US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
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Updated 17 April 2021

US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images

DUBAI: US actress Yara Shahidi is developing a new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions. The part-Middle Eastern 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,” alongside her mother and business partner Keri Shahidi and Brown for ABC Signature.

“Honored to bring @coletdbrown’s incredible & nuanced telling of our stories as brown folx onto screens w/ my PARTNER IN CRIME @chocolatemommyluv! (sic)” wrote the 21-year-old on Instagram, alongside a screenshot of a Deadline article announcing the news of the series.

“The work of displaying and celebrating the ENTIRE spectrum of our humanity continues to feel more prescient (sic),” she added.

Published in 2020, “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” is a first-hand account of what it’s like to navigate life in America as a mixed-race adolescent. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author.

According to the author, the book is heavily inspired by an essay he wrote in college.

“What a dream come true this is!” exclaimed Cole on Instagram. “It still astounds me to think that what began as a college essay a few years ago has made it all the way to ABC. No duo I’d rather work with to bring Greyboy to life than @yarashahidi & @chocolatemommyluv. Let’s get to work! (sic),” the author posted on social media.

Back in September, Shahidi took to social media to praise Cole’s debut book, writing that “his honest reflections on the way in which racial identity takes shape and shape-shifts through his own experiences feels intimate, and yet taps in to the common experience of moving through space as a black and brown person.” She added that “It’s been a must-read in our household!”

“Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” isn’t the only project that the “Grown-ish” star is currently working on. 

The US-Iranian actress and activist is also producing a new single-camera comedy series, titled “Smoakland,” for Freeform via her production company 7th Sun.

The rising star and her mother announced the launch of their new production company in July and signed an exclusive overall deal with ABC Studios which will see them develop television projects for streaming, cable and broadcast platforms.


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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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 film

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film
Updated 07 May 2021

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

Screenwriter Mariam Naoum works with acclaimed Irish filmmaker on Egyptian serial killer film
  • 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 film 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.”


THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss
Updated 07 May 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi painter Nasser Almulhim discusses artwork inspired by loss
  • The Saudi painter, who made his debut at Art Dubai this year, discusses his artwork ‘Bright Pink Chasing The Blue Line’

DUBAI: This piece is so personal. It means a lot to me. I painted it recently, after my brother-in-law passed away. I usually treat art as therapy. The reason why I paint is to release this hidden energy within the soul  — the chaos within me. It’s a way of letting go of certain memories.

‘Bright Pink Chasing The Blue Line,’ Nasser Almulhim, 2021. (Supplied)

The first thing I did was to stretch a large canvas. I wanted to represent the beautiful memories between me and my brother-in-law and reflect what I’ve learned from his wisdom, brightness, and the love that he showed to his family. I even asked my young nephew Aziz to help me with this painting and to add his touches to the canvas to honor his father. There are flowers on the right side with funny childish colors. It was my nephew who painted them.

A lot of my paintings are pure abstract. I got influenced studying abroad in the United States, specifically by the New York school from back in the Sixties and Seventies — artists like Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Recently, I’ve been trying to add a sense of life to my painting through items that I see at my house, my mother’s and my grandmother’s house. It’s nostalgic, bringing certain memories into the present moment. I wanted to make it as happy as I could by using bright colors that represent my inner soul.

Almulhim said the reason why he gives random titles to his paintings is because he wants the audience to question and react. (Supplied)

My brother-in-law, who lived in London, was into nature, health, antiques and vintage stuff. So that’s why I added a watermelon and vases. It adds part of his soul to this painting. I study the painting before I paint, but for this work, it felt more real; organic and raw. When I finished it, I felt alive.

The reason why I give random titles to my paintings is because I want the audience to question and react. When I finished the painting, I saw that most of the colors were pink, and I saw this blue line in the corner. I wanted to relate my soul and my brother-in-law’s soul. It’s like I’m chasing his brightness, his soul, to catch it if I can.


Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners
Updated 07 May 2021

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners

Maldives’ Ozen Reserve Bolifushi: Not just for honeymooners
  • Proof that the Maldives can do family-friendly getaways… and do them well

MALDIVES: There was a time when the Maldives was considered out of reach for the majority of us non-celeb types — reserved mostly for newlyweds who had been saving up for an exclusive and secluded honeymoon. But as social media took hold over the years, and flying became more accessible, the nation’s cluster of islands started to attract a more diverse set of travellers; from the young and budget-conscious to the family-fun seekers.

The recently launched Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is proof that the Maldives can offer an excellent family-friendly getaway.

Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is proof that the Maldives can offer an excellent family-friendly getaway. (Supplied)

Formerly the Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives, this luxury five-star resort was taken over by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts late last year and has since gone on to receive a high volume of bookings from the GCC. While travel restrictions haven’t eased in all areas, the Maldives has proven to be a popular choice with travellers based in the region due to the short-haul flights and strict safety precautions. For example, once on their hotel’s island, guests are not allowed to “hop” to other islands, and can only take a flight back home after testing negative.

But when you’re staying somewhere as beautiful as the Ozen Reserve, who needs to sail off to a neighbouring location?

The resort presents a special “floating” breakfast.  (Supplied)

Situated in South Male Atoll, the luxury resort is a quick catamaran trip from Velana International – staff are on hand to pick you up from the airport before taking you to a private lounge while luggage is loaded onto the boat. A 20-minute journey later, and you’re greeted at the resort with a traditional Maldivian welcome and water from a freshly-cut coconut.

So, what makes this a family-friendly resort, you ask? Well, the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi offers what they call an all-encompassing “Reserve” plan, meaning that almost everything is included in the price — from breakfast, lunch and dinner and all food and drink in your villa, to spa treatments, personal training sessions at the gym, and selected water sports.

What’s more, the resort is home to an open-air ice rink and the Kuda Koli Kids Klub. Judging by how much fun a couple of younger guests in our group were having, the club is without a doubt a winning attraction.

All the water villas at the resort offer direct access to the Indian Ocean. (Supplied)

This is not one of those resorts where you just end up lying around doing nothing (although, obviously, that’s an option). There are plenty of opportunities to get active and social. Guests can make use of a beautiful swimming pool in the middle of the resort, close to an all-day lounge, Ozar, that serves snacks and drinks and has a snooker table. Meanwhile, each villa has its own bikes parked outside for riding around the resort, and the gym offers 360-degree views of the beach.

Should you want to ramp up your activity level, there’s the chance to bring some watersports right to your villa’s doorstep. All the water villas at the resort offer direct access to the Indian Ocean (via a water slide, if you like). A spot of snorkelling is perfect in the morning but for those not keen on salt-water swimming, a private pool is also available.

Formerly the Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives, this luxury five-star resort was taken over by Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts late last year. (Supplied)

Inside our water villa was a large double bedroom with separate seating area and en suite bathroom. Outside on the deck was a lounge area, with stairs leading to the water.

On our first morning, we were offered something a little quirky for breakfast. Rather than making our way to the all-day dining Vista Del Mar, we were presented with a special “floating” breakfast. A tray is set up in the private pool, on the water, with a delicious spread of breads, mezze, sushi, salmon and more laid out and left for you. This is definitely one that’s more for the photos than for convenience, as you’re essentially having a bite whilst standing up in the swimming pool. Plus, direct sunlight on sushi is probably not the best idea. Still, it was definitely a novel experience.

Sangu Beach serves up Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. (Supplied)

Among the resort’s other dining options, Origine is the place for seafood lovers, while Sangu Beach serves up Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Our favourite, however, was Tradition Saffron, where we sampled a delightful Indian thali.

While we managed to fit a lot into our short stay, the 48 hours we were there flew by and before we knew it, it was time to fly back. Given its distance from the airport, high-quality service, and the fact that guests can pay a single rate for everything, the Ozen Reserve Bolifushi is definitely one we’d recommend — especially if travelling as a family or a small group of friends.


Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s
Updated 06 May 2021

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

DUBAI: Rare highlights from Middle Eastern history, including a 1791 engraving showing a panoramic view of Makkah, will feature in auction house Sotheby’s travel, atlases, maps and natural history online sale.  

The 430 x 865 mm engraving — the largest of its kind produced at the time — depicts pilgrims from as far as the mountain of Arafat arriving for the Hajj, charting their journey into the holy city. 

The remarkable print has long been considered unobtainable, with only a few copies believed to have survived a fire in Pera in Istanbul in 1791. The engraving is estimated at £12,000-£18,000 ($16,700-$25,000). 

It was commissioned by the diplomat Ignace de Mouradja d’Ohsson, who had earlier published a grand account of the Ottoman empire from 1787-1790.

Other images of Makkah and Madinah are being auctioned at the Sotheby’s sale, which will end on May 13. 

Lot 105, Mecca and Medina  Two watercolour and gouache views, India, c.1840. (Supplied)

Another rare bidding is a photo book by French writer and photographer Maxime Du Camp, “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie,” which features 112 images of Egypt, six of Jerusalem and seven of Baalbek.

The photographer, the son of a successful surgeon, traveled to Egypt in November 1849 at the age of 27 with his friend novelist Gustave Flaubert. Each longed to explore the Middle East and secured government commissions to fulfil their ambitions. 

Lot 93, Maxime Du Camp Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins Photographiques. Paris, 1852. (Supplied)

During his trip, Du Camp took more than 200 photographs of about 60 different monuments and sites. Out of those, 125 were selected for publication, resulting in the present work, which was the first French book to be illustrated entirely with photographs. 

Another work reflecting the Arab world is an album of 144 photographs of scenes in and around Cairo in 1907 and 1908. 

The photographs include images of Sir Eldon Gorst (British consul-general to Egypt, 1907-11), Winston Churchill in Cairo, the ceremony of the Kiswah, and the funeral of Mustafa Kamil Pasha. 

The online auction is also presenting works featuring Saudi Arabia, Palestine and other countries in the region.