06 September 2013

Heba Selim (died 1973)

Heba Selim was an Egyptian spy who worked for the Mossad along with her fiancé Farouk Al-Fikki. Originally from Assiut in middle Egypt, she grew up in the upper-class Mohandeseen Cairo suburb. As a student in "Adab" (liberal arts) college, she majored in French. One of her instructors, a French man, offered her the opportunity of furthering her studies in Sorbonne. She stayed with an Egyptian family in Paris and was a regular guest at the Egyptian ambassador's home. In a 2010 Egyptian TV program, he described her as attractive, cheerful, bright and patriotic.

He did note, however, that she struggled financially as she could not find work in the Egyptian Embassy in Paris. He would later be instrumental in luring her back to Egypt, via Libya, by fabricating a story about her father's illness.

After her recruitment by the Mossad, she married Farouk el Fikki, an engineer Egyptian army officer, and gathered information through him about the locations of the anti-aircraft batteries. He later became aware and willingly participated in her spying activities. Israel scored many accurate hits destroying many anti aircraft missile bases at a heavy cost of men and material to the Egyptian side. The Israeli strikes were so accurate that the Egyptian side became convinced insider informants must be involved. Eventually her husband was caught and faced a certain death sentence. The Egyptians, however, decided to use him as a double agent for some time. Also, by not arresting him, he gave Heba Selim the impression that their spy activities were undetected.

After her capture, Henry Kissinger mediated on her behalf to former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Sadat, not wanting her to be a bargaining chip in the 1973 war cease fire talks, pretended not knowing anything about her fate and suggested to re-discuss her case later that evening. As soon as his meeting with Kissinger was over, he ordered her immediate execution and she was hanged within the hour. Later that evening he pretended that he would have tried to cooperate, but that Kissinger's mediation efforts came too late.

Heba Selim is the basis of the Egyptian film Al sood ila al haweyah (Climbing to the abyss). One of the most famous lines in Egyptian cinema history is said at the end of the movie as Abla (Heba Selim's name in the movie) is flown to Egypt after her capture in Libya. As the plane approaches Cairo airport, her escorting intelligence officer points at the pyramids and the Nile and then, in a most condemning tone he says "we heya dee Masr ya abla" (and this is Egypt Abla).

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