To the non-Arabic speaking world, she was Omar Sharif’s former wife and the “Meryl Streep of Arab cinema”. To her legions of fans throughout the region, Faten Hamama, who died on Saturday aged 83, was known simply as “the lady of the Arabic screen”. She had a starring role in Egyptian cinema during its golden age when it was called the Hollywood of the Middle East because of the quantity, quality and cultural influence of the films it produced.
Egypt has historically taken its cinema very seriously – the tradition dates to 1896, when the Lumiere brothers’ short films were screened in Alexandria less than a year after their Paris premiere. And Hamama, who starred in nearly a hundred films, became a familiar face and figure to cinema buffs for the acting ability she brought to a range of genres, including melodramas, romances and more crucially, films that advocated women’s rights and condemned social injustices.