis and sort, of know, understanding was almost regarded as a secondary quasi-academic activity that's, you know, similar to that of a kind of publishing house. And, you know, we'll see echoes of that in terms of the CIA and the kind of the focus that is sometimes given to analysis in other intelligence organizations. This obviously results in some serious, you know, foreign policy failures. I suppose -- I suppose the two most important examples, back to the 1960s in Yemen when intelligence are really believed their intervening to support the Republicans against the Yemeni monarchy would, you know, enhance Egypt's prestige after the dissolution of the United Arab Republic in 1962 and give Egypt a really important strategic foothold, allowing it to potentially even stabilize the Saudi regime. And the reality is that actually Yemen proves to be Egypt's Vietnam. And, yeah. And it's grossly underestimated, you know, the tenacity of Yemeni loyalists, the complex tribal structures saw the strength in Yemen. And by 1965, 70,000, Egyptian soldiers are lost to this war, which is really important considering Egypt's kind of vulnerability in 1967 where, you know, infamously the Air Force is destroyed in a six-day preemptive attack by Israel. And this is a war where Israel, you know, quite three times its former territory and, you know, make some massive gains at the expense of Egypt and Syria. And President Morsi openly, you know, blames the Intelligence Services for failing to provide, you know, adequate information. And then -- and then, of course, the 1967 War, you know, where intelligence estimates within Egypt assess that Israel would not walk into an open grave considering Egyptian superiority and weapons and artillery and air power. I have an interesting comical quote in my book of an American analyst reporting a quite prominent Egyptian complaining that our intelligence service is the most ignorant in the world, he said, where the Israelis knew the name of every Egyptian on relief, and his wife's name too. We didn't even know where Moshe Dayan's house was. Moshe Dayan was Minister of Defense at the time. So this kind of, actually, you know, we have this big intelligence community and these giant structures that are actually just too busy collecting jokes and spying on ordinary Egyptians to actually be able to, you know, make some of the most basic assessments and translate those into actionable foreign policy was, yeah, yeah, was a real concern at the time.
Andrew Hammond: And we're talking about the Six-Day War, so -- or what the Israelis call the Six-Day War. So the Egyptian and the Israelis basically come in and destroy Israel -- the Egyptian Air Force on the ground, and it's all over very quickly.
Dina Rezk: Exactly, exactly. A really, really traumatic moment for not just Egypt but I think the Arab world as a whole.
Andrew Hammond: It's interesting when you were talking there about Nasser getting involved in the Yemeni Civil War to try to restore some sense of last pride for Syria going back to being independent and then the Six-Day War. There's this, you know, when we get to 1973 and the Yom Kippur War or the October war, as it's also known, there's also the sense of restoring credibility. But this reminds me of when you were talking earlier about appearing to be manly and macho and so forth, right? If you get defeated, you want to be shown that you've -- you've got a heart and that you can take fight to them, even though the 1973 is not necessarily an Egyptian victory. But it's still a sense that we had the upper hand for a bit, and we showed them that we are capable.
Dina Rezk: It's not a military victory, but it is a political victory. And that is what -- that was one of the big -- that was one of the big, let's say, intelligence failures in terms of how the rest of the world analyzed the run-up to 1973. There was fundamentally this concept that Sadat would not start an unwinnable war. I mean, that's what Henry Kissinger, you know, so famously said. We did not take seriously the idea that someone would start a war that they could not win, simply to restore self-respect when, in actual fact, this is very Clausewitzian idea that you simply launch a limited war to achieve a political goal. And so that's why. This was a very limited endeavor. That's what the Syrians thought. The Syrians were out to destroy Israel, and that was part of Egyptian deception plans. Well, they didn't just deceive Israel. They deceived everybody that it was in their interest to deceive in order to get the results that -- of course, they paid for that to some extent with their expulsion from the Arab League and, you know, being ostracized from the Arafat Oslo peace treaty with Israel. But -- so that had very specific objectives that the limited military victory 1973 achieved well.
Andrew Hammond: So the expulsion of -- the expulsion of Egypt from the Arab League, does this take place in 19 -- after 1973, after the war in 1973, or does it take place in 1978 when peace is, you know, reached between Sadat and begin at Camp David under the Carter administration?
Dina Rezk: No. After the war, Egypt is the -- is the hero of the Arab world. Egypt has done what no other country was able to do, which is gain back Egyptian land and humiliate the Israelis and force them to the negotiating table under American auspices. And that is a major, major achievement. But, you know, Egypt is -- you know, Egypt is not too popular with Syria but overall within the region extremely well-regarded in the aftermath of 1973. No. It's with the peace treaty with Israel, and, specifically, its kind of bilateral nature that the Palestinian cause had been set aside in order for Israel and Egypt to come to an agreement. That really irked other Arab leaders, as Egypt is expelled from the Arab League and after that [inaudible 00:39:36].
Andrew Hammond: It's interesting because, when you mentioned the '67 War and the Egyptians saying, you know, there's no -- there's no way that the Israelis would walk into an open grave. There's not there's no way that they would do this. But then in '73 the whole thing is flipped on its head, and the Israelis are saying there's no -- there's no way that they would do this. It's also fascinating it wasn't necessarily a military victory but it was a political victory. To me, it reminds me of the Tet Offensive in 1968 during the Vietnam War. As I understand that, it was an operational defeat for the North Vietnamese; it was a tactical defeat. But on the grand strategic and political level it was a success because that was the turning point.
Dina Rezk: And I think you see a similar thing happen in 1956 with the Suez Crisis, where Nasser was able to turn what could have been a terribly, very high-threatening situation into a giant political victory, you know, getting the Americans to apply sanctions to their -- you know, their ally, Britain and essentially force a very humiliating British withdrawal. I think that's a really interesting question about the relationship between military achievements and military goals and critical ones. I also, you know, mirror imaging, not assuming that your opponent is going to think in the same way that you do by the same logic and kind of calculations as you.
Andrew Hammond: I've often thought that a lot of these types of intelligence methods and methodologies, that some -- somebody should write a book on how these can be used for a relationship or a marriage or something like that, shouldn't they? You know, mirror imaging, deception.
Dina Rezk: I think --
Andrew Hammond: Analysis, ensure that you're getting the right input.
Dina Rezk: I think that literature does exist. It just haven't been directly linked to, you know, know your enemy, right.
Andrew Hammond: Exactly.
Dina Rezk: Your partner isn't your enemy, in theory.
Andrew Hammond: I could win this argument, but I could be -- I could be a strategic defeat.
Dina Rezk: Exactly.
Andrew Hammond: Okay.
Dina Rezk: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
Andrew Hammond: Exactly. So you mentioned Israel there. So this episode is coming on the back of a podcast special where we're looking at Israel in-depth. So I just want to explore a little bit more of the relationship between Israeli intelligence and Egyptian intelligence, or what is that like just now? So, obviously, in the past, pre-1978 wasn't particularly good. What is it like now? Is it an uneasy standoff? Is there a lot of collaboration? Does it depend on the agency? Or is it just you stay over there, and we stay over here; and let's try to minimize contact. Help us understand the nature of that relationship at the moment?
Dina Rezk: Sure. Well, I think Israel is, you know, one of Egypt's primary partners when it comes to intelligence. And that's because they have some kind of shared interest. So, obviously, the Sinai region is an area where they have collaborated quite extensively. Israel has conducted since 2015 over 100 operations, via which Egyptian officials sort of deny, you know, providing, like, official sanction to. But it's kind of well-known that there is collaboration in Sinai in Egypt, and Israel was sort of operational aspect to things there.
Andrew Hammond: And that -- and this is against, what, militants or --
Dina Rezk: Exactly. Islamist militants.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Okay.
Dina Rezk: Which is -- which is -- is worth saying explicitly at this stage. I don't buy this explicitly. But, you know, Islamists have since the 1990s been Egypt's primary domestic focus. And that was one of the -- that was one of the main issues, if you want to call it that, that almost made to transforming the intelligence culture within Egypt. And once you said no longer was, for example, Israel seen as the primary enemy, Islamists were the principal target, the focus. One less so slightly, as suggested that, you know, 80% of men's time was spent monitoring Egypt's military. And so there's missed connections. Of course, Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by a military with Islamist connection. So you can understand where that kind of fear comes from. So, yeah. There is a kind of recent but strong history of collaboration between the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence services.
Andrew Hammond: The nature of the collaboration is a, listen. We can't come out and say that we're friends. But, basically, we are friends. And we cooperate quite extensively, and we're not going to go through war again anytime, even remotely. So that border between Israel and Egypt, there's not -- there's not a threat coming from there on an interstate level; it's more from nonstate actors, militants and, you know, so forth.
Dina Rezk: Absolutely. And I think we have to put this in the context of the big kind of normalization processes that are taking place in relation to Israel. Egypt is really, you know, a leader in that recognizing Israel is here to stay. We might as well work with them, particularly if it's in our interests. Yes, we're not going to shout about this publicly. But there is a, let's say, a move from a cold peace to a warm peace, yeah, collaborations like this where there's shared interests and kind of concrete reason to -- to work together.
Andrew Hammond: And just to understand Egypt in the context of where it's located, so let's look at the border with Sudan and Libya. What's Egypt's relationship like with them, other intelligence concerns, militants, and -- and so forth? Are there any kind of interstate animus there, or is everything hunky dory?
Dina Rezk: Hunky dory, no.
Andrew Hammond: There very rarely is.
Dina Rezk: Yeah. That's not how I would describe that sort of security posture. So I think, you know, Egypt has -- you and your listeners will have heard undoubtedly about tensions that have been brewing between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam that was planned there. And so, in 2021, Uganda announced a military intelligence sharing agreement as a result that sort of, let's say, tangible issue on which the two countries could collaborate. And we saw a similar military intelligence sharing agreement in place with Angola reported earlier this year. That was focused on combating terrorism. Regionally, I think you see sort of memorandums of understanding or sort of noises in the direction of intelligence sharing in order to secure specific strategic interests that Egypt was concerned about. But, you know, there isn't any sort of like Middle Eastern Five Eyes where Arab countries or all-in countries with sort of shared strategic interests will agree to share certain amount of intelligence information, that just there isn't that level of trust. And I think that's, you know, the widespread exists within these divisions precludes from that sort of, you know, interstate level of cooperation, which would be, you know, even militarily has not been particularly strong and impressive. I'd say the Gulf War, 1990s, '91 was the was the best military kind of earnest cooperation exist in the Arab world. And we haven't seen that replicated since.
Andrew Hammond: It's totally fascinating. And that, just for our listeners that are rusty on the geography, the reason why Ethiopia could be an issue is not because it's got a land border with Egypt but because the Nile River, which is absolutely huge, it goes all the way down to Uganda and flows through so many different countries. And that's just one of the fascinating things about the modern world water politics, right, dams. Even see it here in the States with rivers in the American West.
Dina Rezk: The Nile is the source of life. It's -- you know, if you take a train journey -- I took a train journey last December from Aswan all the way up to Cairo so just all along the Nile. And you see this how that's Egypt's literally green, kind of fertile period. That's where -- that's where life kind of originates. So it's very much regarded as a principle resource.
Andrew Hammond: Just as we get towards the end of the interview, I think it'd be quite fascinating just to -- just to briefly talk about your views on The Angel, Ashraf Marwan who comes up in the Israeli episodes. Was he a traitor? What was he? And as someone that studies Egyptian intelligence, I just wondered what your take on it was. So we're talking about this -- you couldn't make this stuff up -- the son-in-law of Nasser who becomes a principal advisor to Anwar Sadat. So what's your take on Ashraf Marwan?
Dina Rezk: Yeah. I mean, I actually met Ashraf Marwan very briefly.
Andrew Hammond: Oh, you did. Wow.
Dina Rezk: Yeah. Before he -- before he died and in rather serious circumstances in 2007. Yes. In London. So he was -- it was 2006, and it was a 50-year anniversary of the Suez Crisis. I was invited by the Russian ambassador to Cairo at the time to attend the event. And I noticed that Marwan was the only person at the conference not wearing a nametag. So he had an automatically sort of mysterious demeanor. And, yeah. The following year, he was found dead. He'd made the transition for a balcony to a rose garden, and we don't know exactly how that transition was made. But what is -- what is interesting and what is significant is that two other individuals that had connections to the Egyptian Intelligence Services had died in exactly the same way. One of them was a famous actress, Soad Hosny, who I also met and sort of shortly before she died. So --
Andrew Hammond: If there's any Egyptians in London, they're probably like I hope I don't run out next door because --
Dina Rezk: Oh, oh, just don't live in a flat with a balcony.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Basement, yeah.
Dina Rezk: No. It's very -- it's very serious. Ashraf Marwan is an absolutely fascinating character. And, as you know, both sides, both Israel and Egypt claim that he worked for them. So, when he died, he was given a state funeral and lauded as a hero. Mubarak said that his service to the country, you know, could not be disclosed at the present moment. But, you know, the future would -- would reveal the amazing contribution that he had made to Egypt's security. And Israel, of course, has a very vitriolic vein to assert that he was an Israeli spy. And he was essentially the reason why Israel was caught unaware. I think the jury's still out. I am honestly not sure. I think it's very possible that he was working for both, that he was both a double agent and that, essentially, he was the kind of character -- he was out for himself more than he was about either of their countries. He amassed a huge personal fortune as a result of his work. You know, apparently he was paid -- I heard somewhere he was paid $52,000 for the meeting he had with the Israelis. That was apart from his sort of arms dealing and gambling. So, you know, it's a very -- there's a lot of murky waters. But what we do know is that he did provide absolutely vital information about Egyptian plans, intentions, capabilities to the Israelis. We also know, however, that those were somewhat off. And, you know, to, for example, he warned Israel no uncertain terms that Egypt was going to attack except that the attack was going to happen at 6pm. And, in reality, the attack happened at 2pm. But those crucial four hours, I think, really allowed Egyptians to make the kind of progress that they needed to make across the Suez Canal in order to stand a chance of achieving strategic goals that they'd had in terms of reaching the Sinai Peninsula. Israel, interestingly, just released a whole lot of documents about this a few days ago on the anniversary of the -- of the war. They're all in Hebrew, unfortunately, which I don't read. So amongst the documents that were released is a picture of Ashraf Marwan. So some, you know, commentators have said that the release of these documents, you know, proves definitively that Ashraf Marwan was an Israeli agent. My reading of it is, is that that's not the case. It proves that they believed that he was an Israeli agent. But, yeah. It's impossible to know. I think even if, for example, Ashraf Marwan's memoirs were available to us and there -- there is -- there is information that he was writing memoirs at the time of his death, that would still only tell us what he wanted us to know about the situation. So, ultimately, I think this might be one of those cases where we have to come to terms with not knowing the complete truth. I think the best -- the best that you can say is we don't know. And, yeah. I -- it's possible that there is material that transpires in future potentially Egyptian sources that seems to indicate the truth one way or the other. But, at the moment, you know, we have some very reputable historians saying that he was a double agent and equally saying that he was an Israeli agent. So, yeah. I would say the jury's still out there.
Andrew Hammond: Well, I think that Andrew and Dina descending into the counterintelligence wilderness is probably -- probably a good place to sign off.
Dina Rezk: That's a bad enough.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time, Dina. It's been a pleasure. Yeah. Thanks for speaking to me. Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at INTL SpyCast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com /podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond. My podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn II, Emily Coletta, Emily Rens, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tr Hester, and Jen Eiben. The show's brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.