Excelling in exile: Hiam Abbass’ road to success

Excelling in exile: Hiam Abbass’ road to success
Hiam Abbass at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards. (AFP)
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Updated 10 November 2023

Excelling in exile: Hiam Abbass’ road to success

Excelling in exile: Hiam Abbass’ road to success
  • The Palestinian actress discusses being in her daughter’s latest documentary, why she left her homeland, and her hopes for the future

DUBAI: For the first time in her life, the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass found herself uncomfortable in front of a camera. She wasn’t being asked to act. She was being asked to be herself. And the person doing the asking was her own daughter, Lina Soualem.

Soualem wanted her mother to open up. To reflect on her chosen exile and the ways in which the women of her family had influenced her life. Without her honesty and emotion, the intimate family portrait that Soualem had in mind would not be possible.

“When we started filming, I thought, ‘Do I really want to say this?’ And ‘Do I want to suddenly be exposed to people in a way where it’s not a character that I’m playing but it’s myself?’” recalls Abbass, the central figure in Soualem’s “Bye Bye Tiberias.”

Hiam Abbass (seated, right) sits with her mother Um Ali and her daughter Lina Soualem in the 1990s. (Supplied)

“There were times — in the beginning specifically — when I wasn’t very comfortable, and Lina wasn’t feeling comfortable. When she was asking me questions that I was answering as if I was sitting in front of a journalist,” she continues. “I was very factual and very thoughtful and she was looking for something more authentic: She wanted feelings. So I decided to let go and to trust her.”

That trust has paid off. “Bye Bye Tiberias” had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September and has already picked up awards at the BFI London Film Festival and Festival Cinemed in Montpellier.

Speaking before the Israel-Hamas war began, Abbass is candid about her life growing up in the Palestinian village of Deir Hanna. Although she was born into a family that was full of love, she found it difficult to express her artistic side. For years she kept her acting at the Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem a secret from her parents, and struggled to come to terms with the fact that decisions were being made for her.

Abbass with Ramy Youssef (C) and Amr Waked in “Ramy.” (Supplied)

“You suffocate,” she says. “You suffocate from everything that is imposed on you. And don’t forget the political conflict and all the wars that we had to go through. This whole double identity: Who do you belong to, knowing that you are Palestinian, but you are a Palestinian in Israel?” The Nakba scattered her family. Her maternal aunt, Hosnieh, became a refugee in Syria and was not allowed to return. The family of her paternal grandmother ended up in Lebanon. Others, too, were torn from Palestine.

“Because I was born in Israel, I couldn’t get to any of these people. My grandma died with no contact with anybody from her family. She was the only person from her family that stayed in Palestine. Being born in this context, and having to prove to people all the time that you are Palestinian… You’re not even allowed to use the word. You cannot say ‘Palestine.’ At seven years old, during the ’67 war, I didn’t understand anything — ‘Who is fighting who? What’s going on? Who do we belong to?’ All of these are such early questions in the mind of a kid, but they stay with you,” she says.

“Being in the middle of all these Arab countries — living in this country that is the enemy of all the countries around you — is a heavy thing. And I couldn’t stand it. At one stage, I really couldn’t stand it… I felt that my place had to be somewhere else, or at least the oxygen that I was supposed to breathe was supposed to be different. I needed a different oxygen… just to be able to build something for myself in my career, in my way of being, in what I wanted to do in my life, without having to give any justification to anybody.”

Abbass (L) in 2002’s “Satin Rouge.” (Supplied)

So, in her early twenties, Abbass left Deir Hanna to follow her dream of becoming an actress in Europe. She eventually settled in Paris, married the French actor Zinedine Soualem (they have since divorced), and had two daughters, Lina and Mouna. Both have followed her into the film industry.

“Everything really came in steps,” says Abbass. “I never rushed the system. I just wanted to savor every minute of the decision that I had made, because it was my own choice. I just was happy being abroad, not working for a while, then happy being a mother and not necessarily an actress. So it felt like I gave time to everything and I have no regrets whatsoever about all these decisions that I made. And my career just came with it. I wasn’t greedy about anything. It built itself up in a kind of very authentic, natural way.”

Her first films were Rashid Masharawi’s “Haifa” and Cédric Klapisch’s “When the Cat’s Away,” both released in 1996. However, it was Raja Amari’s “Satin Rouge” that proved to be a pivotal moment in her career. Released in 2002, Abbass’ portrayal of a Tunisian widow who becomes a cabaret dancer was a “decision with no return.”

Abbass (center) with her “Succession” castmates Sarah Snook (L) and J Smith-Cameron in 2017. (AFP)

“When I said yes [to ‘Satin Rouge’] I thought, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this really something I can hold on my shoulders after, because it’s not easy?’ And then I knew that I had to make a decision. It’s either I am an actress, or I am not. So, if I’m an actress, I go and I do it. And if I’m not, it means I stop now and I will never be one. So it was the turning point for me in that I knew by doing this there were people that would be hurt, people that wouldn’t like it, people that would think I’m not who I am — who would disrespect me. But it was the most important choice I made. That movie was a life- and a career-changer for me.”

She would go on to star in films including Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” as well as HBO’s “Succession” and Hulu’s “Ramy.” The latter two shows, in particular, have brought her international acclaim. And yet, despite her worldwide fame, much of Abbass’ work has centered on Arab cinema. She has played Syrians and Tunisians, appeared in Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated “Paradise Now,” and starred in Arab and Tarzan Nasser’s “Dégradé,” which was set in a hair salon in Gaza.

“Every offer I’ve had from Palestine I said yes to, because it’s very important for me,” says Abbass, who is due to star in Annemarie Jacir’s upcoming film, “All Before You.” She was also artistic producer on “Egyptian Cigarettes,” the second episode in the third season of “Ramy,” which was directed by Jacir and set in Palestine.

Now that “Succession” has ended and “Ramy” is likely to end after its fourth season, Abbass is looking to the future, which she hopes will include Ramy Youssef, the Egyptian-American actor and creator of “Ramy,” who gave Abbass the opportunity to direct an episode of season three.

“I would love to develop stories with him and work with him again,” says Abbass of Youssef. “I have a feeling that the older I get, the more I want to do projects that connect the two cultures I’m involved in. We are who we are because we come from these places, with our culture, with whatever we carried, with whatever we inherited. And, at the same time, we’re living in Europe and we’re living in an influential Western world. Through cinema or TV, I would like these two worlds to meld together and to become one identity. Maybe there is this thing in me that is stronger than ever: To create this melting pot in cinema, where the two worlds can become one.”

And then there’s “Bye Bye Tiberias.” For Abbass, its importance lies in the documentation of a collective memory that is vanishing — something that she is grateful to her daughter for capturing. “I think it’s important to immortalize their struggle,” she says. “Someone like my grandma, she fed me her story, she fed me her beauty, she fed me her love for life, she fed me her smile… It’s nice to know that she’s eternal now.”

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
Updated 01 March 2024

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities
  • This year is 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries
  • Mayor: Brazil seeks to ‘strengthen commercial, cultural, friendship relations’ with Arab states

SAO PAULO: Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Petra in Jordan officially became sister cities this week.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Foz do Iguacu’s Mayor Chico Brasileiro and Maen Masadeh, Jordan’s ambassador to Brazil.
The ceremony took place at the Palacio Cataratas, the city hall headquarters in Foz do Iguacu.
The MoU consolidates a partnership that promises to strengthen cooperation in various areas such as culture, local economic development, public services and social policies.
“In 2024, we celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Jordan, and signing this document … means that we (Foz do Iguacu and Petra) are aligned with foreign policy,” Masadeh said.
The process began in 2018 when the Foz do Iguacu city hall expressed its interest in establishing ties with Petra, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Wonders of the World.
Foz do Iguacu has one of the seven Natural Wonders, the Iguacu Falls, and one of the Wonders of the World, the Itaipu Dam.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Brasileiro said at the signing ceremony. “This is a strategy of Brazil, to … strengthen its commercial, cultural and friendship relations with Arab countries.”
The first concrete step toward implementing the MoU took place on Thursday with the opening of the exhibition “City of Petra, Jordan” at the Cultural Foundation in Foz do Iguacu.
The free exhibition, which will continue until the end of March, portrays the historical and archaeological richness of Petra in southern Jordan, with stunning images, authentic artifacts and detailed information.
“The presence of this exhibition in our city is not only a celebration of the history and beauty of Petra, but also a bridge that connects our communities in a special way,” said Juca Rodrigues, president of the foundation.
“Cultural diversity is a treasure that should be shared and appreciated by all, and this exhibition is a crucial step in that direction.”
Jihad Abu Ali, director of international affairs in Foz do Iguacu, said: “This is a moment of joy and fulfillment, as we see the materialization of the fruit of a collective effort to promote cultural understanding and friendship between our communities.”

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’
Updated 01 March 2024

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of AlUla is launching its first-ever global marketing campaign.

Revealed on Feb. 29 with launch events in six major international cities — Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Mumbai — “Forever Revitalizing” is being described as a “data-driven endeavor” that aims to redefine tourism in the region.

Melanie D’Souza, executive director of destination marketing at The Royal Commission for AlUla, described the new brand campaign as a “transformative moment” for AlUla as it looks beyond the historic site’s travel potential to spotlight the programs and initiatives designed to “create a better future for all those who live, work and visit our ancient oasis.

“This initiative redefines AlUla as more than just a travel destination by emphasizing its profound heritage, breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, presenting a holistic view that transcends the conventional,” she told Arab News in an email interview.

As AlUla’s first-ever global marketing campaign, “Forever Revitalizing” has been launched with the goal of transforming the city into a world-renowned heritage and cultural destination.

“At its core, ‘Forever Revitalising’ aims to drive visitor numbers and spur economic prosperity by showcasing AlUla’s comprehensive revitalization efforts. From ecological restoration projects within nature reserves to the rejuvenation of age-old crafts and traditions, and the advancement of local skills and cultural enrichment, the campaign positions AlUla as a pioneering figure in the creation of an experience-driven economy,” said D’Souza.

AlUla Old Town. (Supplied)

The new campaign coincides with a significant increase in visitor numbers to AlUla, rising from 185,000 in 2022 to 263,000 last year, she added.

Additionally, the share of international visitors increased from 25 percent to 35 percent, reflecting the destination’s growing global appeal.

“This aligns with AlUla’s strategic vision for ‘light touch tourism,’ aiming to attract 1.1 million visitors by 2030, while steadfastly maintaining its commitment to sustainability and preserving the destination’s integrity,” she said.

Hegra AlUla. (Supplied)

The campaign is specifically targeting four kinds of travelers: The luxe seeker, wanderlust nomad, intrepid voyager, and affluent and active retirees. This highlights AlUla’s amibition to remain a luxury destination.

“Modern tourists, increasingly disillusioned with overcrowded and inauthentic destinations, seek authentic, meaningful connections. They prefer destinations that offer a genuine sense of place, sustainability and social responsibility — qualities that AlUla has been promoting since opening its doors to the world three years ago,” said D’Souza.

The recently opened Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town is a promising new addition to the area, D’Souza said.

The hotel was designed by Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy.

Fahmy, who was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla, and her team restored 30 buildings in the historical village. They turned multiple old two-story mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  

The architect previously told Arab News that the early inhabitants in the city used the ground floor as a workplace and to meet with family and friends, while the first floor was for bedrooms and bathrooms.  

People who lived in the city 800 years ago whitewashed the interior walls and adorned them with red and blue murals, Fahmy said. Her team managed to preserve the existing designs in collaboration with the archaeological team. 

Banyan Tree Resort AlUla Canyon Pool. (Supplied)

“This boutique hotel revitalizes the ancient mud-brick structures of Old Town, which was continuously inhabited since the 12th century until the 1980s. It stands out for its commitment to cultural preservation, employing local artisans for restoration efforts and showcasing the area’s rich heritage through traditional decor, furniture and artistic treatments, complemented by storytelling elements that bring the intangible heritage of the area to life,” she added.

Looking ahead, three new luxury hotels are all set to open in AlUla.

“The Sharaan Resort by Jean Nouvel, inspired by ancient Nabataean architecture, promises to blend seamlessly with the Sharaan Nature Reserve’s landscape, embodying innovative design while respecting the environment,” said D’Souza.

“The Chedi Hegra is another milestone, positioned within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. Opening in mid-2024, it will offer guests unparalleled access to the historic site, featuring guest rooms with views of Hegra’s monumental landscape, an International Summit Center, hospitality pavilions and private villas,” she added.

In 2027, AlUla will welcome the AZULIK AlUla Resort. “This project, a collaboration between AZULIK and Roth Architecture, will be located in the Nabatean Horizon District, integrating design elements that highlight ancient rock art, utilize natural waterways for irrigation and promote eco-friendly transport to minimize environmental impact,” said D’Souza.

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
Updated 01 March 2024

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
  • Creations of 30 regional and international designers will be available until the end of April

DUBAI: British luxury e-tail platform Farfetch has unveiled a modest-wear fashion campaign for Ramadan by 30 regional and international designers, which will be available until the end of April.

Beyond ready-to-wear garments, the exclusive collections also have fine jewelry, footwear and homeware.

The participating labels include Dubai-based brands Bambah, Baruni and Dina Melwani, Italian label Brunello Cucinelli, Swiss jewelry brand Chopard, South African British label De Beers, Lebanese brands Jean Louis Sabaji, Saiid Kobeisy and Rayane Bacha, Italian fashion house Missoni, Turkish label Les Ottomans, British label Malone, Budapest-based fashion house Nanushka, Amsterdam-based brand Polspotten, Australian label Rachel Gilbert, New York-based Sachin & Babi, Emirati label Shatha Essa and British brand Yoko London.

Gaby Charbachy, Isabel Marant. (Supplied)

From impeccably tailored suits to striking kaftans, modest evening dresses to luxurious loungewear, the collections cater to various tastes and occasions, with a focus on the social aspect of the month of Ramadan.

Egyptian designer Maha Abdul Rasheed, founder of Bambah, told Arab News: “We are so proud to be partnering with Farfetch once again for this year’s modest-wear campaign. The marketplace business model is diverse, efficient and helps us work at a sustainable pace.”

Bambah. (Supplied)

“The platform itself is also very technologically advanced which helps us streamline operations and logistics in a timely manner,” she added.

From glamorous evening gowns adorned with elaborate embellishments to chic separates with a modern twist, Bambah ensembles work well for a formal sahoor gathering.

Shatha Essa. (Supplied)

Emirati designer Essa said the inspiration for her capsule collection “draws from the intricate interplay of nature’s subtleties, reimagined through an abstract lens, emphasizing the brand’s commitment to innovation and luxury.”

She added that Farfetch has been “a gate to the world for Shatha Essa.”

“(It is) an invaluable platform to showcase our collections,” the Dubai-based contemporary womenswear expert told Arab News. “The platform has significantly amplified our reach, enabling our unique and traditional designs to touch a wider, discerning audience.”

Essa’s collections often feature luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery and embellishments. Whether it is a flowing abaya, a structured blazer, or a statement dress, Essa’s designs blend traditional elements with contemporary silhouettes.

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections
Updated 01 March 2024

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

DUBAI: Sixteen Saudi fashion designers are showing off their latest collections at an international wholesale exhibition during Paris Fashion Week.

The Saudi 100 Brands showcase, which runs until March 2, is an initiative spearheaded by the Saudi Fashion Commission and aims to position Saudi designers and brands within the global fashion landscape.

Karen Wazen at the showcase. (Supplied)

This season’s presentation features all-women-owned and led brands.

The festivities are taking place at the historic Les Cordeliers, coinciding with the women’s segment of Paris Fashion Week.

The participating brands include The Dropped Collection. (Supplied)

“The event includes fashion shows and celebratory gatherings, highlighting the cultural richness and creative prowess of Saudi fashion,” a statement from the Saudi Fashion Commission read.

The participating designers include Mona Alshebil, Apoa, Ashwaq Almarshad, Chador, Charmaleena, Dazluq, Kaf by Kaf, Mashael Al-Faris, MD29, Abadia, Pavone, RMRM, Samar Nasraldin, The Dropped Collection, Yasmina Q and Yataghan Jewellery.

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand
Updated 01 March 2024

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez is starring in another campaign for Arab brand Amara Lenses, whose products are available in the Gulf region.

In the short clip, posted on the brand’s Instagram page on Thursday, the Netflix star was spotted sporting the company’s brown and grey lenses.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

In one shot, she was seen wearing face accessories inspired by the Gulf region’s burqa.  

“Introducing our latest collection in collaboration with Georgina Rodriguez,” the brand captioned the post on Instagram.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Rodriguez, who is now based in Saudi Arabia with her partner Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and their children, was named the brand ambassador in March 2023.

“I’m so happy to be the face of Amara Lenses and it’s been wonderful to work with you,” she said in a video shared on the brand’s Instagram page at the time.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Amara Lenses has previously collaborated with regional influencers including Saudi Arabian makeup artist Shouq Artist, Kuwaiti fashion blogger Fouz Al-Fahad, Bahraini content creator Zainab Al-Alwan, Kuwaiti influencer Fatima Al-Momen, and Egyptian actress Nour Ghandou.

The Arab brand sells lenses in various shades of grey, brown, green and blue.