Life of Spanish spy Ali Bey who posed as Arab prince set for cinema

Moroccan filmmaker Souheil Ben Barka
Updated 30 May 2017

Life of Spanish spy Ali Bey who posed as Arab prince set for cinema

RABAT: Adventurer, Orientalist, spy: The story of Spanish explorer Ali Bey Al-Abbassi is to be told on the silver screen for the first time, two centuries after his death.
Born in Catalonia in 1767, Domingo Badia y Leblich posed as an exiled Arab prince and became one of the first Europeans to set foot in Makkah.
Yet despite mixing with the Spanish royal family, Napoleon’s top officials and some of the most notable European intellectuals of his age, he has been all but forgotten since he died in 1818.
“It’s surprising that no film has yet been made on Ali Bey,” Moroccan filmmaker Souheil Ben Barka said during a break on set. The Spaniard “was a seducer. No one could resist him,” he said.
With a budget of $17 million, the veteran director’s dramatization of the explorer’s life is set for release in five languages and 40 countries in late 2018.
After learning Arabic and serving in the Spanish army, Ali Bey was charged by Spain’s King Charles IV with overthrowing the Sultan of Morocco.
On the suggestion of Napoleon’s great diplomat and foreign minister Talleyrand, he posed as an exiled Abbasid prince, born in Syria and raised in Europe.
The explorer spent two years in Morocco, but he was exposed and had to flee. He set out across North Africa, posing as a Muslim on pilgrimage.
After meeting Romantic-era French writer Chateaubriand in Cairo, in 1807 he reached Makkah, some half a century before British explorer Richard Burton’s famous journey there.
Ali Bey spent time in Jerusalem and Constantinople before heading back to Spain, where he worked for Napoleon.
But he was seen as a traitor and forced to take refuge in France.
He published a French memoir of his travels before setting off for Makkah again, apparently as a spy working for French King Louis XVIII.
He only made it as far as Syria, where he died suddenly in 1818.
Historian Christian Feucher said dysentery was probably to blame, with a remedy based on roasted rhubarb prescribed by a French doctor in Damascus having little effect.
But others believe he was poisoned by his mistress, Lady Hester Stanhope, a British aristocrat who had converted to Islam.
“She could not cope with learning that her hero was a spy, not a descendant of the caliph and the prophet as he claimed to be,” said Ben Barka.
Yet despite his extraordinary life and mysterious death, Ali Bey has received little recognition apart from a street in Barcelona bearing his name.
Shooting started in Italy in February, but much of the film was shot in May in Morocco — in the desert dunes of Merzouga, the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the sumptuous houses of Rabat and Casablanca.


Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

Updated 31 May 2020

Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

  • India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic

AGRA, India: A deadly thunderstorm that rolled across parts of northern India damaged sections of the Taj Mahal complex, including the main gate and a railing running below its five lofty domes, officials said Sunday.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP images showed workers assessing the railing of the main mausoleum, after the storm on Friday night battered Agra city in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“One sandstone railing which was a part of the original structure has been damaged,” Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, said.
“One marble railing which was a later addition, a false ceiling in the tourist holding area and the base stone of the main gate has also been damaged.”
He added there was no damage to the main structure of the monument to love — built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.
Local media reports said thunderstorms and lightning on Friday killed at least 13 people in two Uttar Pradesh districts.
Fatal lightning strikes are relatively common during the June-October monsoon season.
Last year, at least 150 people were killed by lightning in August and September in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.