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Egypt Mourns Omar Sharif, Its Homegrown Cinema Star


Before Omar Sharif launched his international movie career with "Lawrence Of Arabia," before he became a Hollywood star, Omar Sharif was a dashing leading man in Egypt. And when he was buried yesterday outside Cairo, those mourning his loss were also mourning an era in Egypt that disappeared long ago. NPR's Leila Fadel was there.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: For a star of his stature, Sharif's funeral on Sunday was relatively small. A sheikh recited Quran as Sharif's famous friends and his family gathered to pray for him in a mosque in an isolated suburb of Cairo. Madeleine Tabar wept watching men carry Sharif's coffin into the mosque. Oversized sunglasses masked the Lebanese actress's eyes, and she wore a svelte, black pencil skirt and stilettos.

MADLEN TABER: He make the dreams come true. Each one of us is dreaming in international movies, in Hollywood and being a star, like Omar Sharif.

FADEL: Everyone wanted to be Sharif, she says, and everyone should be allowed to honor him. She said she's angry. How could Sharif's funeral be held in this out-of-the-way place?

TABER: All the people has the right to celebrate Omar Sharif in the mid, in the center, in Tahrir Square, somewhere where everybody can reach, not like this. You need a map and a GPS in order to reach here. I'm furious of that.

FADEL: After all, this is Omar Sharif, she says. For many in Egypt, Sharif represented a bygone era - when black-and-white movies showed Cairo and Alexandria as glittering, cosmopolitan cities, when Egypt really was the cultural capital of this region.

NAILA HAMDY: That Egypt of Omar Sharif is never going to happen again.

FADEL: That's Naila Hamdy, the chair of the journalism and mass communications department at the American University in Cairo. Sharif rose to fame during the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1950s. He starred in classic black-and-white films, films that represented a time of multiculturalism, sophistication and, well, just plain glamour.

HAMDY: He represents for me very much the sort of different ethnic groups that existed in Egypt at that time, you know, the Greeks, Italians, the Syrio-Lebanese like his family. You know, this kind of person is the kind of person I imagine filled the streets of downtown Cairo.

FADEL: Back at his funeral, other figures of that golden era came to mourn, the actors of those black-and-white films still watched in most Arab homes. Some walked with canes. Some had lost their glorious heads of hair and replaced it with toupees. Samir Sabri, a film star turned television host, spoke about the last interview he had with his friend Omar Sharif. He repeats what Sharif said.

SAMIR SABRI: I've come back to Egypt to die in Egypt. I've lived 83,000 years. Each year was 1,000 in my life. He was a great man. It's a great loss.

FADEL: Sharif died in a Cairo hospital. He was 83. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.