Friday, 21 July 2017

Choosing Arts Over Corporate and Academia




I left Egypt to Toronto in September 2010 and had absolutely no idea what life would lead me to. After 10 years of exposure, I knew I had no real intention of rejoining the corporate race or the mental, emotional, or psychological toxicity it brought along. But with moving from the Old World to a different continent like North America it seemed that there wasn’t much of a choice. The following piece is about the different roads I had to first explore in order to reach where I am today; all of which have taught me one thing or the other, either about myself or about the world we live in.





The option facing almost all immigrants is to get a “Canadian Experience”, which for me sounded quite silly. Not because of the idea itself, but on a personal level and with the languages I speak and the experiences I have gained by the time I were 32, it didn’t seem right — or fair — to accept about any job just to get “my foot in the door”. If I was 20 or even 26 it might have been different, but honestly I wasn’t that desperate.


Yet at the time I was still trying to make it work, searching all over. So I decided to reach out to some of my connections. The two most notable people I wrote were Gamal Aziz, the President & CEO of MGM Hospitality who put me in touch with Ivan Goh, the Senior Vice-President of Four Seasons worldwide for many years who had later moved to MGM. Goh encouragingly ended one of his e-mails with: 


Good luck, immigrating to Canada for a new immigrant like yourself is challenging to get a fresh start but even more so in today’s economy but your luck will change sooner than later. Keep on pounding the pavement to knock on every hotel and you will find something.”


Through them I was kindly connected to the Regional Vice President & General Manager of the Four Seasons Yorkville, Dimitrios Zarikos. Interestingly, as I was searching for his name I came to find out that he is currently the Regional Vice President & General Manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza, which is where I was working in 2005-2006. After some time I was set to meet someone for an interview at the Four Seasons Headquarters in Toronto. 



However, even with my VIP connections, that “foot at the door” catch-22 was a must. This meant that instead of the middle management level I had reached in Egypt I needed to take a somewhat lower post just because of the bureaucracy. It didn’t seem right, so I dropped the idea altogether. 



But in actual fact, even though I had an immigration lawyer, I never went on with the process. So paper-wise without a work permit, getting any job in Canada was actually a considerable dilemma. The option of marrying my then-girlfriend was looming on the horizon as it seemed like the smarter option. Nothing ultimately happened and I’m quite grateful for that.




After recanting the hospitality industry alternative, I began searching for myself — my true inner being. This self-realisation led me to writing and photography, which further became my life’s vocation. But then and there I was clueless of the outcome. I was just following that gut instinct and things just took off from there.


Around the same seeking time, I joined the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto for a Creative Writing Certificate, which apart from training (Train The Trainer) at work, was the first time to be back to the class setting since graduating in 1999-2000. I ended up taking two courses, Copywriting and Logic, and befriended both teachers.

As I previously shared in From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary, those two classes were a major boost for my confidence and self-esteem. I had just come out of a seven-year hazy period of self-medication, so mingling again with people in such a setting was quite the invigorating experience.



I also did some volunteer work for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) — once standing in the street in front of major publications to give out handouts, while the other I was some kind of usher/security guard during a film screening. It was a great way to peel off some layers of the ego.

Since I already knew that I love digging and researching and finding truths, Academia then came to mind. Actually, a few people I met there in TO told me that I look like a scholar or professor, which probably cemented the possibility in my mind. A couple of years into writing I was still frequently asked by readers if academic writing is my field.

Besides, higher education was one legit way to legally stay and be able to “work” in Canada.



The reality, though, is that I was still in that phase when I felt the need to belong to an institution in order to show a certain legitimacy and to reach “success”. Who would blame me. After all, I grew up on that. My dad was a General Manager for Sheraton, and I began working for Hyatt then the Four Seasons, thinking that this is the natural evolution of things: The bigger the name, the fancier the job, position, and status. 

You alone are not enough.

As such, after seven years of steadily climbing up the ladder in hotels, I decided to leave it all to join another multinational Real Estate company. Those two years were followed by a last year in another multinational before I came to terms that the matrix is not for me. 



Then, I had to take a leap of faith — in myself — to be able to leave these vapid jobs which were sucking my soul, forcing me to lead that inimical, toxic life. The problem with fakery and inauthenticity is that they always require you to wear some kind of mask, to appease to society, culture, and family. To be honest, I was actually pretty good in pretending to give a fuck about that which I didn’t give a fuck about. Naturally, this self-deception — more colloquially, all his Bullshit — brought countless unhealthy drawbacks.

But what about me? I would ask. What about what I really want? Isn’t this my life after all? I was already approaching my mid-30s, almost “half my life”, and such questions were constantly being replayed in my mind. 

My loved ones at the time humorously called it a second wave of mid-life crisis succeeding the one at 27 when I chose to leave the hotel industry


Back to the academia option, the first person I thought to consult is a studious cousin of mine who had been a professor in Cambridge, England for almost ten years. She is only four years older, though in actual fact she’s the daughter of my same-generation cousin, Djenane. My dad being the youngest of 10 half-brothers and sisters, that’s how my paternal family goes. So I have been an ‘uncle’ since the day I was born. 



As mentioned, I knew I love knowledge and like to engage with others. I equally knew that I had the means — in terms of language and communication skills as well as presence. I was confident that I was capable of teaching. Finally, I wrote Shima from Toronto, asking her opinion.



The young woman was as truthful as she could be and she eloquently shared the following in our correspondence:



Being able to speak in front of an audience is a bonus, being able to engage them and actually enjoy it yourself is a competitive advantage. So, now in terms of content: I am a firm believer in doing what you love — that’s the only way of being able to do great things. This is particularly important in academia where the line between the personal and the professional are very blurred. Late night and weekend working is the norm and vacations are conferences are sometimes the only time off you’ll get. You live and breath your subject all day, every day. And students have the most incredibly ability to sense if you are not totally passionate about what you do and that gets reflected in the feedback.”

She carried on, “Working with a prof is very much an option. In fact most academics are desperate for help. Try to get paid as that is often possible but a lot of the times, academics have interesting projects that they have no funding for as they are too early stage or too new/novel that regular funding channels won't touch them. And these are usually the most exciting projects actually. Finding yourself a prof and a project that suits your interests as well as your personality could turn out to be your intellectual foundation for many years to come. By that i mean it could develop into a PhD and/or a research and writing relationship that lasts for years. You could apply for fund and get your first research job on the back of this project etc etc etc.

I was grateful for her encouraging input, which gave me a better outlook on the idea. 

I was also totally ready for the blurred line notion. From Confucius to Alan Watts to Mark Twain among other mammoth souls, work and play have been indeed thought to be the same thing under differing conditions. It is all in how we look at it. Are you forced to do it or do you find joy in doing it? This very perspective is la crème de la crème of the crop. 

Fortunately, when I chatted with another academic who happens to be a friend, they asked me if I would be fine with teaching the same subjects over and over again, class after class, year after year?



Hmm. I left corporate because for me it was monotonous; because there is not much novelty or creativity. Would teaching be monotonous as well? Coming from them, I took their question seriously. There was obviously a reason why they asked it. Either they couldn’t see me fit in the academia model, or they were naturally projecting an issue they had been facing. This got me thinking.

Fast-forwarding to seven years later when recently I posted the following engaging question on Facebook: Would you rather have less stuff to do in life or more stuff you actually enjoy doing? I deliberately didn’t use the word ‘work’ since it means differently to everyone. 



Shima was one of those who commented: “I am getting to an age where I want to do more of what I love and almost none of what I don’t. Collectively though, I’d like to do less and have space to sleep and reflect on the things I am doing instead of always doing.”



It seems that at a later stage in life she is now consciously seeking more peace of mind.




Then back again to this time of metamorphosis, the ideology that one needs to belong to and depend on an institution to “adopt and take care of you” was alive and well everywhere around me. Parents, family, friends, most ex-partners, my then-girlfriend and, last and least, her own parents. This is how you make it and become a respectable person. The mantra is summerised as follows: No one can survive alone because you are not enough.

The common shared idea is to be “working” within a certain system that you are not in control of. That is just the old model that is being preserved by the brain’s left hemisphere. You are just a replaceable brick in the wall. Then in your mid-50s or even younger, they have every right to tell you one morning: Thank you for your effort, time to go home. More so in corporate than academia. When through my short life I saw how devastating this feeling of being discarded by that same organisation you gave all your life to is on a few people, I only knew one thing: I never wanted to end up in their shoes. Ever. 



I had already experimented with the corporate world for ten years, while for academe, well, I was aware of quite a few truths.


First, I knew that if I did become a faculty member it means going back to certain “rules and regulations”; to tenure, routine, structures, political correctness, some exhausted ideologies, ego issues, assignments, exams, deadlines, conformity, competition, and certainly some lack of real-world experience. I have spoken with many professors in my life, and as much as I often communicate well with most of them, there is a bit of an overall cluelessness about real life. Once one becomes a specialist in a certain field they tend to forget about all other fields of life. This is not to say that every scholar is lacking experience, but I personally didn’t see this for my future self. This is even worse in corporate. 

Further, even though you can intrinsically love your line of work, but doing the same thing, over and over again, year after year, eventually becomes dull. Routine can be lethal; and it is through change, novelty, adventure, and some uncertainty that us humans remain captivated by keeping the magic alive. This is how we grow through life.

I equally knew that such scholastic life has the potential of isolating me from experimentalism. Being constricted in such a way — again — was not an option. All the patterns throughout that decade were enough to show me that I was through. I knew I needed more freedom as I knew I have had enough of systems in general. From now on, I shall do what I want. 

“Rats” by Steve Cutts

On a parallel note, when you come to think about it, people who haven’t had enough life experience tend to compensate by hiding in books. Those book-smarts can be intelligent and educated, but the intellect is not enough to lead a full, happy life, at least how I envision it.

Conversely, having experience — being street-smart — gives you situational awareness; the wisdom and the needed skills to survive in the real world, rather than following more abstract knowledge which is largely based on the experiences of others.

Sometimes, though, one kind of ‘intelligence’ can induce the other and a certain balance is manifested. Being “world-smart” as well as “word-smart” would then lead to astounding achievements.  


Generally speaking, another thing to consider when pondering the topic of today’s education is that education does not equal intelligence. Repeating what we are told to repeat and being tested on it is not the best way to learn. As I came to reckon, nothing worth knowing can be taught. Or as Isaac Asimov expressed, “Self-education is the only kind of education there is”. Indeed, how can we love learning if someone is telling us what to learn? We can’t. How can we see beauty in growing through learning if we are forced to? We don’t. 



If you take notice, taught material rarely ever stays in our minds and almost always evaporates after exam time. And that’s a major flaw in today’s education system; most of what the youth are taught is not designed to be useful or practical for the rest of their lives. What to think is more important than how to do it when the very opposite should be true. 



This kind of enforced learning is limiting as it is disempowering, because you only get to learn what you have been taught. Just repeated, recycled information which someone thought is a good idea that you — a student — should memorise. But there is so much more to learning and it should be fun before anything. Echoing with a quote by Ludwig von Mises that serves as a reminder of why education should not be confused with intelligence: “Many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities.”


All that said, eventually I chose uncertainty with a chance of happiness over certainty with guaranteed unhappiness. I chose non-affiliation. I embraced arts in all its forms and become my own independent researcher. I write about whatever engages me without having to worry about guidelines or political correctness or some patriarchal institution. Thank you very much. I can keep learning and develop my intellect all by myself. Also, most knowledge is now free on the Internet. 

Speaking of affiliation, a publisher who actually paid me for two well-researched pieces told me once: “You write for an intelligent audience. This is not what the masses want. The goal is to create fear. “WOW WE’RE FUCKED!” (using better words). The doom and gloom. End of the world. Make them feel that.

They also wrote: “This may sound counter intuitive, but we need to make this mid level or low. We’re not looking for readers who want to learn anything, we want the same people that visit tabloid magazine sites. 

Reduce the research, reduce the references (it’s not even necessary), just make the article sound and have the affect I’m looking for. Here you have to SOUND like you know what you’re talking about inside out. This is different from actually knowing what you’re talking about inside out. Just sound like it. Sound like a professor teaching a bunch of students. 

A different time they said: Try to write on topics people love to read about. Hollywood gossip and music videos are excellent places to start.” Uhm... say what?

 Wrong address, man. I will not sell my credibility for some dollars. I never will and that is to stay.  



Another publisher wanted me to use clickbait titles for my pieces. Stuff like “12 Ways Your Mind Lies to You.” or “How to Reclaim Your Anxious Mind Through These 8 Tips.” I obviously refused, because it felt I am addressing school children. After a period of introspection I finally had to sent them the following:


Educating the readers and letting them connect the dots about themselves and their lives is not useless. This is what psychology is all about; it teaches you about yourself and about others, which empowers you because you come to KNOW yourself.

I wanted to share my views with you earlier when you had mentioned the titles some time ago. The link you sent me was full of clickbait titles which do not suit what I usually write about. In fact, they are too mainstream, too sensational. If you read left and right on the Internet, you
ll find that a large portion of these articles are reworded, re-edited, and paraphrased from earlier articles found on different publications; many of which are New-agey/Astrology, ‘Spirit Science’ kind of stuff.

Perhaps because my writing often entails psychology, philosophy, and research, there is a certain level of intellectual endeavour which I cannot seem to be able to go beneath.”



Ultimately, I stopped contributing to both publications. Now I freely write whatever I please in my own One Lucky Soul. Actually, now other publications often share my writings from there, usually with my approval. I’m not getting much payment though, because I’m not trying to please someone else. But I am certainly free and happy and I know that this way I’m doing my true will.

Once again, just like what I previously wrote doesn’t concern all scholars, this also does not concern all publishers. Only that this had been my own experience with those I have dealt with. 

“Matrix” by Zackary

The final nail in the coffin during those fateful times of change came in the most unlikely way: Spending 5-6 nights at the Don Jail in Toronto for an alleged DUI.

My then girlfriend was out of town and I was all alone in Canada yet her parents chose to not bail me out, despite sharing a family. So they knew my parents well and were aware that I left all the comfort and abundance I had in Egypt in hope of a newer life with their daughter, which they themselves had previously encouraged. But then as soon as something so casual happened, they just sold me out and forbade the girl to see me. The heartless father even waited till after the weekend to go to court and watch me on video from an adjacent room while the judge was explaining what I should be doing.

“He doesn’t look remorseful,” that smarmy asshat later told his daughter. Perhaps he expected to see me cry my eyes out and beg the judge... just because I was driving with half a drink above the legal.

After six full days of incarceration in a real jail such a The Don, my ex-brother in law had to fly all the way from New York just to come pay my bail.

Note that, out of decency, I had previously chosen not to mention my ex’s parents and what they did — writing that they were also out of town which is nothing but a flat lie. So this is the first time I publicly come clean with the full story which, minus that specific part, can be found on here: Banged Up Abroad — My Few Days @ The Don Jail.


Gratefully, however, the experience ended up being an enlightening turning point in my life. For it reminded of more things I did not want. It also convinced me even more that I should pursue art as a vocation while at the same time teaching me a whole lot about myself, human nature, and materialistic people who are infected with fear.

Now, to hold such a radical life view against all the surrounding mainstream, you cannot help but feel slightly alienated. The feeling of being different is certainly challenging and not always easy to deal with. Because you don’t feel you belong to the same reality tunnel as the majority, leading you to withdraw from that frivolous race they seem so embroiled in. Using Robert Anton Wilson words in Promethius Rising, “In our terminology, they are mechanically hooked to their original imprints.

More questions invaded my transfigured mind: Is it me or them? Am I the loony one who sees the absurdity and uselessness of wasting your life away, doing things you don’t have passion for, or everyone else is? 

Then came the sobering realisation that in today’s world, any conscious, aware lifestyle change to that which isn’t related to the production-consumption culture, which is built upon the notions of acquisitiveness and possessiveness, will always be followed by a hullabaloo.

Nevertheless, when down deep inside you know what is best for you, you come to gain the needed courage that empowers you to keep going against the current and disregard the hullabaloo. Knowing that you’re not the only one to do so is an inspiration as it is a relief.



Another realisation that came along was that everyone creates his own reality. When you delve deeper into the inner reaches of such a statement you will find how utterly true it is. Whether you look at it from the point of view of physics, biology, metaphysics, or spiritually, it will blow your mind away — almost literally.

After going through everything else, the very last challenge to overcome was how to make it work logistically. If I don’t work for some institution or the other, I won’t be getting a monthly pay check. Then again, that pay check is another addiction, at least for the majority of people.

Besides, many of my previous pay checks were fully spent on getting high, yet I did survive. So without the highs, I ought to survive as well, no? Even better than just survive. If I was getting promoted and life was still flowing when I was wearing a mask, then without the mask and with much more health and truthfulness, life should flow even better. That was my own inner mantra when I took the final step of choosing independence and getting into the Arts. And Life has been getting notoriously better ever since.
A friend and I were recently having a related chit-chat when she said that she needs $4000 a month to be able to live in L.A where I ended up after Egypt and Canada.

I told her that does not NEED that much, she just conditioned herself that she does. “Do you want to know how much I spend?” I asked. 



But you simplified your life,” she responded defensively. 



Yes I did, which means anyone can if they really want to.”

This simplification catalised enough freedom needed to research and write about any topic I wish without having to wait for funding or for approval from an editor or publisher. It may not be the easiest way, but we’re not here to lead an easy existence — for that is a waste of life and potential. Rather, we’re here to lead a life that is worthwhile; one that is full of purpose, meaning, and growth.


In summation, part of the experience of growing up and facing the real world I happened to go through corporate employment, drug addiction, relocating several times, and yes, jail, before finding my true calling. By then, I was being slowly but surely introduced to more things — and people — I did not want in this life. Until I followed my heart and found my Meraki, those were all significant steps towards what my soul is inherently yearning for. And as you can see, that’s precisely what transpired.

Dear ones, by looking back at this eventful dérive I’d like to suggest not to be in a hurry to try to uncover all the answers. Instead, cherish the different possibilities and probabilities. When the time comes, and when you are ready, what you need to know will reveal itself to you... one after the other. Just flow with the natural, cosmic order of things with clear intents and everything shall be adjusted.

Lastly, whatever is to come, or not come, will always be a mystery. Do not worry or obsess about the future. The past is already gone and the future will always be “the future”. For what will be will be. The Here and Now is all that matters.

Be true to your inner self. Do what you love. And believe you can inspire others as you share it. The universe will somehow deal with the rest.
 


Artification Happy Nation on Abbot Kinney by #sart9



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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

OLS Reflections Forty-Nine




  • The wiser one becomes, the less they feel the need to prove their views to anyone.

  • During my morning jog to the beach and back I come across this one garden where I can smell a distinct flowery fragrance, which reminds me of a certain laundry detergent. After the second or third time I came to wonder if things shouldn’t be the other way round. Meaning, I’m smelling a natural flower outdoors yet I’m associating it with an artificial product. If we were not living in a world that has stepped away from Nature, the opposite would have happened; when I smell the chemicals in the detergent I’m reminded by the scent of flowers.

  • The most significant journey you will ever embark on is the one within.

  • Dare to create your own rituals. Not for anyone else to follow, but for your own Zen wellbeing.

  • The reason why most people need to hit rock-bottom to be able to heal from any form of suffering is that from there, the only way to go is up. The deeper we experience darkness the greater the rebound effect into The Light…just like a propelled arrow. A pull in the ‘wrong’ direction often launches us twice as fast toward the ‘right’ one.

  • There are only two ways to deal with an emotional wound. Either become nervous around people and push them away, or dedicate a notable portion of one’s time to making others happy.

  • By the time most people learn the rules of life — and how to break some of them — they’re too old to play the game.

  • To the untrained eye Yin Yang may seem like duality on the surface. Once you deeply understand, however, the oneness and non-duality becomes apparent. The listener and the speaker within your head are one and the same. But to come to terms with this insight, you need to rise above both and become the observer of the observer. When this step is achieved you will notice that you’ll often be able to hold two opposites ideas in your mind at the same time; this is the concept of Coincidentia Oppositorum, which is Latin for Coincidence of Opposites or Unity of Opposites. For the road up and the road down are the same road. 

  • The most significant person you have to be honest with in Life is yourself.

  • If you are constantly speaking, you are only listening to yourself and will not learn much.



ALSO VIEW:

OLS REFLECTIONS

OLS REFLECTIONS Deux

OLS REFLECTIONS Vier

OLS REFLECTIONS Khamsa

OLS REFLECTIONS Yedi

OLS REFLECTIONS 八

OLS REFLCTIONS Ten

OLS REFLECTIONS Onze

OLS REFLECTIONS 13

OLS REFLECTIONS Quince

OLS REFLECTIONS Sixteen

OLS REFLECTIONS Dix-Huit

OLS REFLECTIONS تسعة عشر

OLS REFLECTIONS Veinte Uno

OLS REFLECTIONS 22

OLS REFLECTIONS Dreiundzwanzig

OLS REFLECTIONS Twenty-Four

OLS REFLECTIONS Vingt-Six

OLS REFLECTIONS Ventisette

OLS REFLECTIONS Veintinueve
 
OLS REFLECTIONS 30

OLS REFLECTIONS Ein Unddreißig

OLS REFLECTIONS  إثنان وثلاثون

OLS REFLECTIONS Thirty-Three

OLS REFLECTIONS Trentaquattro

OLS REFLECTIONS 37

OLS REFLECTIONS Trente-Neuf

OLS REFLECTIONS Forty  

OLS Reflections Einundvierzig

OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition 

OLS Reflections Cuarenta y Cuatro

OLS Reflections 45

OLS Reflections Quarantasette

OLS Reflections — The Unpublished Edition

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Monday, 10 July 2017

My Great Uncle The Spy — The Suspenseful Life of Refaat Al-Gammal (aka Jack Beton)




Refaat Ali Suleiman Al-Gammal (رفعت علي سليمان الجمال) (July 1, 1927 – January 30, 1982) was an Egyptian spy who spent 17 years performing clandestine operations in Israel. Also known as Jack Beton, the man happens to be my maternal grandmother’s second cousin. She remembers that he was always that mysterious relative who traveled and disappeared for years at a time. She also remembers that her father didn’t allow her or her four sisters to get too close to him because he was ‘shady’. Little did they know. 



The following is the fascinating story of Egypt’s first official spy.


The entire family, including myself, only found out about his real life story when it was reproduced in a three-season TV series featuring Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, a famous Egyptian actor who played his role under the character name Raafat Al-Haggan. The show is actually based on a previous book on Refaat Al-Gammal by Saleh Morsi — who also wrote the scenario of the show. Raafat had already passed away by then but the show was a huge hit in mid-1980s Egypt and the Arab world. Like many, I was always captivated by espionage and the life of adventures people who get into such a field usually lead. It truly takes a special kind of person to become a spy who never got caught. 

Refaat Al-Gammal is arguably the most ultimate spy in the history of Egyptian intelligence and is considered by many to be a national hero. 

Some Israeli sources later expressed that he was a double agent, which is something that may currently be impossible to prove. But by time the show was out in 1986 the entire Arab world knew of the story and praised him for his high-risk work and sacrifice. I recall telling the boys at school — even some teachers as well. Actually I was quite proud that my great uncle was a true Egyptian James Bond.


In 1956 he moved to Israel as an Egyptian Intelligence asset. He soon became well-known in the Israeli society and was involved in numerous commercial projects. During the same time he succeeded in providing the Egyptian intelligence service with crucial information; he had an important role in the Lavon Affair of 1956 as well as the Suez Crisis attack, the Six-Day War, and Operation Badr of 1973 by providing Egypt with detailed engineering data about the Bar Lev Line.



Refaat made friendships with Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister at that time and Moshe Dayan, the minister of defence. He also befriended Ezer Weizman and David Ben-Gurion.



To write this exposé I had to do a significant amount of research about the man. Most of what I already know came from the TV series which I have last watched about 30 years ago — and which obviously isn’t the most reliable historical source — in addition to the occasional info by my grandma or her sister, namely Karima and Khadiga Al-Gammal.

The idea first came to mind after I once shared a post on Facebook about Refaat Al-Gammal about a couple of years ago. Somehow the topic came back to me these days and I got to work, taking six full days. I skimmed through the Internet for almost everything that had been written about him; it was actually double work, since I checked the English sources as well as the Arabic. Not everything is translated, especially when you’re digging a story of an Egyptian spy who was operating half a century ago, way before the digital age.

On top of the research, I contacted some of my cousins in Egypt who were closer to Refaat Al-Gammal’s side of the family. First I wanted to know more about that double agent allegations. Second, I was curious about the things they personally remember about him. Note that my own grandmother and her sisters are currently facing dementia and Alzheimer, so one cannot rely on them any longer for factual memories about their estranged cousin. My mother did kindly send me the Al-Gammal family tree (shown at the end).

Besides, even though I have never met the man he is still from my family. So I wanted to know the full unbiased story.

What I did find out is that according to repeated sources who have ties to Egyptian intelligence is that they all praise how Refaat had sincerely helped the country and that he certainly was no double agent despite having a certain lust for money.

But eventually, the more I dug the more I reckoned that it would be unfair to write this piece without actually reading Refaat Al-Gammal’s own diaries. He had hand-written them while sick in bed before his death in 1982, though the book was only published later in 1994 — probably due to the sensitive information it contained. I slowly found myself more drawn to get to know him as person, the details that will help me better understand his psyche, motives, and dreams rather than the nationalistic tale of the spy who fooled Israel for 17 years. So I began reading... and couldn’t put the book down until I was done with it. This led me to rewrite a hefty portion of the piece while doubling its length.

After a foreword from his wife, his son, and daughter, the first chapter of the book is titled: A Final Letter From The Death Bed.

As such, I came to find out things I have never known before about him, mainly his early life before being recruited; what led him to that mysterious fate. The man did lead one heck of an adventurous life on the edge. It is no wonder that my grandmothers’ dad asked his daughters not to mingle with their cousin, the troublemaker.

Refaat the youngest with his brothers and sister



Early life




Refaat Al-Gammal was born on July 1, 1927 in Damietta, Egypt when it was still a Kingdom and died on January 30, 1982 in Darmstadt, Germany. 

His father, the cousin of my grandmother’s mother was a coal trader and his mother a housewife who apart Arabic spoke English and French as well, which Refaat also learned in a private school.

He had a much older half brother from his father’s side, Sami. Then Labib who was four years older, and finally Naziha who was two years his senior. Interestingly, from their side of the family it was Naziha who kept in touch with my grandmother and her sisters until this very day as they occasionally spoke on the phone. According to his biography, Naziha had a kind heart and was the closest to his.

When Refaat was only nine their father died and they all moved from Damietta to Cairo. Sami, 23 then, became the head of the family.

The World Wars inspired young Refaat to develop a certain fondness of England. So he began speaking fluent English, apparently till he became an Anglophile and even had a British accent. 

The same with French which he had also mastered. According to his diaries, this attraction to the West began to alter his behaviour, upsetting his mother and both of his brothers, especially Sami who was then the English tutor of the brother of Queen Farida.

His real love, however, was directed towards cinema and acting. He would go to the movie theater with his friends just to study actors, how they spoke and how they acted. Then he would mimic all he sees on the Silver Screen to the boys back at school.

One day he sneaked backstage and found his way to the room of the director and actor Beshara Wakim. He began impersonating one of his roles until he found the man staring at him. Before kicking him out, the maquilleur who was nearby said that he thought the teenage boy to be Beshara himself; because he was that good. The actor was amused and told Refaat to come back once he had graduated from school. The boy was chuffed.  

As he emotionally expressed in his diaries, everything changed when Naziha got married to an officer, Ahmed Shafik, and moved to her husband’s house. This was followed by his mother leaving to go live with her brother, then Sami also moving to another place with his new wife, leaving the 16-year-old boy alone with Labib who was never too kind to him.

Refaat during his acting stage
Back to Beshara Wakim some time later, he was offered to be in one of his movies. Even though the role was minor, he was still in school so he became sort of mini celebrity. With the money he had made he bought a gift to his sister and her newborn before going to visit. Unfortunately, her husband came back home and shouted at him, calling him useless with no heart. Young Refaat was deeply saddened by the loss of connection with his closest sibling and ally who was the only one who kept his secrets safe. 
 
In the following school year of 1945-46 he was in two more movies. He also finally passed his senior year at school after failing twice — intentionally, since he felt he was not ready for the real world.

Around this time Refaat met Betty, a dancer who was a year older but more liberated and experienced. They dated and he went to live with her. Betty was his first; she made a man out of him and taught him the whole lot. Knowing how things were back then, this was a revolutionary act indeed. When I did something similar 50 years later, Egyptians were still raising their eyebrows. 


After a while he felt the need to leave Betty and acting altogether for a next endeavour. So he took an accountant job in a gas company on the Red Sea where he stayed for 15 months before being transferred to Cairo as a promotion. Nevertheless, he constantly wanted to keep running away from his past, the now-broken family, and the sadness it all brings him.

Still longing to leave Cairo, he soon met a business man who hired him is his chemicals company in Alexandria.

“For the first time after leaving Sami
’s apartment five years earlier I found in this man and his family the family I don’t have anymore.”

Likewise, the older man
saw in Refaat the son he has never had.

After a quick fling with his employer
’s daughter, Hoda, and an attempt to frame him by some manager in the company, he left to join the cargo ship, Horus, as an assistant to an accounting officer. This was when the Damietta boy left Egypt for the first time of his life, traveling to Naples, Genoa, Marseille, Barcelona, Tangier and finally Liverpool.


The ship was to get into maintenance for some time before sailing to Bombay. In Liverpool, Refaat met yet another woman named Jody Morris who fell in love with him — and who reminded him of his first Betty.

His prospect trip to Bombay made Jody extremely sad, that she suggested he does like what many sailors do: Faking an appendicitis until the ship leaves, then hop on it again on the way back to Egypt. The young man didn’t want to lose his job after all, but was convinced of the plan. She also offered to help him get a working permit through her own father. He did get a surgery and began working in the port.

Around the same time, he met a priest who was curious to learn about Islam. So he taught him and in return the priest taught him about Christianity. When the ship was on its way back from Bombay he left Liverpool and Jody, who was deeply attached to him by then. All she wanted was to get married. “I’ll wait for you,” she told him. But he sort of knew that their time together was up. 

Back to Egypt for a while, he once again needed to get away from the sad fact that he cannot mingle with his family. His mother had already passed away when he was in the Red Sea. So he once again travelled to Liverpool where, with the help of Jody and the priest, he got a job in a travel agency called Celtic Tours.

A little later and after the business began booming, he convinced his employer to travel to New York in the United States to bring more business. There, he was offered another job related to travel agencies. However, legally this meant that he had tricked his British employer to let him travel. Without a visa or a Green Card, his immigration status forced him to move to Montreal, Canada — which is part of the British Commonwealth — and then again to Germany. He ended up getting blacklisted in the U.S.

At the airport there, he met a German blonde woman who offered to help him. They went together to his hotel but she ended up stealing his passport. When he headed to the Egyptian Consulate to apply for a new one, he was accused of selling his own and was refused a travel document — this was the time many ex-Nazis would buy fake passports to flee the country.

A couple of days later he was arrested by the German Police for being there illegally and then deported to Egypt in May 1951.

Back again with some money — US$12,000 — but neither a job nor an identification, Refaat tried to apply for another passport. The request was refused due to the fact that the Egyptian council in Germany had already reported what transpired with him in Germany. He then chose to turn to the black market to get new papers with the fake name of “Ali Mostafa”, with which he worked for the company managing the Suez Canal.

Right before the revolution of 1952 broke out, the English authorities began checking IDs more thoroughly. Refaat got worried that he would be discovered, so he left his job and got a new fake passport from a Swiss journalist, moving from one name to the other until he was arrested again by a British officer while traveling through Libya in 1953. There, he was caught carrying a British passport as well as checks signed with the name “Refaat Al-Gammal”, which led the British officer to think he was Israeli. Consequently he was handed over to the Egyptian intelligence service who started investigating him as a probable Israeli spy.






The Recruitment


The main charge against Al-Gammal was that he had pretended to be a Jewish officer named “David Artso”. When caught, he was carrying a British passport with the name of “Danial Caldwell”. The Egyptians also found checks signed with the name “Refaat Al-Gammal” with him and realised that he spoke Arabic fluently. So naturally, no one had any idea who the man was and he seemed to have been quite convincing when impersonation any character.

Officer Hassan Hosny of the secret “political” police was responsible for the investigation. He had heard about Refaat and was intrigued by his intelligence and street-smartness. After some questioning, ultimately he was able to make Refaat confess his true identity, his whole story, and how he had merged with the Jewish.
 He also truthfully told him how he sees the world as a big theater where life has somewhat forced him to choose to always play some kind of character rather than being himself in order to reach what he wants.

In the diaries, he mentions how finally sharing his secrets with H.H on this first meeting made him feel lighter. When you live your lies, coming clean at some point can certainly cause significant relief.

Because the charges he was facing, Refaat eventually had to choose between a long time in jail or working for the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID) under a brand new Jewish identity.

Egypt was still in a post-revolution era and Israel had been a country for only five years (imagine?). Hence they needed someone to keep an eye on all the money the Jews are taking out of Egypt towards Israel. And, according to H.H, the role was perfectly suited for him. 

Note that the decision to set up an Egyptian intelligence service was taken by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, and was placed under the command of Zakaria Mohieddin. So those were the very first days of Egyptian espionage. 

Refaat did choose EGID, and underwent extensive training where he learned the goals of the revolution, the different branches of economics, and the success secrets of multi-national firms; how to evade taxes and how to smuggle money. That is in addition to the habits, behaviour, history and religion of Jews. He likewise took many rigorous Hebrew lessons, that he even went as far as learning how to tell the Ashkenazim Jews — “Germanics” of Central Europe — from the Sephardim Jews — “Hispanics” of Spain and Portugal — from the Mizrahim — the “Easterners”.

“I also memorized all the Jewish rituals and the religious holidays, that I used to say them out loud while asleep.”

To become a fit agent he also learned how to fight; how to covertly take photos with miniature cameras; and how to survive in nature if he was ever forced to disappear for a while.

The new recruit was equally taught radio communications, intelligence collection, and how to make bombs. His new assumed identity was of Jacques Beton, an Ashkenazi Jew born on August 23, 1919 in Mansura, Egypt to a French father and an Italian mother who later moved to France. In return, all his past identities and the charges against them were destroyed.

Amusingly, I only found out about the exact date of his assumed Birthday by the very end of the piece, which coincides with my own Birthday many years later in 1977. Only that mine is real.

Following the training, Beton received new documents and perfected his new identity before moving to live in Alexandria in a neighbourhood mainly inhabited by Jews. He took a decent job in an insurance company, and slowly approached the Jews until he became an important figure among the secret Jewish movements in Egypt, which he was able to successfully infiltrate.

 He was only 34 years old then.

Actual Egyptian birth certificate of Refaat Al-Gammal

Espionage


It wasn’t long before Refaat fears dissipated and began being convinced that he was Jewish. He met Levy Salama, a former cell mate from a time when he went by the name David Aronson, and became friends.

A few days later, Salama introduced him to an attractive Jewish Egyptian woman named Marcel Nino. She had close relations with some Egyptian military officers during the latter part of King Farouk’s reign, as well as a 1948 Olympics champion. Beton played her by starting a relationship. He came to win her trust so she introduced him to another prominent personalty in the Jewish community named Ely Cohen.

Pretending that he wanted to get a big sum of money from his family fortune outside of the country, Beton was able to follow Salama and uncover the ties of the operation, which led him to the head of the ring, a businessman from Switzerland with the assumed name of John Darling. Beton was constantly in touch with his handler H.H who had provided him with the “family money” and the entire operation was caught in the act while his cover remained intact. He just looked like a victim who lost a big sum of money.

As he shared in the memoirs, this was the time when the Israeli secret military intelligence became more active in Egypt. Under the Colonel Abraham Dar — who was none other than John Darling — the new plan entailed training young Israeli men to destroy American facilities in Egypt, thereby harming Egyptian–American relations by looking like terrorist attacks plotted by patriotic Egyptians. The operation was set for July 1954.

Refaat recalls that it was then when he realised that his role became much more dangerous since he was dealing with military operations and not with mere civilians.

“I don’t know what pushed me to get so far into this, but I was sincerely convinced that I was doing all I could to help my country.

The seriousness of situation made H.H come to meet Beton in person in Alexandria who was then introduced to his new handler, Ali Ghali. A.G was the one responsible for espionage and counterintelligence in terms of international affairs while H.H remained in charge of the internal ones.

By 1953, Beton and Cohen were part of the unit 131 under Colonel Abraham’s supervision. He also remained in touch with Marcelle and came to find out that lieutenant colonel Max Bennett is highly active within the unit.

The group managed to put explosives in movie theaters in Cairo and Alexandria one night. However, the explosives didn’t go off while Beton gave A.G all the needed information about the unit and the attacks.

14 members of the group were arrested in addition to Max Bennett who later committed suicide in jail. Dubbed The Lavon Affair, the bust included Refaat himself in order to prevent him from being
burned. Two were hung, Marcel and another got 15 years in prison, seven years to another two while the rest were acquitted. As there was nothing to incriminate them, Beton and Ely Cohen were also freed after receiving a warning of being kicked out of the country if their names were ever to come up again. 

According to different sources, some of the others were reportedly released later in a secret prisoner exchange between Egypt and Israel in 1968, two years before their sentences were due to end.   



The Next Chapter


The arrest of Unit 131 has serious repercussions in Israel. It was believed that Abraham Dar or Paul Frank were the ones who snitched to the Egyptian authorities. The latter was imprisoned once he was back to Israel. Refaat went back to Alexandria then again to Cairo where his handlers met him. He was thanked for all his bravery and effort and told that his cover has been perfect so they cannot declassify the information or reveal his identity or heroic role to the Egyptian public or to anyone for that matter. The officers further suggested that they would like to use his efforts abroad.

Abroad? What is needed from me?

The same as you were doing here. Jack Beton is a successful asset who has been doing a great job and he should carry on with his services.

They also reminded him that he still owed them — most probably to show him that he has no real options.

Refaat and his handlers knew that once in Israel he will have to endure a check to know that he is genuine. And since there are no muddy waters around his character he should be accepted into the Israeli Jewish community.

As he explains in his diaries, he once again found himself in front of another major tuning point in his life. In one way, he was terrified to go to the lion’s den all by himself. He knew that if caught there that would be it for him. He will interrogated then instantly annihilated and his name will be forgotten for ever and ever.

In another way, he had come to master the Jack Beton character. Once again rooting for his love of cinema, he became so good at his role; only that this time the theater is the world in its entirety while the subject of the story is international espionage. He was already in love with the game, action, and suspense. Who could blame him. I am certain that in one way or another you get hooked.

After a brief introspection, Refaat reminded himself that he had always been someone daring with a taste for adventure; and since he has no real options now, he should go forward with confidence to perform the best Oscar-worthy role of his life. After all, there was only two ends to the story: Either get caught and hanged, or succeed and win that Oscar. The notion that he was servicing his country was always in the back of his mind and it certainly was a major motivator.

Psychologically speaking, for someone who was looked upon by some of his older family members as a lost cause and a useless lad, such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was probably his way to prove to himself and also to them that his dreams were bigger and that he was eventually destined to greatness.

Jack Beton Israeli passport


The Promise Land 


In June 1956, Jack Beton got on board a boat to Naples, intending to reach Israel. The trip took three days, during which two men approached him, trying to convince him to head to Israel. He pretended he will think about it then said yes — as if the idea was theirs.

Once in the country, he was greeted by yet another man who offered to help him issue an Israeli passport. With the $3000 he had taken from his handler he went on to open a travel agency along a Jewish partner he came to meet. Such a field allowed him to travel in and out of Israel without anyone doubting. But it did seem obvious that the Israeli authorities wanted him in the country and did all they could to have him relocate to there.

A little later he was introduced to many Jewish leaders like Moshe Dayan, the military officer Ezra Wiseman, as well as Golda Meir. His new connections allowed him to find out about the 1956 attack on Egypt before it happens. The Suez Crisis (Tripartite Aggression and Operation code name Kadesh) was led by Israel who was aided by the United Kingdom and France. The Egyptian authorities, however, didn’t believe him and the attacks took place.

Through his travel agency, Jack made deals with the Israeli government and ministries, which gave special prices to officials. By May 1958 it was through his agency that Israel organised to have their people out of Lebanon and into Israel.

Things then got a little quite on the scene, tempting Beton to ask the Egyptian intelligence to quit working for them. The answer came negative from his superior who told him that if he left Israel after all those special connections he had made throughout the past three years, sooner or later the Mosad will find out about him and it will be the end of his life. He was also told that they had spent a lot of money and effort on him and his training, so they aren’t ready yet to let go of him. Nevertheless, Refaat was offered a chance to visit Egypt for a quick trip to see his sister and her children. With a new fake Egyptian passport with the name Anwar Taleb, he disguised himself then headed home.


Back to Tel Aviv, the next important information Jack sent to his handler was about a nuclear reactor Israel intended to build. Also that Germans were training Israeli soldiers to use advanced weapons.

Around this same time many foreigners got caught in Israel, which naturally made Jack anxious. As such, in 1963 he tried again to quit. To his relief, this time he was told that it needed to happen gradually. But, going back to Egypt was not an option, for that time being at least. It was suggested that in order to be safe it would be better if he moved to another country where he’ll keep his Jack Beton character.

Refaat explains in his diary that the main reason he wanted to withdraw from the action was to get married. One order from his superior was to never marry an Israeli woman or one with Arabic origins from Israel.

Mr. and Mrs. Beton right after marriage

The next chapter of the memoirs begins in October 1963 when he travelled to Germany and met his future wife Waltraud. She was married once before and had a daughter, Andrea, but that didn’t change the fact that Refaat actually fell in love with her in real. After receiving the OK from his superiors, who first had to investigate the woman, Jack and Waltraud travelled to Israel, eventually being accompanied by Andrea whom he later officially adopted

In the following part the writer addresses his wife and reminisces. He reminded her of their first days together; their trip to Paris, meeting Moche Diane who came to their house in Tel Aviv to congratulate them, as well as meeting Golda Maeir later. And from the way he is expressing himself about this new relationship, one can tell that he was happy to finally have his own family. 

A little later, Waltraud got pregnant and was to deliver a boy. Not wanting his son to be born in Israel or have an Israeli passport, Refaat took the family and headed to Frankfurt, Germany. There during the Summer of 1964, they officially became husband and wife and hence Refaat became German.

Still addressing Waltraud, he also revealed details about certain everyday lies he had to keep telling her, such as leaving her once for three hours during their honeymoon in Paris so that he can send a message to his communication officer; also about his fake family who resided in France. One really does feel his sincere intentions to coming totally clean while on his deathbed.


Refaat then snaps out of his memories and back to his here and now: How chemotherapy isn’t working anymore and how the morphine shot the doctors give him daily is barely making any difference. The man was only given a few months to live, though he was determined to share all his secrets in the memoirs before departing this life — despite all the emotional and psychological pain writing was causing him. 

He also expressed his concern about how Waltraud will have to handle managing the company without him and how some people are awaiting his departure to attempt to take it over. 

Refaat with Daniel

The following notable event for Refaat was informing the Egyptian authorities about a $200 million arm deal between Germany and Israel, including choppers and submarines.

The next was quite a surprise to him: Moche Diane added his name as a prospect minister. Not wanting to attract attention, he declined the offer, saying that all he wanted was to leave the country for Germany where he will live with his family.

By that time relations between Egypt and Israel were deteriorating, leading to the 1967 attack. Refaat had come to find out about the extensive military training by the Israeli air force and how they fly above Arab nations to take areal photos. He informed his superior about all the information, though once again he was not taken seriously; for it was believed that Israel will attach Syria. But it did happen and more than 80% of the Egyptian airplanes were destroyed. Syria, Jordan and Iraq were also attacked. The spy consequently became frustrated and decided to leave that risky life for good. 

In 1970, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar el-Sadat. During Beton’s last trip to Israel he found out much more classified information in details. He found it ironic that when the time he has been waiting for finally came, there he was being exposed to extremely important information which he passed on to the Egyptians.

This time they believed me, considering the victory of 1973. And reckoned that this was a great end to my career.I was even proud of myself a little.”


The man met his handler for one last time in Milano to inform him that he’s quitting. He was told that he cannot resume his life in Egypt as Refaat Al-Gammal while at the same time take his family with him. We can keep you safe; but we can’t keep your wife and kids safe all the time, to which he replied that he will not abandon his family since it’s all he got and that he will handle himself.

He was once again thanked for his services and has been promised to get help in his new oil business in Egypt. By that time he had already all the German official documents, so did his son; and he was happy to get rid of the Israeli/Jewish passport.

In the end, down deep inside I had always been Egyptian.”


 Andrea in front of the travel agency Citour in Tel Aviv

After living in Germany for a while, then moving to Switzerland, Refaat was back to Egypt in 1977 looking for business. There he was known as Jack Beton and no one found out about his concealed origin. With the help of his intelligence connections he was able to open up a new oil company known as Egyptico. In 1978, he took his wife and son, Daniel, to Egypt for the very first time, which had made the new family man quite happy.

By the end of the memoir he shares yet even more secrets....

Without anyone knowing he was able to employ two of Sami’s sons, his older brother who died while he was away. As a token of appreciation, he also helped Mohamed, Sami’s eldest, to become a doctor in Germany. He also wrote that without the intelligence work and the life on the edge he felt quite empty. Again, when one gets used to such a thrill for all these years it may seem banal to go back to normal jobs. 

Then, everything came to a halt when in 1981 Refaat was diagnosed with lung cancer. His health slowly deteriorated and he knew he was about to die soon after, which is why he needed to get it all off his chest by writing his memoirs.

He concluded by addressing his wife again, telling her that in three years she will receive this full account from the lawyer. In his will, he also left some money for his brother Labib, Naziha and her children, and finally to some orphanage.

However, right after my death you will receive a closed envelope which I had left with Mohamed here in Germany to give to you. I wanted to leave it to Daniel but he’s still too young. 

My energy is receding and I can feel death close by. I’m happy my family and the world will finally know my full story. Now Im ready to meet God. I hope he has mercy on me.


The second part of the book is the account of his wife Waltraud, which she had written some years later after healing from the shock.



Later Claims


Some Israeli sources claim that the information published by the Egyptian Intelligence is just fiction and that the Shin Bet knew about Al-Gammal from the early beginning and converted him into a double agent to work for them, and that he provided false information to the Egyptians which led to the destruction of the Egyptian Air Force in the Six-Day War.

 This implies that Refaat’ memoirs as well is just a fantasy.

What is noteworthy is that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had publicized the same about Ashraf Marawan who was indeed a double agent. He mysteriously fell off his balcony in London, England many years afterwards.

Contrary to what Refaat shared and what was written by others, the sources claim that on the eve of the Six-Day war, Al-Gammal sent expertly doctored Israeli information to his Egyptian superiors that Israel would first launch a ground attack before sending its aircraft into battle. The misleading information eventually led to the surprise attack which destroyed within a 48-hour period no less than 416 Arab aircraft — 393 on the ground — at the loss of only 26 Israeli Aircraft during The Six Day War.

They went on to report that he was even offered a sum of money after the war as a thank you for his efforts. But apparently he asked for more and that was when their relationship deteriorated.

This would not the first time when some attempt to change history; in fact it happens all the time. A reason why this happens in the case of spies — mainly deceased ones — is the secrecy they had vowed to live with for many years. So the public do not usually know details until years have passed like the case with Refaat Al-Gammal. As mentioned, none of us knew anything about the man until that TV show was produced in the mid 80s. 

In actual fact, most information about him remains classified to this very day.

However, if the Israeli side of the tale is true and Refaat had indeed sent misleading information to the Egyptians, which according to them enabled them to lead a surprise attack and destroy most Egyptian aircraft on the 5th June 1967, then why didn’t the Egyptian authorities doubt him instead of keeping him on board until the 1973 win? The sources even claim that he worked as a double agent for 12 long years. The allegations were repeatedly denied by current and previous Egyptian officials.


Sometimes many years after an event, books follow up with alternative sides of a historical story. Either to add new or previously unreleased info, or to mislead the public, or to alter certain events in the course of history. And in total honesty, in a field like politics, especially when it’s related to Intelligence agencies, sometimes the unadulterated true story remains a secret even decades later. The shooting of President Kennedy would be a perfect example; the killing of Princess Diana is probably another.

In the end we will likely never know the exact details since Refaat himself had passed. But from reading almost all that has been written in addition to his heartfelt memoirs, one cannot deny that the man led one heck of a special life while doing a utterly risky job servicing his country in such times of change. 

His name shall be forever remembered in the annals of history and in the Arab collective consciousness. 


Lastly, many people including myself just hope that the Egyptian authorities grant Daniel his Egyptian citizenship after refusing to do so for some reason. It is the least they could do. Really.

Refaat eventually passed away on January 30, 1982 after a year of chemotherapy. His body was later removed to Cairo in 1987.

Long Live Refaat Al-Gammal, My Great Uncle The Spy. May He Rest In Peace after that thrilling ride. He sure does deserve the Oscar. 

Refaat with an older Andrea

The Family Tree of my grandmother’s side of the Al-Gammal




*Most photos are taken from his memoirs in addition to a few found online. 


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Friday, 30 June 2017

The Day I Became Bill Gate’s Elevator Boy




One day as I was working for a famous 5-Star hotel in Cairo my manager, Rady, called me up to his office to meet two secret services agents from the American Embassy. I came to find out that the following week Bill Gates will be having a TV interview and a meal at the property. The agents were there to check the building out in terms of security. I was a 25-year-old Manager on Duty then and with being that employee who had graduated from an American University and spoke proper English, the job was assigned to me.



I took the two gentlemen around the hotel for a 20-minute tour, showing them all the entrances and exists and answering all their questions. I also took them to the roof on the 42nd floor above the Revolving Restaurant as well as the lower floor by the Nile. We finally exchanged business cards before I escorted them to the main entrance and bid them farewell.

The interview was to take place in one of the two Royal Suites, so obviously the entire hotel was getting ready for that super-duper VIP visit.

First, it’s the immaculate housekeeping which was personally supervised by the Executive Housekeeper, a lovely short German woman named Helga.

Then the Engineering to make sure that all lights and electric appliances are working perfectly.

Followed by the flower arrangement which was the duty of a lady, Nermine, who owned a flower shop at the hotel.

Finally it was the F&B and the preparation of the meal. The executive chef was Belgium and a little mad; I can’t seem to remember his name now but I did like him and we got along well. 




Amusingly, the following memory came to mind while writing about this story. In the beginning of the 20th century the Internet was still somewhat new and not many people were savvy. As such, there was a PC at the Royal Lounge in the 30th floor which was a lounge for the guests of the VIP floors. Sometimes during my shift I would go up for a quick break. The manager, Jaylane is a friend and she always welcomed me with a coffee and a chat. When I would then check the PC I learned to view the “history”. This was when I was shocked from what I found. Bestiality and underage porn sites — this were what guests, mainly Arabs, were checking when they use the PC. Dang. Out of sheer curiosity to know who was that sick, I would eventually check the log book for name/room number. Then get into the system and find out who it is. Most were married men with beards. Once a week or so I would delete all the history from that infested computer.
Check Funny Hotel-Related Stories for more action. 


Back to Bill Gates….



Then came the big day. Other than the food, everything was already prepared from before. The secret services guys came in earlier and we did another small tour — this time along my manager who was the Room Division Director. “Omar will be with you all day today. Consider him an enhanced elevator boy,” he joyfully said.

One of the reasons Gates was in Cairo, Egypt for that short trip was for the official inauguration of the e-government portal (www.egypt.gov.), which Microsoft was chosen to be in charge of its implementation. He had also met President Mubarak and apparently also saw firsthand the construction of a Nubian house in addition to visiting the Microsoft Office. 



Bill Gates in Microsoft Egypt - 2003

Speaking of which, while looking for suitable photos for this article I found the above one. What’s truly amusing is that the guy on the right in a grey suit and squatting on his knees pretending to pray is a dear, funny childhood friend of mine, Amr Fahmy, who is an ex-employee of Microsoft Egypt.

At some point around 1:00 pm we got a call that the convoy is entering Down Town and should be here in about 10 minutes. We informed the General Manager and headed to the main entrance to wait. I remember hearing the police siren from afar before the first police motorcycle arrived. And what a convoy that was. It truly was something on the scale of a president. Americans don’t joke when it comes to security, so you can imagine all the black cars with the bullet proof glass and tires and all the armed personal surrounding the billionaire.

Gates was greeted by the GM and in fact it was me who escorted him to the already-waiting elevator. He got in with a few other men and myself. I was the only hotel employee to ever come so close to him.



Up to the 36th floor and in the Royal Suite where Emad Adeeb, the Orbit media mogul, and the cameras and the media crew were all awaiting. For a while then I didn’t know what to do. The interview was to be followed by a meal in the suite. But since I was the one in charge of the whole thing, I decided to silent my phone, entered the suite, and stood there during the whole interview. It was also fun to miss a couple of hours from my shift while still ‘working’. 



After the exquisite lunch, I once again got on the elevator with the man and took him to the main entrance. Then I decided to shake hands with him. He seemed and acted down to Earth so why not. And he did shake my hand back. I thought of asking him for a billion dollars but then I realised it’s a little bit too soon.

The visit went seamless and that was my experience with Bill Gates — one of the richest men to have ever lived.  

Photo taken by ex-partner before heading to work in the early morning — A couple of years before that visit


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