Saturday, October 10, 2020

Egyptian Faces : Remembering Ragaa

I have a confession.

When I first wrote about how Egyptian veteran actress Ragaa El-Gedawy was admitted to hospital and sent a voice message to her fans because she contracted coronavirus in the Daily COVID-19 Updates on the Blog, I felt that I was writing her obituary.

"The Kasr Al-Nil Model Ragaa El-Gedawy strikes a pose
"The Kasr Al-Nil Model Ragaa El-Gedawy
strikes a pose

This made so worried hoping that my feeling was wrong and the 81-years-old actress was going to make it but she did.

Miss Egypt or rather the Egyptian Province 1958 “Egypt was part of the United Arab Republic with Syria and there were two provinces then” lost her battle and passed away on 5 July 2020 after nearly a month or more in the country’s top coronavirus Abu Khalifa Hospital in Ismailia.

El-Gidawy was admitted to Abu Khalifa hospital on 24 May 2020 after her daughter Amira Mokhtar reached out to officials including the health minister when her mother’s health deteriorated and it turned out that she was coronavirus positive.

There is not clear when or how Ragaa El-Gedawy contracted coronavirus but days before she fell very ill, the veteran supporting actor wrapped filming a TV series in the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Despite the warnings, studios continued filming claiming that they could not delay or suspending shooting the TV series.

Photos from the last day of filming emerged online and even shared on Instagram by the popular actress, showing no masks nor social distancing.

Following the news of her illness, the TV series crew was quarantine but officially no one was tested positive for COVID-19.

Sometimes I feel it would have better for the producer to delay filming for a month or two till the peak of the virus was over in that stage.

FYI, that TV series did not enjoy high viewership this Ramadan.

Some say that she got while attending the memorial service of a late Saudi billionaire and Media tycoon Saleh Kamel. It was unofficial memorial service held at his wife and fellow actress Safaa Abu El-Seoud’s residence in Cairo.

Safaa Abu El-Soued and Ragaa El-Gedawy
Safaa Abu El-Soued and Ragaa El-Gedawy in 
a photo from the 1970s, they had been friends since then

How she got the virus is still officially a mystery. Can it be avoided !? As a Muslim, we believe it is God’s order and fate when it comes to the time of our death but it could have been avoided if we made it clear then that coronavirus was dangerous on senior citizens.

In fact, it is dangerous for all citizens and Islam made it clear when we have a pandemic. Part of me angry that this could be avoided if it were not producers

I think Ragaa El-Gedawy was actually one of the prominent public figures not only in Egypt or the Middle East but in Africa and the world to pass away because of this dangerous and horrifying virus.

Anyhow , it is never too late to celebrate late Ragaa El-Gedawy in Egyptian chronicles especially her career

Egypt’s first supermodel

All the news websites and TV shows focused on her as an actress and the woman who was known to be elegant across the Arab world something aspects in the life of this lady other than that. 

El-Gedawy was born in September 1934 in Ismailia as Najat Ali El-Gedawy “She would be connected to that governorate till her last day as it seems”.

She moved to Cairo with her little brother when her father divorced her mother. In the past, divorced women had very few financial rights to support her and her kids if she had any.

They lived with her aunt, the legendary multi-talented belly dancer/actor/activist Taheya Karioka who made sure her niece received the best education.

Little Najat went to a boarding Franciscan school where she taught how to speak English, French and Italian.

Tahya Karioka with Ragaa Soheir El-Bably and Saeed Abu Baker with  footballer Saleh Salim.
When legends met , Tahya Karioka with Ragaa
Soheir El-Bably and Saeed Abu Baker with 
footballer Saleh Salim. They were legends

She started her career as a translator in an advertising company before her life changed completely in the late 1950s.

I guess it was in 1956 or 1957 when Ragaa El-Gedawy started her modelling career at the famous and completely forgotten fashion house of Egypt’s Pioneer fashion designer Saleha Aflatoun “Inji Aflatoun’s mother” who was starting to train a generation of Egyptian fashion models after the departure of foreign fashion models in the 1950s.

ٍSaleha Aflatoun, the third from the left followed by Laila Shoeir then Ragaa
ٍSaleha Aflatoun, the third from the left followed by Laila Shoeir
then Ragaa 

El-Gedawy recounted how Saleha Aflatoun did not only train her and the other girls to be fashion models but also trained them on etiquette and how to be an Upper-class lady in a strict manner.

Ragaa on the right 
wearing Cairo traditional folk 
clothes then in the 1960s

As Aflatoun presented her first all-Egyptian-fashion-models catwalk show in that period. Her class did not present only Najat but also models like Madiha Hassan and Laila Shoeir. 

Ragaa, the second one from the left while Shoeir was looking
to the camera at the reception party at the
Egyptian embassy in Baghdad, Iraq after a fashion show 

Young Najat who had become Ragaa caught the attention of film directors as a young Egyptian beauty.  Despite her aunt’s rejection, El-Gedawy started a career in cinema.

In 1958, She was crowned as “Miss Egypt Province” aka “Miss Egypt”.  It was a busy year for her. 

When Ragaa became
"Cairo Brunette" 

In March 1958, she landed a small role in El-Siyad Bedair “Ghariba” starring young singer “Najat”. Here was the first time she appeared on screen 

Since her first debut on the cinema screen, Ragaa El-Gedawy had been always cast in a supporting role.

Her most famous supporting role in that time was in the 1960s-romantic comedy “A rumour of love” starring Omar Shariff and Soad Hosni. Shariff also remembered that the film as full of rookies including Hosni and El-Gedawy and himself as a comedian.

The only leading role or semi-leading role I remember for her was her role in 1970-romcom “Hardest Marriage”, it was more of an ensemble cast film type. She starred it with Mervat Amin and Mediha Kamel.

She was really hilarious and had that spark of a comedienne. 

El-Gedawy was oldest one of the three ladies when it comes to the business but for some reason, Kamel and Amin became icons in the 1970s and 1980s than her.

That reason I believe Ragaa El-Gedawy was focusing at the same time as a fashion model and a wife too.

In 1970 she married late famous Egyptian footballer Hassan Mokhtar. Mokhtar was also from Ismailia and he used to be the goalkeeper of both Egypt’s National team and Ismaili SC in its golden age.

Hassan and Ragaa in the 1970s

Mokhtar was younger than her with a couple of years but that did not stop the marriage for a single minute.

I loved how she used to speak about him and their first meeting as well as about how it was a marriage from the down to the top. She had one daughter from him, Amira. 

Ragaa and baby Amira in 1970s
Ragaa and baby Amira in 1970s

Unlike now both of them did not earn much and actually got married with few rooms, not a full house but they made one.

Ragaa and baby Amira
Ragaa and baby Amira 

I love also how they seemed to be a contrast but yet in the essence, they seemed so similar.

Ragaa El-Gidawy in Kitchen
Ragaa El-Gidawy in Kitchen

El-Gedawy stuck into both modelling and family during then with fewer cinema roles.

Ragaa El-Gedawy and Mediha Hassan in a late 1960s
photoshoot showing some Egyptian style dresses

And Ragaa El-Gedawy became the unchallenged queen of Egyptian catwalk and maybe the Arab catwalk before the Lebanese models started their era. 

Made with Visme Presentation Maker

She became a household name for real, the original supermodel that President Nasser praised her. 

Ragaa El-Gedawy and Salaha Aflatoun
Ragaa in a fashion show attended 
by Um Kalthoum who was a loyal 
customer to Saleha Alfatoun

Another photo with Thouma in colours. 

Ragaa and Thouma
Ragaa and Thouma 

Ragaa re-emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s back to TV soap opera world in the roles of the aristocrat lady role as she got older and she was not shy about it. 

She started in the 2000s in co-hosting TV shows especially with Amr Adeeb where they spoke about Women-Men relations.

Unlike her very politically active and outspoken aunt, El-Gedawy was more silent politically supporting the government and the president mostly.

Personally, I believe witnessing what her own outspoken aunt had gone through taught her a lesson for sure. Not all women got the strength of Taheya Karioka. 

Some will wonder what happened and why we do not have models again and the answer is simple, We do not have fashion houses or fashion designers like Saleha Alfatoun with my all due respect to the current time fashion designers or their fashionistas.

I love this photo session

This year witnessed the departure of very unique Egyptian stars and Ragaa El-Gedawy was one of those stars. 

Even in Mecca, she knew how to take a pose :)

May Allah bless her soul. 

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