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Porters, Protesters, and Presidents: How Ahmed Zaki Portrayed the Essence of Egypt

June 15, 2022

Egypt’s two iconic wartime presidents, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Al-Sadat, look nothing alike. With origins as far apart as Upper Egypt and the Delta respectively, and each with an air that is as memorable as it is distinct from the other’s, one might think that the stars of biographical films made about the two would be just as different. However, the name on the posters for Nasser ‘56 (1996), and Ayyam Al-Sadat (The Days of Sadat, 2001) was one and the same: Ahmed Zaki. Despite starting out as a dark horse, Zaki’s name became one of the most beloved household names on stage and screen in Egypt. His raw, authentic, and deeply studied performances led him not only to portray Nasser and Al-Sadat, but other Egyptian icons such as author Taha Hussein in the series Al-Ayyam (The Days, 1979) and Abdel Halim Hafez in Halim (2006), in which he starred alongside his son Haitham, who tragically passed away at the age of 35 in 2019. Zaki’s death in 2005 due to complications from lung cancer was a heavy blow to the millions who loved his work, but despite the…

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