You, me and everyone
His birth name was Muhammad Gaber Muhammad Abdullah. He was born and grew up in the Cairo working class district of Sayeda Zainab, a place he never left till he married the beautiful, vivacious actress Poussy in 1972. He was 26 then and had already carved for himself a niche on the Egyptian acting arena under the name Nour al-Sherif; the name was coined by the woman who later became his wife, Nour meaning light and al-Sharif after the Egyptian film actor who gained international stardom. But no glamour or success ever tarnished Sherif’s character which personified everything that was truly, authentically Egyptian. Almost everyone in Egypt could identify with Sherif and could feel the genuineness of the characters he played. An entire generation grew up feeling they were Nour al-Sherif and Nour al-Sherif was them. And age only made him all-the-mellower.
On Tuesday 11 August Egypt lost Nour al-Sherif. He had long struggled with an ill-defined illness that had become cause for concern of his fans. It was later disclosed that he suffered deficiencies in his respiratory and circulatory systems.
Start of a career
Sherif first went to university as a student of commerce, then changed direction and enrolled in the High Institute for Theatrical Arts in 1967. He had thought earlier of taking up a career as a football player and actually played for one of Cairo top teams, but then changed his mind and decided to go for acting.
The first role Sherif played was a minor one in the play al-Shawarei al-Khalfiya (The Back Streets) directed by Saad Ardash (1924 – 2008) in 1967. He was then chosen by director Kamal Eid to perform in another theatrical production, Romeo and Juliet. While rehearsing for the play, Sherif met the actor Adel Imam—who grew to be Egypt’s top comedian—and who at the time nominated him to act with director Hassan al-Imam. The director had him participate in the film Qasr al-Shawq (Passion Palace), a screen adaptation of one of the novels of a Cairo Trilogy by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911 – 2006).
For his role, Sherif received an honorary certificate—the first award in his career. The first contract Sherif signed was for some EGP150.
During the 1960s Sherif played his first TV role in the series al-Qahira wal-Nass (Cairo People). It was the role of a young student in a typical middle class Egyptian family engrossed in the whirlwind of daily life and the intertwined relations among them and with the outside world. The drama became very popular, Egyptians would await each episode with impatience, and discuss every detail it brought. Sherif especially gained a niche in Egyptian homes and hearts; he became a household name.
In the early 1960s, as Sherif entered the Egyptian TV building, his eye was caught by a pretty young girl sitting in the wings. She was waiting to join the children’s programme and she saw him pass by. This was Safinaz Qadry, and it was love at first sight. The years passed, and they acted together, and Safinaz adopted the screen name Poussy.
Plans for marriage were met with staunch objection from Poussy’s parents who felt she was too young, and that Sherif came from a working class background that was too different from the upper class her family came from. Besides, his acting career did not guarantee a comfortable life.
Finally, in 1972, the young lovers were able to marry. Sherif later described the moment he signed the marriage contract and moved the wedding band from Poussy’s right hand to her left as among the most moving in his life. “I was signing the document that signified the most important event in my whole life,” he said.
Their marriage lasted for 34 years, when they got divorced in the wake of rumours that Sherif was having an affair with a Tunisian young actress, Sandy. They had together two daughters, Sara and Mai. Sherif and Poussy remarried in 2015.
Sherif and Poussy starred together in many romantic films that have become among the high points of the Egyptian cinema. In the 1980s Habiby Da’iman (Forever my Love) they depicted a legendary love story confronted with obstacles owing to class and material differences. This love, however, lived on even after the death of the woman, played by Poussy, in an unforgettable scene. The film’s story was written by Kawthar Heikal and Rafiq al-Sabban, and was said to have been adapted after a real-to-life story.
The young couple also starred in Akher al-Rigaal al-Muhtarameen (The last of the Honourable Men) written by Wahid Hamed. The film sheds light on many negative aspects in the Egyptian society. In this film Sherif played the role of a teacher who was conducting a frenzied search for a little girl. The girl was a pupil of his who got lost on a school trip he was supervising. Poussy plays a woman whose daughter had died young, and who kidnapped the girl pupil and pampered her no end to compensate for her lost daughter.
Later in his life, Sherif went into production, and was a favourite with Egyptian director Youssef Chahine (1926 – 2008) whose films won several international awards.
Sherif produced and starred in Chahine’s Haddouta Misriya (An Egyptian Tale) (1982), and al-Maseer (Destiny) (1997). The first was biographical and based on Chahine’s life. The second, which won several awards, was set in the 12th century in the Arab-ruled Spanish province Andalusia, where the famed philosopher Averroes is appointed grand judge by the caliph and his liberal court judgments are not liked by everyone. He is finally driven out of town for his liberalism.
Honours and awards
In 2004, Sherif received a lifetime achievement award from the Egyptian Writers and Critics Association at Alexandria International Film Festival. In 2006, he played a role in Marwan Hamed’s (The Yaacoubian Building), an adaptation of a bestselling novel about Egyptian society and politics.
The last of his films was the 2015 production Bi-Tawqeet al-Qahira (Cairo Time), directed by Amir Ramses, and co-starred with Mervat Amin. For this role he won the Best Actor Award in the Wahran Arab Film Festival.
Sherif has to his credit more than 20 roles in TV drama series. Prominent among them are the dramas Omar Bin Abdel-Aziz, Lan Aaish fi Gilbabab Abi (I Won’t Live in my Father’s Gown) , A’elat al-Haj Mitwalli (Haj Mitwalli’s Family).
Sherif received his first international best acting award at the International New Delhi Film Festival in 1983, for his role in Sawaq al-Autobees (The Bus Driver), which he had also produced. The film was part of a realist wave in Egyptian cinema that heavily criticised situations in Egypt. He also received some 25 prizes from the Culture Ministry and cinema associations in Egypt, as well as honorary certificates from the Damascus Film Festival in 1985 and the 1987 festival in the Gulf. The Dubai International Film Festival gave Sherif a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
In a recent interview with Sherif in the satellite TV talkshow Gumla Mufida, he revealed he had enjoyed warm relations with former President Hosni Mubarak with whom he used to meet together with the late musician Ammar al-Sheraie. He described his ties with Mubarak as, “rational, objective, and far removed from any bias.”
When he talked about Mubarak, Sherif said that “Mubarak, like any other president, has his supporters and opponents,” pointing out that Mubarak had been against ceding power to his son Gamal. “Remember, history will prove what I say,” Sherif said. It has been frequently circulated that Gamal Mubarak was, during his father’s last years as president, being groomed to become Egypt’s future. The Arab Spring uprising in January 2011, however, brought down Mubarak and put an end to all that. In disclosing his relation with Mubarak, Sherif was in his element. Many others preferred to play it safe and go with the prevailing anti-Mubarak sentiment propagated by the Arab Spring revolutionists. But Sherif was sufficiently courageous to publicly admit it.
12 August 2015