Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 March 2020

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless

Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi: A voice for the voiceless
  • The Iraqi-Egyptian musician on ‘creating music you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages’

LONDON: 1980 to 1988. 1990 to 1991. 2003 to today. These are the dates that are seared into the mind of Iraqi-Egyptian musician Nadin Al-Khalidi — the dates of the wars that changed her life completely and displaced or killed thousands in the country where she was born.

Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. She arrived in Sweden as a refugee in 2001, having fled Baghdad with her sister. By that time, they were orphans.

After the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, the family had moved from war-ravaged Baghdad to Cairo to get medical treatment for Al-Khalidi’s mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, she died soon after their arrival.




Al-Khalidi has risen above the sorrow and loss to make a life as a successful musician in a completely different culture to the one she was born into. (Supplied)

The family stayed in Egypt for several years before returning to Baghdad in 1997. But any hopes they had of living normal, peaceful lives were soon shattered.

“The situation in Iraq became unbearable. I had already witnessed many horrible things during the two wars. Early in 2001, there were public executions of women who were suspected of being prostitutes — though it later came to light there was a political rather than religious agenda behind these charges. I witnessed the execution of a woman right outside my building in Baghdad,” Al-Khalidi tells Arab News.

After the death of their father in 2001, Al-Khalidi knew she and her sister had to get out of Iraq somehow. After a tense, often frightening crossing into Jordan, the two young women finally ended up in a refugee camp in Sweden. It was there that Al-Khalidi began to rebuild her life, finding solace in music.




Al-Khalidi poses with her music teacher Josefin (left) and her late mother (right). (Supplied)

In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music” (a catch-all term that basically covers anything that isn’t of Western origin) —including Arabic music.

“I discovered that singing in Arabic — my mother tongue — really moves me,” she recalls. “It taps deep emotions and feelings.”

Al-Khalidi eventually settled in Malmo. And it was there that she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. 

“Our name comes from the Arabic expression ‘tarab,’ which means ‘ecstasy through music’ played by wandering musicians or troubadours” she explains.




Al-Khalidi settled in Malmo, where she met the five Swedish musicians and sound engineer with whom she would eventually form the successful group Tarabband. (Supplied)

Tarabband’s sound is a mix of haunting melodies and the kind of rhythms that make you want to leap out of your chair and dance, as Arab News witnessed at the band’s performance during this month’s Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival in London. But beneath the celebratory vibe, Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. “In Tarabband, we are always trying to get a balance in creating music which you can dance to as well as conveying serious messages,” she says.

Her songs, she told The Guardian in 2016, are based on “my nightmares and my PTSD, my relationships and loyalty issues — the fact I can’t have light relationships.”

Her intense focus on her music and her commitment to acting as a voice for displaced people and refugees has, she admits, taken its toll.




In Baghdad she had studied violin, learning to play Western classical music. (Supplied)

“Last year I collapsed. I woke up one morning and many realizations came to me all at once: I am now forty, I have no family, I am constantly touring and my priorities in life go mainly to my music projects,” she says. “But this is what I choose to do. And there is also huge joy in it. It is very energy consuming. I am the only female in the band, which is challenging — and, of course, there are cultural differences there to deal with as well. But the whole band has a strong and solid humanitarian and artistic culture.”

She is striving for balance in her life, she says, but she recognizes that her true calling is music — and telling the stories of others who don’t have a voice. She is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war and feels strongly that politicians should take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.




The singer is determined to stand up for those whose lives have been blighted by war. (Supplied)

“I have witnessed the impact on civilians — the destruction of a nation, a culture, dreams and hopes, the education and healthcare systems, infrastructure…” she says. “Their actions have resulted in continuous misery for those who have been attacked.”

She hopes that perhaps she can have the same impact on others that other musicians, particularly US folk singer and activist Joan Baez, had on her.

“I discovered (Baez) when I was 17. Her way of telling stories through songs and between songs really touched me,” says Al-Khalidi. “When I first got her tape I didn’t know who she was, but she was singing in a (bomb) shelter in Vietnam. You could hear the bombs in the background.




Tarabband recently performed at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. (Supplied)

“Somehow I felt she was singing for me because I was witnessing terror myself,” Al-Khalidi continues.  “Then — at the age of 32 — I met her backstage at a concert in Sweden. When I talked to her, I knew I was on the right path.”

Al-Khalidi was particularly moved by the rapturous reception Tarabband received after their recent performance at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. “Before we went, I was expecting misery and sadness,” she says. “But what I experienced was about 500 young girls who are stronger and happier than you. The moment you sing and play there are sparks coming out of their eyes.”

Al-Khalidi knows she was lucky: Her own experience as a refugee ended relatively happily, and she is full of praise for Sweden — the country that opened its doors to her and her sister in their time of need.




Al-Khalidi is committed to using her voice to speak for the displaced and the oppressed. (Supplied)

“I was given a very warm reception and ended up living with a well-known Swedish opera singer (Marianne Mörck). I lived with her for six years and I still call her ‘mamma.’”

But although her experience has been overwhelmingly positive — there have still been incidents that remind her of the abuse and intolerance many refugees face daily.

“Outside the bubble of my music and the people who know me I am just a random person on the street. I have dark hair and the family name Al-Khalidi,” she says. “I have been physically threatened by a Nazi type on a train.” And even people close to her have surprised her with their attitude to refugees in general, she says.




It was in Sweden that she was first introduced to “world music.” (Supplied)

“I would say there is still this perception from some people in Europe that refugees are trying to invade Europe with their culture and religion,” she continues. “I am not religious, but I am a hard-working, responsible woman. I’m honest. I show up on time. I am loyal to society. I pay taxes and live an honorable life. My black hair does not define me as a human being. My actions, hard work, engagement and morals are what define me.”

As, too, does her ongoing willingness to express the hopes and fears of those who often do not have a platform to express them themselves.

“I have seen death and bombs, but my experience is nothing to the mental and physical experiences of many other people around the world,” she says. “Telling their stories is my duty and calling. The memories and trauma I have experienced, I can’t delete. But I can make some peace with my past by writing music and singing about it and by sharing stories of other people, especially with the Western world.”


‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas
The US-Iranian actress is set to make her design debut with sportswear giant Adidas. File/AFP
Updated 09 May 2021

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

DUBAI: Part-Middle Eastern star Yara Shahidi is set to drop a new global collection created in collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas. The “Grown-ish” actress this week posted a teaser of her collaboration on Instagram, and the response to her designer debut is overwhelmingly positive.

 “Y’all knew this was coming #collab (sic),” she captioned a video of herself wearing a mustard yellow track jacket with a teal collar worn over a white shirt. “Yessss,” wrote US singer Justine Skye in the comments section, applauding her friend over her latest venture.

According to Shahidi’s Instagram post, the new line will be titled Recreate x Yara.

While Adidas hasn’t officially confirmed the news yet, it seems that Shahidi has been dropping hints about a collaboration with the sportswear giant for quite some time now — either that, or she’s just a dedicated Adidas fan. The 21-year-old has been championing the brand for months and has been seen multiple times wearing collaborations from the brand’s other partnerships, including lines with Pharell Williams and Beyonce.

In an IGTV video, the actress revealed that Beyonce sent her an entire clothing rack filled with Ivy Park x Adidas swag before the pieces even hit the shelves.

She also starred in a campaign for the brand’s signature Superstar sneakers in 2020.

The US-Iranian star appeared in the “Change is a Team Sport” advert alongside K-Pop girl group Black Pink, as well as Jonah Hill, Pharrell Williams and Anitta, among many others.

More recently, the Minneapolis-born actress starred in the latest Adidas Originals x Disney Stan Smith campaign.

Shahidi has been quite busy lately.

In addition to her forthcoming clothing line with Adidas, the multi-hyphenate is also developing two new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions.

The 21-year-old star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” and single-camera comedy series “Smoakland” alongside her mother, and business partner, Keri Shahidi.

Additionally, the actress, who is the youngest network producer ever, is set to star as Tinkerbell in Disney’s “Peter Pan and Wendy.”

Production on the new film, which is expected to arrive sometime in 2022, is currently underway in Vancouver, Canada.


Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul
(Supplied)
Updated 09 May 2021

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

DUBAI: Jordanian Chef Hassan Al-Naami shares his delectable recipe for fragrant freekeh-stuffed chicken, a dish that is wildly popular at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, where he brings his culinary vision to life at the hotel’s Middle Eastern restaurant, Amaseena.

As Ramadan draws to a close, give this dish a go for a special iftar this week.

Chicken ingredients:  

Whole baby chicken

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp paprika

1/3 tbsp 7 spice

½ tbsp coriander powder

2 ½ tbsp lemon juice

1 handful of almonds

1 handful of pine nuts

Freekeh ingredients:

5 cups freekeh 

3 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup onion (chopped)

1 tsp cinnamon powder

½ tsp cardamom powder

1 tbsp 7-spice

1 ½ tbsp cumin powder

6 cups chicken stock

Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:

1.       Wash and drain freekeh until clean. In a hot pan combine olive oil and spices, toss for a few minutes till fragrant. Add the freekeh then sauté for another 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes on a low heat. The freekeh should be cooked but still have a chewy texture.

2.       Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix all the spices and rub chicken with spices all over and inside, including under the skin. Take the cooked freekeh and stuff the chicken with it, cross the legs and tie with twine. Place the chicken in a roasting tray, cover with foil and roast for 60-80 minutes. Allow the chicken rest before serving (keeping it covered).

3.       Serve stuffed chicken on over leftover cooked freekeh. Decorate with roasted nuts and serve with minted yogurt on the side.


Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan
The model teamed up with a restaurant in Amsterdam to prepare meals for the needy. Instagram
Updated 08 May 2021

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

DUBAI: This week, Moroccan-Egyptian-Dutch model Imaan Hammam teamed up with Amsterdam-based restaurant The Wild Room to give back to those who need it most by helping to prepare meals for the most vulnerable in the community this Ramadan.

“Last 10 days of Ramadan! What a beautiful healing month! So sad it’s coming to an end,” the 24-year-old shared with her one million Instagram followers, alongside a carousel of photos depicting her pouring tomatoes into a pot, surrounded by bags of prepared meals and getting ready to pray.

“Today these women and I worked so hard to prepare meals for those in need. Helping others is not only important but also a GOOD thing to do. It makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone. And it's not all about money — we can also give our time, ideas and energy. I want to thank all the strong women today who were involved from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to be part of this initiative. May Allah bless you all,” she added.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

“My hope is that we all work to inspire each other to spread love and give support. Help people around you, because you can. That’s what this is all about.”

Since the Holy Month is a time for kindness and charity, Hammam makes sure to take the opportunity to give back to those in need each year.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

Last Ramadan, the catwalk star, who was born to an Egyptian father and a Moroccan mother, revealed that she donated to two mosques and She’s the First, a non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education that Hammam is an ambassador for. 

The model also donated funds to a mosque in Fisher, Indiana, to help them develop a prayer space for women and to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.


Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
  • Sumaya Rida is a rising star of Saudi Arabia’s fledgling domestic film industry, empowered by the Vision 2030 agenda  
  • Rida wants more investment in Saudi writers, producers and directors who can share the Kingdom’s stories with the world

DUBAI: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia just three years ago, when a 35-year ban was finally lifted. Since then, movie theaters have been springing up across the Kingdom, invigorating the domestic film industry and inspiring a growing cast of homegrown actors.

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em” — among the first films to premiere in the Kingdom after legalization.

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew what was her true calling. “I also used to make short films with my little sisters and brothers using my father’s Sony camera,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.

“I actually acted and directed short films when I was 12 years old. I loved how the whole family would gather to watch what I made, and to me it meant the whole world at that time, and filled me with passion.”

Saudi-born actress Sumaya Rida moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. (Supplied)

The Saudi-born actress moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. Even while completing an MSc in international marketing management at the University of Surrey, Rida kept up acting on the side, appearing in several commercials.

Following her studies, she spent five years in the world of business, but all the while felt a profound longing for the stage and screen. It took a chance encounter to set her on the right track.

“After working so much in the ruthless business world, I stumbled one day on Ali Al-Sumayin, a well-known, award-winning Saudi film and commercial director, who led me to the world of performing again,” Rida said.

While visiting Al-Sumayin at his office in Jeddah in 2017, Rida took part in an acting class. The familiar adrenaline rush of performing before an audience quickly came flooding back.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” she said. “I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach that day and I had this nostalgic feeling, so I told him I wanted a part in a show.”

Soon enough, Rida had recorded an audition and landed her first role. To prepare, she signed up for an intensive four-month acting course and one-to-one coaching with respected Turkish instructors, as advanced acting courses were not yet available in Saudi Arabia.

“In the Kingdom, we didn’t have any institutions for acting or performance training, so I had to do it the fast way,” Rida said.

“Every actor should have mentors, because they always direct you and show you different perspectives.”

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew that acting was her true calling. (Supplied)

Today, Rida performs in both English and Arabic. For one show she had to master the bedouin accent. “It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but it was fun,” she said.

Her latest project is a movie called “Rupture,” a Saudi-made psychological thriller directed by Hamzah Kamal Jamjoom, produced by Ayman Kamal Khoja and funded by MBC Studios.

Playing the lead, Rida portrays the journey of a Saudi woman struggling to save her marriage, and ultimately her life, from a villain with a twisted mind.

“I played against Billy Zane from ‘Titanic’ who is both a wonderful human being and a tremendously talented actor,” she said.

“The movie intelligently incorporated a few powerful themes in its thrilling narrative. One of these was about standing up for your own cultural values, even when relocating to another country.

“Another was about the importance of privacy and the dangers of oversharing on social media, and the third was about the concept of striking a balance between co-dependency and individual freedom in a marriage.”

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Renowned Egyptian director Khairy Beshara says Saudi cinema has made a leap through the new generation of directors who are creating exceptional and brave films on a high artistic level. Click here for more.

For Rida, the most important part of the project was having the opportunity to play a strong, independent Muslim woman, standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs.

“It is honestly an honor and a rare opportunity to work with such gifted Saudi filmmakers and producers on this project,” she said.

“I’ve enjoyed Hamzah’s direction. His positive energy and passion were infectious. We will hopefully finish filming after Ramadan. I can’t wait to share this film. I’m excited because it’s one of the very few Saudi feature films that recognizes the struggles of Saudi women.”

The strict social codes and gender segregation of a much more conservative era meant that Saudi actresses were rare when Rida was growing up. Support from her family has been crucial, but so has been the opening up of Saudi society.

“The timing was very good because I started when Vision 2030 was taking place and I was going with it,” Rida said.

Under the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil, the Kingdom has placed greater emphasis on the arts, opportunities for young people and the social and economic empowerment of women.

Saudi Arabia has placed greater emphasis on the arts and opportunities for young people, and lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in the Kingom three years ago. (AFP/File Photo)

As a result, Saudi women are finding their voices and discovering their strengths — a journey Rida says she found key to becoming a professional actress.

“This helped me to understand myself. I wanted to tell stories. We have a lot of stories here in Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to feel, to be able to emote, to risk and share, and to be courageous and vulnerable as an artist. This is very fulfilling.

“The real fulfilment also lies in overcoming all the limitations that have been placed on humanity.

“I discovered that performing is a very fun thing. It’s very nurturing, fulfilling and it feeds the soul and your inner self.”

As an artist, Rida is still on a journey of self-discovery and building her confidence on camera. She hopes to try new characters, to help her develop “naturally and sincerely, because acting is a continuous process — we keep learning and evolving constantly.”

As for her country, Rida says she is thrilled to see so many changes taking place and to be part of a new wave of young actors and filmmakers shaking up the Saudi film industry. “This makes me very happy and optimistic,” she said, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.

As investment into nurturing talent in the Kingdom grows under Vision 2030, Sumaya Rida believes the future of Saudi filmmaking is a bright one. (AFP/File Photo)

“I see very passionate actors every now and then, but I really believe that we need to work on ourselves more than we think. It’s not just getting a degree in performing or acting and that’s it — it’s a continuous process.”

Rida also hopes to see more young Saudis coming forward to share their stories with the world. “We need to not only invest in actors but invest more in writers, producers and directors, because it’s not the job of one person alone,” she said.

“Acting is not only the actor you see on the screen. Behind that there is a huge production.”

Without investment, training and opportunities, this potential cannot be mastered. The raw ingredient, nevertheless, is talent — of which the new Saudi Arabia has in abundance.

“It’s unlimited,” said Rida. “It’s infinite and it keeps evolving.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer show

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer show
Updated 08 May 2021

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer show

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer show
  • The acclaimed Egyptian screenwriter on her controversial career and her latest project about a pair of serial-killer sisters in early 20th-century Alexandria

DUBAI: Egyptian screenwriter Mariam Naoum has been sued three times for the films she has made. For her, that’s not a sore spot — it’s a badge of honor.

“It makes me stronger, actually,” she tells Arab News. “I don’t think, ‘Oh, I got sued. I have to be more careful.’ I think, ‘OK. I got sued. I must have tackled something that is bothering people. I must have embarrassed someone who needed to get embarrassed.’”

Now, Naoum is working with acclaimed Irish filmmaker Terry George on a new true-crime series about twin serial killers in Egypt. George, an award-winning writer and director, has worked on such iconic films as “In the Name of the Father” (1993), “The Boxer” (1997), and “Hotel Rwanda” (2004).

The endeavor will see Naoum tackle one of Egypt’s most famous real-life stories — that of Raya and Sakina, the serial-killer sisters who wreaked havoc on Alexandria in the early 1900s.

Naoum remains one of Egypt’s preeminent firebrand writers. (Supplied)

It’s a story that has been told many times in many different ways in Egypt, but two things will distinguish Naoum’s upcoming adaptation. First and foremost, it will be made not just for an Egyptian audience, but a global one, with a planned rollout on international streaming platforms.

The screenwriter is no stranger to the scene, in fact It’s been more than 10 years since Naoum first turned industry heads with “One-Zero,” and she remains one of Egypt’s preeminent firebrand writers, one whose work enjoys critical acclaim and enduring popularity by focusing on issues facing everyday people, especially women.

Naoum, however, doesn’t push hot-button issues in her work in order to draw controversy. She does so to embolden those without a voice, and hopefully lay the groundwork for change. When “One-Zero” came out in 2009, Naoum was initially taken back by the lawsuit she was hit with for the film, but quickly realized that it was not a sign that she had failed at her mission.

“When I got sued, I was really shaking at first, but then I discovered that very few were actually against it. I actually reached people as I wanted, and they understood what I was talking about. A lot of people were supporting me. Then, at the box office, ‘One-Zero’ did very, very well. People really loved it because it was talking about them. So I said, ‘OK, I will follow my instinct. I will always have people that are against me, but I will put it behind my back,’” says Naoum.

While Naoum hasn’t been sued in six years, she doesn’t see this as a sign that her work has mellowed. If anything, she says, Egypt has begun to get used to her way of storytelling, and trust her voice and compassion for everyday people.

Her work, including 2019’s “Between Two Seas,” is written as accessibly as possible, in part to bridge the divide in prosperity and eductation between Egypt’s social classes. (Supplied)

In one particular controversy in 2015 for her TV series “Under Control,” Naoum tackled substance abuse, something that was initially misunderstood by some viewers as an endorsement rather than a condemnation. As the series went on, however, the feedback began to change.

“And at the end, they were, like, thanking me because I made them think about this issue that people don't want to think about. Because of social standards in Egypt, people are really in total denial about what's happening to their kids. Something may be in the street, but it's in your house, but you don't know about it because you're putting your head in the sand. I had to fight these preconceptions and, in the end, I succeeded.”

Since Naoum is primarily focused on the issues that plague her society rather than pointing blame at anyone in particular, she often garners criticism from multiple sides, because everyone — from conservative to liberal — has truths they don’t want to face about themselves.

“Our society is very rich with characters and stories,” Naoum says. “And it is very controversial to dive into the fact that we have a lot of double standards in our society. So you have very traditional people that are doing things that we cannot imagine they would do, and you have people who you think are very liberal, but there are still very harmful or backward ideas inside their heads. We have all these differences and contradictions, but that gives us richness as characters. Even though it might be negative, it is richness nonetheless.”

Terry George is the award-winning writer and director who has worked on such classic films as “In the Name of the Father” (1993), “The Boxer” (1997), and “Hotel Rwanda” (2004). (AFP)

First and foremost though, Naoum writes with everyday people in mind, not only as her subjects but as her audience. Her work, including “Under Control” and 2019’s “Between Two Seas,” is written as accessibly as possible, in part to bridge the divide in prosperity and eductation between Egypt’s social classes.

“I want to help less-educated people feel that they, too, are part of society — that they are heard, that they are seen, and that we feel what they feel,” says Naoum.

If Naoum has evolved as a writer, it is in showing more compassion to her characters, especially the men.

“I think, with experience and maturity, I learned how not to pass judgment on characters,” she says. “Instead of hitting my head against a topic, I learned how to maneuver, without losing what I want to say or the stories I want to tell.”

To create something that can be watched by audiences across the world, Naoum is collaborating with George who has spent his entire career unafraid to talk about hot-button topics.

Understanding the layers to Raya and Sakina’s story has been another development of her own maturity. (Supplied)

“I started writing a Raya and Sakina story maybe three years ago, but then dropped it. Then this year I was contacted to co-write with Terry on the project. The universe seemed to make everything fall into place. When I spoke to Terry, I saw he had this new vision about how the story could be told, and I have been working with him to tackle it from different angles to add more layers to the subject than has been done before,” says Naoum.

Understanding the layers to Raya and Sakina’s story has been another development of her own maturity, as she understands that even those painted as evil by society actually have a more nuanced story that demands to be told.

“Once you have the experience, then you can you can dig in depth into all the components of these characters, and you can find a way to even look at these characters through a feminist lens. When I was young, it was a story about serial killers. Then when you have a deeper look, you start to see how they developed into what they became. No one is born as a killer. There was a journey that led to these murders. We are working on understanding what happened, and how Raya and Sakina became killers,” she explains.

For once, however, Naoum will be making something not just to hold a mirror back up to her own society. With “The Alexandria Killings,” as the show will be called, in what is planned to be a true-crime anthology series produced by Dubai-based company Yalla Yalla, she will have the opportunity to speak to the world about her home country.

“I will be working with Terry to help figure out what those misconceptions even are. And if foreigners are seeing us a certain way, maybe we can change this a bit. This is such a new experience for me. I'm looking forward for it,” she says. “It’s a huge challenge, but I think it's finally time to do it.”