Syrian director and actor Hatem Ali dies aged 58: 'The loss is indescribable'

The director is reported to have suffered a heart attack

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Syrian director Hatem Ali has died aged 58.

The popular filmmaker and actor passed away in Egypt on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack, media outlets have reported.

The news was announced by screenwriter Abdul Rahim Kamal on social media, who shared a photo of himself with the late director, writing “goodbye my friend”.

Other celebrities have taken to social media to share tributes, including Saudi businesswoman and activist Muna AbuSulayman, Lebanese singer Aline Lahoud and many others.

AbuSulayman tweeted that the "loss is indescribable":

Lahoud, a Lebanese singer, tweeted about working with Ali and how she was saddened by the news of his passing:

Young Palestinian director Ameen Nayfeh shared his last encounter with the director in a Facebook post.

"One of the best moments in my life this year was meeting the wonderful, respectful and humble actor and artists Hatem Ali," he wrote, adding that the late actor attended the screening of his film 200 Meters along with his son in Cairo only 12 days earlier.

Ali's death marks an immeasurable loss to the Arab world. As one of its most enduring and fearless directors, his works have not only shaped the historical drama genre but have revitalised public interest in some of the region's most contentious and alluring segments of history.

Who was Hatem Ali?

Born in the Golan Heights in 1962, Ali was displaced with his family from the area after it was captured by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War. His family then resettled in the outskirts of the Yarmouk Camp.

Ali began his artistic career by writing plays as well as short stories before obtaining his bachelor's degree in acting from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus in 1986.

In 1990, he married Syrian writer and human rights activist Dalaa Al Rahbi, with whom he had two sons.

Ali set his focus on directing in the mid-1990s, releasing a number of feature-length films for television including Akher Alleil (The Last Night), for which he won the Best Director award at the 1996 Cairo Radio and Television Festival. He won the same award a year later for his film Safar (Travel).

He became a household name in 2000 with the success of his show Al-Zeer Salem, a 40-episode series set in the pre-Islamic era. However, it was his 2001 show Salah Aldeen AlAyyobi, telling the story of Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem, which brought him regional attention having been translated and broadcasted in Malaysia, Turkey, as well as in Somalia and Yemen in their local Arabic dialects.

In 2004, he released Al-Taghreba al-Falastenya, a historical drama series that revolves around the story of a Palestinian family during the time of the British occupation of Palestine and the events that follow. The show brought together high-profile high-profile Syrian actors including Khaled Taja, Taim Hassan and Maxim Khalil.

It was then that Ali established himself as a director with an inimitable ability to tell gripping, historical stories.

What were his most famous works?

While Al-Zeer Salem and Salah Aldeen AlAyyobi have proved to be timeless regional favourites along the years, Ali was also known for his scathing political works. These included the 2009 feature The Long Night, which follows the lives of three political prisoners after they are released from a Syrian prison after 20 years of incarceration, as well as the 2014 series Qalam Homra (Red Pen), a show about a television writer who is arrested by the Syrian regime and then begins to tell the story of her characters from her cell.

One of his most famous works remains El Malek Farouk, a 2007 drama series that depicts the life of Egyptian monarch King Farouk, who was removed from power in the 1952 revolution and died in exile in Italy in 1965. The series won Ali the Best Director award at the Cairo Arab Media Festival.

Ali's last directorial effort to screen was the 2019 drama series Aho Da Elly Sar. The show tells the story of a palace guard in Alexandria, who after meeting an upper-class girl from Cairo claims that he is the rightful heir to the palace and begins to tell her everything that transpired within its opulent walls in the last century.