Karima Mokhtar, the acclaimed Egyptian actress who became the Arab world’s most iconic on-screen mother figure, died on Thursday at the age of 82 after an undisclosed illness.
Her career on stage and in Arabic films spanned more than half a century and her death marks the passing of yet another star of the golden age of Egyptian cinema.
Among the hundreds who attended her funeral yesterday in Cairo were Egypt’s culture minister, Helmi Namnam, and several prominent Egyptian TV personalities, including presenter Mahmoud Saad, actor Rashwan Tawfeeq and Poussy, widow of the late actor Noor El Sherif.
Although “mama Nona” was a name given to her in one of her last television roles, Mokhtar’s motherly niche was established early in her career thanks to her role in the classic play, The Kids Have Grown Up, and especially in the 1974 comedy, The Grandson, in which she played a mother of seven alongside several A-listers, including the late El Sherif and the late Mahmoud Abdul Aziz. It was through such films that Mokhtar was dubbed the “mother of Egyptians”.
Mokhtar reportedly spoke with Ashraf Zaki, the head of Egypt’s Actors’ Syndicate, in her final days, saying she had conveyed the message she was destined to fulfil.
“The mother who cared about our grievances as actors is gone,” said a tearful Zaki.
Hours after her death, as the clock struck midnight in Cairo, a hashtag in her name was created in Arabic on Twitter.
“Real mother died … mama Nona,” said one tweet.
Her death comes two months after that of Mahmoud Abdul Aziz, who was her on screen son in-law in The Grandson, and just over a year after Noor El Sherif, who also played her son in-law in the hit film.
“The children have died … and so has their mother,” read another tweet.
Actress Yousra and singer Sherine Abdel Wahab also tweeted tributes to Mokhtar. Even the Israeli army’s Arabic spokesman, Avichay Adraee, paid tribute to her on Twitter, saying: “May God have mercy on your soul, mama Nona. I recall that she used to symbolise the strong, affectionate and successful Egyptian mother.”
Mokhtar was born Attyat Mohamed Al Badry in Assiut, Upper Egypt on January 16, 1934.
She was one of the few women of her generation to gain a bachelor’s degree. She graduated from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts and began her career in the popular 1950s children’s radio show, Baba Sharou.
She stayed in radio because her parents disapproved of film acting but that changed with her marriage to actor and director Noor Al Demerdash, who supported her in her acting ambitions and helped her land her first breakthrough role.
Actor Yehia Fakharani, who played her son in one of her last soap operas, May He Be Raised In Glory – the traditional Arabic response on hearing news of a birth – broke down in tears on stage after receiving news of her death.
Actress Arwa Gouda said: “Mokhtar symbolised the mother of all Egyptians – sweet, kind and patient, the lady whose maternal instinct made us all wish we could become mothers like her. She is definitely irreplaceable.”
Rumours of Mokhtar’s death began circulating two weeks ago, which distressed her greatly.
She and her husband had three sons and a daughter.
Her son, Moataz Al Demerdash, is a popular television presenter in Egypt.