Faten Hamama, the Egyptian actress who was once married to Omar Sharif, was remembered by thousands of her fans on Sunday as she was laid to rest in her Cairo family cemetery. The legend of Arabic film was 83 when she died on Saturday.
Fans carrying a sign reading “Egypt says goodbye to the lady of the screen” watched as the body of Hamama was transported from the October 6 neighborhood mosque in Cairo to the cemetery in which she was buried. Alongside grieving fans were politicians and movie stars who had attended the funeral, some stopping to pose for selfies with fans.
Among the dignitaries present to pay their respects was Amr Moussa, former chief of the Arab League. He called Hamama “an exceptional ambassador for Egypt.” Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab mourned the loss of one of Egyptian art’s “principal pillars.” Current Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi released a statement praising the actress as an “icon,” and declaring that she will forever hold a place as a main contributor to Arabic arts. Egypt’s president also issued a statement mourning the loss of the woman “who enriched Egyptian art.”
The career of Hamama spanned seven decades after her first role on film when she was just seven years old. Her body of work included nearly 100 movies in which she acted with other icons of Egyptian film, including Youssef Chahine and the famous singer, Abdel Halim Hafez. In addition to romantic films, she appeared in socially progressive films dealing with the equality of women and social injustice. In later years, Hamama admitted that she had received hate mail for her work in some of the roles she took, especially from husbands who said their wives had become too hard to control after watching her films.
Her time as a leader during the heyday of Egyptian film reached its apex in the 1940s and 1950s, when the country was referred to as the “Hollywood of the Middle East,” due not only to the number of films being produced, but by the cultural impact and quantity of the movies as well. During the 1960s, Hamama lived in both London and Paris, but in 1970, she returned to Egypt and acted in movies produced there.
She starred in many of her films with second husband Sharif, with whom she had a son, Tarek. Although Sharif was born into a Christian family, he completed a conversion to Islam in order to be able to marry the woman who he described as the sole love of his life. The husband and wife duo acted together in the movie River of Love in 1961, which was based on the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. In 1974, after Sharif had turned to Hollywood in order to become as famous there as he was in Egypt, the couple divorced.
The cause of death has been reported only as a “sudden health problem” by the official Egyptian news agency, MENA. The agency also said that “the lady of the Arabic screen,” as Hamama was known, had been in the hospital due to an illness several weeks before her death, but had been released to her home prior to her death.
Hamama is survived by her third husband, Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab, son, Tarek and a daughter from her first marriage, Nadia. Sharif did not attend the funeral.
By Jennifer Pfalz