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Omar Makram: Resisting death
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 12 - 2015

The Omar Makram Mosque stands near the statue of the historical figure it is named after, off Tahrir Square. Omar Makram was a national figure at the time of Bonaparte's French Campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798-1801), and he played a major role in the resistance. He was born in Assyout in 1750 and studied at Al-Azhar. On objecting to the rule of Mohamed Ali Pasha, he was exiled to Damietta, where he lived till his death in 1822. Today, his name is rather more synonymous with high-profile funerals, which usually set out from the mosque in question. Not all the cultural figures who died in 2015 were mourned at Omar Makram, but Omar Makram is one way of remembering them.
On 11 August, Nour Al-Sherif (born Mohamed Gaber in 1946 in the Cairo neighbourhood of Al-Sayeda Zeinab) left millions grieving. Al-Sherif played football before graduating from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1967. However, he soon started his career as a stage actor with a small role in the play Al-Shaware' Al-Khalfiya (The Backstreets), together with actor and director Saad Ardash, followed by a role in Ardash's Romeo and Juliet. The latter served to introduce him to the great filmmaker Hassan Al-Imam, who offered him the opportunity to make his cinematic debut in the film of Naguib Mahfouz's Palace of Desire. From then on Al-Sherif starred in hundreds of films and television series, working with the greatest actors of his day (including Poussi, his wife in 1972-2006 and the mother of his two daughters Sarah and Mai) as well as such filmmakers as Youssef Chahine, Atef Al-Tayeb and Hussein Kamal.
Among the highlights of his film career are Kamal's Habibi Da'eman (Always My Love, 1981) with Poussi, Al-Tayeb's Sawaa Al-Otobis (The Bus Driver, 1982) and Chahine's Hadouta Masriya (An Egyptian Tale, 1982). More recently Al-Sherif appeared in Marwan Hamed's The Yaqubian Building (2006) and Adel Adib's The Baby Doll Night (2008). His last role was in Amir Ramses's Bitawqit Al-Qahira (Cairo Time, 2014). But Al-Sherif was arguably better known through his television appearances, starting with Mared Al-Gabal (The Titan of the Mountain) in 1980 but making his name with Lan A'ish fi Gilbab Abi (I will not live in my father's robe) in 1995. Television highlights include the controversial A'ilat Al-Hagg Metwalli (Hagg Metwalli's Family, 2001), in which he positively portrayed a polygamous man, the dramatisation of the first part of Mahfouz's epic Al-Harafish (The Rabble, 2002) and Al-Dali (2007). Al-Sherif received many awards, notably the best actor award at the Delhi Film Festival for The Bus Driver.
Before Al-Sherif, on 19 May, veteran stage and film actor Hassan Mustafa – best remembered as the the headmaster in the phenomenal stage comedy Madraset Al-Moshaghbein (School of Rascals, 1973) – died at the age of 81. As the headmaster he had starred alongside comedy superstar Adel Imam as well as Ahmed Zaki, Soheir Al-Babli, Said Saleh and Younis Shalabi. Later he worked with Saleh, Zaki and Shalabi as well as Karima Mukhtar in the equally powerful stage hit Al-Eyal Kebret (The Children Have Grown Up, 1979). Born in 1933, Mustafa graduated from the Theatrical Arts Institute in 1957. He joined a number of theatre troupes including the Ismail Yassin Company, appearing on the silver screen for the first time alongside Fouad Al-Mohandess in Akhtar Ragol Fil Alam (Mr X, 1967). He collaborated with Al-Mohandess on films like Motarda Gharamia (Love Chase, 1968) and plays like Hawaa Al-Sa'aa 12 (Midnight Eve, 1968) and Sayedati Al-Jamila (My Fair Lady, 1969). Mustafa also took part in many successful television series like the famous Bakiza wi Zaghloul (Bakiza and Zaghloul, 1986), Raafat Al-Hagan (1987) and, most recently, with Yehia Al-Fakharani in Yetraba fi Ezzo (May he be Raised in Prosperity). Mustafa's latest work in film was his role in Hassan wi Morkos (Hassan and Morkus) with Adel Imam and Omar Sharif. He was married to the actress Mimi Gamal, by whom he had two children.
On 21 April, the iconic poet Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnoudi – dubbed Al-Khal (Uncle, after the Upper Egyptian term of respect) – passed away at the age of 77 after a long battle with illness. He was a political activist and a vernacular poet as well as a storyteller who spoke of contemporary Egypt in the Upper Egyptian vernacular. His book Al-Mawt ‘ala Al-Asfalt (Death on the Asphalt) was nominated as one of Africa's most significant books of the 20th century at the 2001 Zimbabwe International Book Fair. His contribution to cinema included the script and songs of Al-Tawq wal Eswera (The Collar and the Bracelet, based on the novel of his fellow Upper Egyptian novelist and friend Yahya Al-Taher Abdallah), and Al-Bari' (The Innocent), two major classics. In the moving Abdel-Halim Hafez song Adda Al-Nahar (The Morning has Passed), he mourned Egypt's defeat in the 1967 war.
As well as collecting the epic of the Hilaliya, Al-Abnoudi wrote the lyrics for a huge number of songs by many of the best-known, iconic and legendary singers of his time including Sabah, Abdel-Halim Hafez, Warda, Mohamed Mounir and Majda Al-Roumi. Among his most memorable lyrics for Abdel-Halim Hafez were The Love is Mine (Al-Hawa Hawaya) and The Christ (Al-Maseeh). Al-Abnoudi also wrote the lyrics of Nubian superstar Mohamed Mounir's catchy lullaby Chocolate (Chokolata) and Sabah's celebrated Sometimes (Saat Saat). Al-Abnoudi was married to TV presenter Nehal Kamal – and has two daughters by her, Nour and Aya – after his first marriage to filmmaker Attiyat Al-Abnoudi. A museum was inaugurated to honour his memory in his hometown near Qena, two months after his death.
But it was the passing of the Lady of the Arab Screen Faten Hamama on 17 January that set the mournful tone.
She left behind a legacy of over 200 films. Hamama was born in 1931 in Abdine, Cairo, but raised in Daqahliya where her father was an official at the Ministry of Education.
It was he who sent a picture of her to director Mohamed Karim and composer Mohamed Abdel-Wahab after reading a newspaper advertisement asking for a child actress, jump-starting her career with the film Yom Said (Happy Day, 1939). During the 1940s, Hamama appeared in Hassan Al-Imam's 1946 hit Al-Yatimatan (The Two Orphans), playing one of two freshly orphaned young women. Her fame was consolidated in the 1950s, when she became a star, contributing to the cinematic response to the Arab-Israeli conflict in Ahmed Badrakhan's Allah Ma'ana (God be with us, 1948). She also starred in Salah Abu-Seif's La Waqta lil Hobb (No time for love, based on a Youssef Edriss short story) and Henry Barakat's adaptation of Latifa Al-Zayyat's The Open Door, both released in 1963. Dealing with the British occupation and the national struggle for independence, these were politically progressive films for their times, and Hamama proved convincing as an agent of political change.
Hamama played major roles in feminist films like Said Marzouk's Uridu Hallan (I want a solution, 1975), written by Saadeddin Wahba and based on a story by the journalist Hossn Shah. The film dealt with a woman's inability to secure a divorce against her husband's will, as well as Henry Barakat's 1971 Al-Khait Al-Rafi' (The Thin Line) and Hussein Kamal's 1972 Embratoriyet Meim (Empire M), the latter based on a novel by Ihsan Abdel-Quddous depicting the struggles of a working mother facing a new and markedly different generation of children.
On television share, Hamama notably played a schoolteacher in Inaam Mohamed Ali's 1991 Damir Abla Hikmat (Ms Hikmat's Conscience). But it was in the cinema that Hamama made her deepest marks. Her films were often of the highest aesthetic standards. Youssef Chahine's 1954 Struggle in the Valley, for example, was nominated for the jury prize at the Cannes Festival; Henry Barakat's 1960 adaptation of the “Dean of Arabic Literature” Taha Hussein's The Nightingale's Prayer was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale; Barakat's 1965 Youssef Edriss adaptation, The Sin was nominated for the Cannes Festival's Palme d'Or; so was Kamal Al-Sheikh's 1964 thriller The Last Night.
In the same year Hamama received the best actress prize for her role in The Open Door at the Jakarta Film Festival. But she made her last appearance on TV, with the series Wagh Al-Qamar (Moon Face) in 2000, directed by Adel Al-Aasar. Her last cinematic appearance was in Dawoud Abdel-Sayed's Ard Al-Ahlam (The Land of Dreams) in 1993. Hamama married the filmmaker Ezzeddin Zulfaqar while filming Abu Zeid Al-Hilali in 1947, when she gained the title Lady of the Arab Screen. She later married Omar Sharif, in 1955, and they stayed together till 1974.
Seven months after the death of Hamama, the renowned actor Omar Sharif passed away on 10 July, at the age of 83. He left behind a rich cinematic legacy, both in Egypt and beyond. Sharif was born in 1932 in Alexandria to Syrian-Lebanese parents who originally named him Michelle Chalhoub. He started his career due to a coincidence after Hamama refused actor Shukri Sarhan's starring opposite her in Chahine's Seraa fil-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley, 1954), and that's when Chahine met with his former Victoria College colleague and friend Omar Sharif and suggested that he should take the role. Luckily Hamama saw his potential. Later Sharif became friends with a number of actors including the late actor Ahmed Ramzi, who was one of his closest friends. By the end of shooting the film with Chahine, Hamama and Sharif had announced their marriage and they starred opposite each other in six films.
Sharif found his way to Hollywood when the English filmmaker David Lean cast him in the role of Prince Ali in
Lawrence of Arabia (1962), choosing him from among 12 young Arab actors who attended the audition. In Egypt he worked with directors like Henry Barakat, Kamal Al-Sheikh and Salah Abu-Seif. His unforgettable roles include A Man in Our House (1961) and A Love Rumour (1959) – the latter one of the best loved light comedies in Egyptian cinema – in which he starred opposite Soad Hosni and Hind Rostom, as well as the great acting pioneer Youssef Wahbi. Other highlights include Kamal Al-Sheikh's Saydat Al-Qasr (The Lady of the Palace, 1958) with Hamama, Atef Salem's Seraa fil Nil (Struggle on the Nile, 1959) and the 1960 hit Nahr Al-Hob (The River of Love, based on Tolstoy's Anna Karanina), also with Hamama.
Sharif's first international film was Goha (1958), directed by Jacques Baratier, in which he starred with Claudia Cardinale in her debut film. The film was awarded the Jury Prize at Cannes Festival. He also starred in Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), Juan Antonio Bardem and Henri Colpi's The Mysterious Island (1973). More recently he appeared in Al-Mosafer (The Traveller, 2009) and Rock the Casbah (2013). Sharif was awarded a Career Golden Lion Award and an Audience Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2003. He received a Best Actor César Award for his role in Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du coran in 2004. He won the Golden Globe Award twice, once for Doctor Zhivago in 1966 and again for Lawrence of Arabia in 1963. He was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for Lawrence of Arabia.

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