Ahmed Zahar is Ramadan television's biggest villain.
His chilling performance as Fathy in the hit MBC 1 Ramadan drama El Prince has earned him online hate messages and an angry phone call from irate viewers.
Ever since the crime thriller premiered on the first day of Ramadan on MBC 1, audiences continue to be shocked at the depths his character will resort to in his thirst for vengeance.
However, it was a particular harrowing scene from an episode which aired on Sunday, May 12, that really got viewers’ blood boiling. After kidnapping his niece (in a star-making role by Fareeda Hossam), Fathy begins to get spooked by the anguished look of the eight-year-old in the back seat.
"Every time I look at her she reminds me of things that I am trying to forget," he says, before ordering the driver to stop the car. Fathy then steps out of the vehicle and dumps Mariam in the middle of a Cairo street. The scene ends with footage of the abandoned youngster crying while the car speeds off in the distance.
At the end of that episode, the hashtags #Fathy and #Prince trended on Egyptian Twitter, with viewers registering their disgust at the character.
Leading the pack was Emirati-Yemeni pop star Balqees, who expressed her disbelief at Fathy’s actions. “Was #ElPrince episode OK for your today? I had a breakdown. Is there people like that in life?” she said.
Another viewer, Abu Bakr Al Yafai wondered how long Fathy will go unpunished. "Every day I say today's episode, Radwan (series hero played by Mohammed Ramadan) will begin his revenge. And then when the episode begins they wrong him even further."
Some fans took their complaints a step further by confronting Zaher himself.
In a widely reported incident in regional press, a video circulated on social media of Zaher receiving a phone call from an inconsolable couple demanding an apology for his character’s actions.
"How could you leave Mariam in the traffic like that?" a woman said.
“That’s not me, that’s Fathy,” Zaher replies.
While the near three-minute exchange begins calmly enough, Fathy gets more exasperated.
“We are not going to leave you alone. Me and my wife and kids. All of us won’t leave you until Miriam is avenged,” says the husband before detailing how his daughter cried at the dumping scene.
Fathy ends the call by delivering a possible spoiler. “Tell (your daughter) that she will be found, she will be back in her father’s arms and things will be sweet.”
This is not the first time that Zaher has dealt with angry fans due to a cold-blooded performance. In a May 9 interview on Dubai TV's The Insider he described how his Twitter account lit up after El Prince first aired. However, he is taking all that hate in his stride.
"They all want to kill me," he said with a chuckle. "They want to know where I live and there are lots of threats.”
When it comes to the character himself, Zaher said that it took him a while to recover from portraying Fathy.
"I was living with this character and really went deep into it for those four months of the shoot," he said. "I couldn't get out of character, it got to a stage where it was affecting people in the house.”
This is not the first time that El Prince caused controversy. In fact, the show caused consternation from the very first episode.
On April 27, Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz filed a legal complaint against Mohammed Ramadan after taking particular offence at a scene where the star ripped the Egyptian passport to pieces (the character, Radwan, actually destroyed his passport to state that his home is in Egypt). Mahfouz reportedly accused the star of "working to insult all the symbols of the Egyptian state.”
No official charges have been filed as of yet.
El Prince is show on MBC 1 on 9.15pm daily until the end of Ramadan