Treading the unbeaten path: Saudi engineer recalls challenges of becoming a top model

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The first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh ran from April 10-14. (Shtterstock)
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Social media figure and aspiring model Adnan Jamil Abdu. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Leading Saudi model Fouad Hakeem.
Updated 11 June 2018

Treading the unbeaten path: Saudi engineer recalls challenges of becoming a top model

  • People joked about modeling but I saw it as a manly job, says Fouad Hakeem
  • In 1994, Hakeem was working as an aircraft engineer when he was asked by a friend to act in a television advertisement for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Safi Danone.

JEDDAH: The world of modeling might appear to be full of glamor and charm, but the reality is very different, as leading Saudi model Fouad Hakeem reveals.

Hakeem — the first Saudi model to feature in a US campaign — endured harsh criticism on his way to the top during a 20-year modeling career.

“Society used to make jokes about what I do. They thought of it as something shameful, something a man shouldn’t do,” he told Arab News. 

“But I saw it as a manly thing. Showing men’s outfits, you have to convince the other side that ‘this is for you’ and you have to be a man to do this.” 

Hakeem first appeared on television in 1994 in a commercial, and later took up modeling from the end of 1997 until 2000. 

However, his hopes of establishing himself in the US faltered after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. “I didn’t visit the States for 14 years after that,” he said.

In 1994, Hakeem was working as an aircraft engineer when he was asked by a friend to act in a television advertisement for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Safi Danone.




Leading Saudi model Fouad Hakeem.

“I thought, ‘It’s a new thing, let’s try it,’” said Hakeem.

The commercial was directed by Shane Martin from Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Hakeem said the company asked him to show up more and act in commercials.

His friend, who was living in New York at the time, also showed Hakeem’s photo to an employee at a modeling agency, 123 Entertainment Corp. 

“I met the company and they created my portfolio and started giving me jobs, once a month in the beginning, then twice a month. And this continued until 2001,” Hakeem said.

“I did my first Hugo Boss ad at the end of 1997. I wore an overcoat, then I kept getting calls.” 

At the start of his career, Hakeem was reluctant to abandon his job as an aircraft engineer.

“I used to collect my days off. I would work for the entire month to make sure I have a week off, so I could fly there and work as a model — I used to work hard here and there.

“I was so scared to lose my profession. Modeling was not a secure job for me back then. 

“My problem was my timing — there was no media, or public internet access, so you couldn’t publicize yourself. The maximum was a newspaper, magazine or a picture.” 

Hakeem said modeling had changed dramatically in the past two decades.

“Now, models only give 50 percent. Back then, the model made sure he gave it 100 percent,” the top Saudi model said.

Social media figure and aspiring model Adnan Jamil Abdu, 29, said publicity through social media is a certain way to get noticed. 

Abdu gained a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Middlesex University in the UK in 2016. 




Leading Saudi model Fouad Hakeem (left) and aspiring Saudi model Adnan Jamil Abdu. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

In 2012, he did his first commercial for a company called Choose Your Major.

In late 2016, he decided to develop a career in modeling and took to social media platforms to publicize himself.

Now he is planning the next steps in his dream career. “I have booked a photo-shoot session next month to create a professional portfolio. Then I will search for agencies.”

Abdu said modeling offered many opportunities: “The income, the fame and the connections you make will open new doors for you.” 

He said social media had built careers for major figures, such as Pakistan’s Chai Wala Arshad Khan. “Without social media, this would never have happened.”

Society now is more accepting of modeling as a career, according to Abdu. 

“Everything has changed. People have started recognizing it as a job, just like any other job,” he said. 




Social media figure and aspiring model Adnan Jamil Abdu. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The fashion scene in Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly. 

Last December, the Kingdom stepped into the style spotlight when the Arab Fashion Council (AFC) announced plans to open offices in Riyadh, claiming a spot on the Middle East’s fashion map amid bold statements that Saudi Arabia was to be a new hub for the region. 

The first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh ran from April 10-14.  More than 13 fashion designers participated in the glamorous event.

Saudi Arabia is leaving no stone unturned to diversify its economy and implement the socioeconomic reforms envisaged in Saudi Vision 2030. 

“A lot of things have been changing in Saudi Arabia ... now we can invite everyone to come here and be a part of this change. 

“We have so many talented designers in this country and such a love for fashion. Now we can show that to the world,” Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, honorary president of the AFC, told Arab News. 


‘Noura’s Dream’ becomes nightmare dilemma in this raw tale

Hend Sabry plays the lead role in ‘Noura’s Dream.’ (Supplied)
Updated 16 October 2019

‘Noura’s Dream’ becomes nightmare dilemma in this raw tale

CHENNAI: Hinde Boujemaa’s “Noura’s Dream,” which premiered at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and later featured at El Gouna Film Festival, saw the movie’s protagonist, Hend Sabry (Noura), clinch best actress award at the latter.

The director, who also wrote the script, tackles an unusual dilemma for a woman being pulled in three different directions by her husband, lover and three young children, two of them girls.

It is certainly not an easy task to lead a story such as this – emotionally complicated and set in Tunisia – to a closure.

In an interview with Variety, Boujemaa said: “There have been movies about adultery, but very few of them have been wholly empathetic to the woman. There’s often a kind of moral judgement attached. I wanted to make a film without any hint of moralizing.”

“Noura’s Dream” opens with a romantic scene. Working in a prison laundry, she is seen on her phone talking to her lover, handsome garage mechanic Lassaad (Hakim Boumsaoudi), and the two are all set to marry, her divorce just days away.

Her husband, Jamel (Lotfi Abdelli), is in jail having been caught committing petty crimes but when he is freed early after a presidential pardon, things get messy.

The director tackles an unusual dilemma for a woman being pulled in three different directions by her husband, lover and three young children. (Supplied) 

Boujemaa’s film has the feel of a Ken Loach (British director) movie, with its take on the predicament of the working class. There is a certain raw quality about “Noura’s Dream,” devoid of the polish and psychological complexities of “Marriage Story” (screened at Venice), in which auteur Noah Baumbach portrays the pain of a marital split with a degree of levity and sophistication.

A similar approach and treatment cannot be taken with Noura’s story, which is set in a very different kind of social environment that gives little freedom or equality to a woman. Take, for instance, the scene in which Noura’s defense lawyer, a woman, makes her client feel small and guilty, reminding her of the injustice and harm a split would do to her children.

Boujemaa’s film has the feel of a Ken Loach (British director) movie. (Supplied) 

Sabry brings to the fore the quandary of Noura, who is completely lost.

Should she go ahead with the divorce and marry Lassaad, a union that could mean abandoning her children who need their mother? Or should she stick with her wayward husband? There are no easy answers.