First Lady of Arab Cinema Faten Hamama mourned by thousands at Egypt funeral

Published January 19th, 2015 - 07:37 GMT
Hamama began her career at the age of 7 after being discovered via a school talent contest. (Image: The Daily Star)
Hamama began her career at the age of 7 after being discovered via a school talent contest. (Image: The Daily Star)

Thousands of mourners gathered at a mosque outside Cairo Sunday for the funeral of actor Faten Hamama, a pillar of Middle Eastern cinema who died a day earlier after a career that spanned seven decades and graced the golden age of Egyptian filmmaking.

Her passing drew condolences from across the film industry, and even the country’s president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The Culture Ministry said Hamama, 84, died after a period of illness, and ordered a halt of all artistic work in the country for two days of mourning.

Images from outside the ceremony, which began after midday prayers, were broadcast live on private channel CBC. Crowds blocked traffic in the area as mourners moved to the mosque entrance where Hamama’s casket was carried aloft.

Hamama, an Arab film icon and Omar Sharif’s former wife, died Saturday at the age of 83, according to the couple’s son Tarek Sharif.

Hamama, who was less than 10 when she made her screen debut, appeared in almost 100 films and worked with masters of Egypt’s massive film industry, including Youssef Chahine.

She often starred with Omar Sharif. Born a Christian, he converted to Islam to marry Hamama and described her as the only love of his life.

The couple appeared together in the 1961 movie “River of Love” based on Leon Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” They divorced in 1974 when Omar Sharif, then already famous in his homeland, launched a career in Hollywood

“The Lady of the Arabic Screen,” as she was known, suffered “a sudden health problem which led to her death,” Egypt’s official news agency MENA reported.

Tarek Sharif did not give a cause of death, while MENA said she had been hospitalized weeks earlier due to illness but had returned home.

“Egypt and the Arab world have lost a creative and artistic talent who enriched Egyptian art with her sophisticated performances,” the presidency said in a statement.

A figure of the golden age of Egyptian cinema, Hamama’s career reached its pinnacle in the 1940s and 1950s.

She began her career at the age of 7 after being discovered via a school talent contest. She starred in romantic movies alongside the famed Arab crooner Abdel Halim Hafez as well as in films advocating women’s rights and condemning social injustices.

“She was a real great artist and she gave an honorable image to Egyptian artists,” actor Hussein Fahmy said at the funeral. “She was classy, a good speaker and well-respected. We will miss her greatly.”

Hamama considered cinema and theater as a positive force for change in Egypt, despite the fact that its conservative society considered the acting profession as less-than-honorable at the beginning of her career.

Her 1975 film “I Want a Solution” gave a scathing critique of divorce and marriage laws in Egypt, while 1965’s “The Sin” focused on the oppression of struggling peasants.

The Egyptian Organization of Critics and Writers gave her their Star of the Century award in 2000.

Hamama is survived by a daughter, Nadia, from a first marriage and her third husband, a doctor named Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

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