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Requiem for a dream
Published in Ahram Online on 13 - 11 - 2019

Early in the morning, browsing my Facebook account, I am shocked by the news of the sudden death of the young actor Haitham Ahmed Zaki (1984-2019), the son of the late superstar and acting genius Ahmed Zaki. He died in the small hours of last Thursday after a sharp drop in blood circulation. He died at the same age as his mother actress Hala Fouad (1958-1993): 35.
I am neither a fan nor a family member or friend, but I decide to attend the funeral. Among the cameraman-spattered crowds at the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, I lead a fellow mourner to the women's section just in time for the funerary prayers. Women from all walks of life are grieving, and actress Dina El-Sherbini, tearful, is admonishing a young woman for taking a photo of her. The murmur of the voices rises while we await the body at the mosque, so an elderly lady demands quiet and starts praying for the deceased.
I visited Dina Fouad Shafiq, the widow of Haitham's uncle Hesham Fouad, at the house where Haitham grew up. “I married Hesham in 1996 when Haitham was 10 years old. There were just me, Hesham, my mother in law Nagat and Haitham. By law Haitham's grandmother, my mother-in-law and the real heroine of his life, had custody of him, so when my husband decided we should live with her, we became one big family. Till my first daughter Hala reached her seventh year, she thought Haitham was her elder brother.” With his parents separated and having very different lifestyles, Haitham was sometimes confused growing up. “I can't find my own identity,” Shafiq remembers him telling her. “Ahmed Zaki was very generous with everyone around him, his family, friends and even me and my husband. At the same time he was very cautious with the amount of money his son could have. He believed that a lot of money could spoil him. That's why Zaki senior kept asking my husband to give him all the details about Zaki junior: his outings, his friends' names and phone numbers, everything. When Haitham complained, his uncle's reply would be that he'd been entrusted with his care and must live up to the trust Zaki placed in him.
Haitham grew very close to his father during the latter's last year, when he spent time with Ahmed Zaki – who was suffering from lung cancer – at the hospital. When Ahmed Zaki died Haitham was 21, and he decided to move out of the Fouads' and care for his grandmother, who died three years later, by himself. He inherited his father's fortune and his career, replacing him on the film Halim which Ahmed Zaki died before finishing. According to Shafiq he never wanted to be an actor, however. “He wanted to be a pilot and businessman but his father's death changed the course of his life. Eager to lead an ordinary life, he was happy with his fiancee Ingy, and he was deeply supportive of Shafiq and her two daughters. “He did not live the glamorous life people might've imagined, but in his last phone calls he sounded very happy. He was back from France and told me that he spent a wonderful time there and didn't want to come back. The happiest news for him was buying a house in El Gouna where he used to spend six-seven months a year.” His plan was to make a sequel of his father's Kaboria (1990), he was training for the role, which required muscles, but death, inexplicable death came too soon.
Director Hazem Fouda, Haitham's relative, says the young man was an excellent actor though it didn't show as much on camera. Carrying Ahmed Zaki's name was stressful, and he was never treated fairly: “He was very kind, humble and I believe if he had seen the love people had for him which appeared in the funeral and the ceremony he would have lived much longer.”
Halim (2006)
Elbelyatshoo (2007)
Kaf Alqammar (2011)
Dawaran Shubra (2011)
Sukkar Mor 2015
Al-Kenz (2017)
Al-Kenz II (2017)
Television series:
Kalabsh II (2018)
Alamet Estefham (2019)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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