'Shrouded in mystery'
Abdel-Rahman El-Sayed reports on the circumstances surrounding the death in London of Ashraf Marawan, son-in-law of the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser
Ashraf Marawan spent almost half his life in London. Many knew him, though few knew much about him. In the week since his death, that has changed. Arabs and Egyptians living in London have learned more about the Egyptian billionaire in the last seven days than they did during the quarter of a century that he lived among them.
Had he died in bed or back home among his family, Marawan's secrets would have died with him. But the way in which he made his final exit -- whether voluntary or involuntary -- was as mysterious as his life. He will be talked about for sometime to come. Questions about the secrets of Marawan's life have become more urgent now that the police investigation seems to favour homicide.
Aside from an unusual bout of cold weather for June everything was normal in Carlton House Terrace, an exclusive area close to Piccadilly, on 1.30pm on Wednesday before last. Then the thud of something falling was heard in front of number 24. A tall man had fallen from a fifth floor balcony of the listed building. The police were at the scene within minutes. News of the incident spread fast -- faster in Cairo than in London.
Ashraf Marawan, 62, Egyptian billionaire, son-in-law of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, adviser to former president Anwar El-Sadat, was dead. Suicide, murder or accident? Scotland Yard is still making up its mind. A court will begin a public investigation into the case on 15 August.
The British media had almost forgotten Marawan until the news of his death. It was not always so. In the past the media had often referred to Marawan -- as a tycoon, an international businessman involved in mega- deals involving department stores, leading sports clubs and, inevitably, arms.
In late 1984 the conflict between Marawan and his compatriot Mohamed El-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, over the acquisition of Chelsea, the football club in which Marawan owned a 3.2 per cent share, was regularly reported in the British press. Marawan supported Tiny Rowland in his bid for the club, but El-Fayed won in the end. An investigation by the British Department of Trade and Industry in mid-1985 revealed that Marawan and Rowland worked together in an attempt to block El-Fayed's bid.
In the late 1990s Marawan acquired 20 per cent of the real estate company that controlled the stadiums of Fulham and Chelsea. During the club battle, as it was called, news reports referred to Marawan as a financial adviser to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, a well- known football enthusiast.
In business circles in the UK Marawan was known as a member of a small club of influential wheelers and dealers, a friend of the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi and of Ken Bates, the chairman of Chelsea in the mid- 1980s. Marawan's name eventually retreated from the news in Britain, but he became increasingly active among the Egyptian community in the UK. In June 1984 he helped the community buy offices for its association in Earl's Court in southwest London, contributing £100,000 to the total £480,000 bill. He was chairman of the association for some time, and even after he left this post remained a major benefactor.
Hamdi El-Sawi, a businessman and member of the community's board of directors, says Marawan was "always saving us from financial problems". El-Sawi had planned to meet Marawan on Thursday, the day after his death, in Grosvenor House, to discuss the financial problems of the community association. Marawan had promised financial help.
"It is rare to find anyone who will speak disparagingly about Marawan among the Egyptian community," says Hosni El-Sharif, current secretary of the Egyptian community. "He helped out many Egyptians who were sick or going through financial trouble, but he preferred to do so without publicity."
Discretion was Marawan's hallmark. Even when asked about his political past and alleged liaison with Mossad during the 1973 War, Marawan would smile and refrain from comment. Few in London believe Tel Aviv's claims that Marawan was working for Israel during the war. But it seems that his patience had begun to run out in recent months and close friends say he was increasingly angry at repeated Israeli claims.
Six months before his death, Wafiq Mustafa, an acquaintance from the community association, asked him why he kept silent about the rumours. "Marawan said he was preparing a book, titled The Truth, in which he would reveal all the facts," says Mustafa. The book, which was supposed to be written in English, never came out. According to Mustafa, Marawan didn't use the world "memoirs", to describe the book. Another acquaintance said Marawan told him a year ago that he was writing his memoirs. No one knows how much of those memoirs Marawan managed to write before his death.
According to British documents, Marawan was not just an adviser to Sadat, but was actively engaged in the purchase of weapons for Egypt from the UK before the 1973 War. On 25 August 1972, British Ambassador Sir Richard Beaumont wrote a detailed telegramme (serial number 1223) to the UK Foreign Office, about a visit by Reginald Anderson, arms sales director at the UK Defence Department, to Cairo.
The telegramme shows that Marawan, along with Sadat and defence minister Sadeq, was instrumental in negotiations concerning arms imports. On page four of the telegramme the ambassador notes that Marawan played a strong supporting role in the arrangements before and after the visit. The UK ambassador notes that a joint Egyptian-Libyan delegation that was about to go to Paris to discuss a weapons deal postponed that visit. Marawan told the ambassador that he would visit London in early October 1972 rather than in September. The document notes that the Egyptian negotiators insisted no mediators be involved in the deal. Anderson reassured minister Sadeq that the matter would be handled through official channels, tactfully, and without mediators.
According to an employee of the Egyptian tycoon, Marawan's health may have prevented him from writing his memoirs as quickly as he intended. In the last 10 years Marawan had eight open heart operations. A friend of Marawan revealed that he suffered from a "rare type of blood cancer". but had been in high spirits of late.
The Times cites Ramzi Dallul, Palestinian businessman and a friend of Marawan for 15 years, as saying that the Egyptian businessman was "a religious man who wouldn't drink alcohol and performed hajj regularly," not exactly the profile of a suicide.
Marawan's last social appointment also seems to rule out suicide. Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that Marawan attended a private dinner at the home of a prominent Arab diplomat in London on Wednesday, 20 June, a week before his death. The dinner was attended by Egyptian Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabali and a number of well-known Egyptian physicians resident in the UK. One of those present at the dinner told me that Marawan was "a little emaciated, but sociable, cheerful and engaging".
The UK police have said that Marawan's death was "shrouded in mystery".