Dramatic TV spy tale
Egyptian actor Sherif Mounir tells Hala Khalaf about new drama Al Zaibaq (Mercury), based on Egyptian Intelligence Service files, which not only packs in the suspense but sparkles with comic moments
Sher i f Mouni r is no stranger to Ramadan dramas. The Egyptian actor, who has a 30-year career in films and television under his belt, has appeared in his fair share of soap operas released in the holy month. The most recent was last year’s special effects-heavy Alf Leila Wa Leila ( One Thousand and One Nights) which helped to usher the fantasy genre into the drama-dominated Ramadan TV market. The show mixed fantasy and fiction, reviving the old folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age and telling the tale of Sultan Shahryar – played by Mounir – who slaughters women every day until he marries the This type of spy tale is different... It’s classy and it combines action, drama and even comedy Sherif Mounir actor, Al Zaibaq intelligent Scheherazade. This time around, the 58- year- old actor is starring in Al Zaibaq ( Mercury). Airing on Abu Dhabi TV (owned by Abu Dhabi Media which also publishes The National), Al Zaibaq is touted as a spy drama based on actual files from Egyptian Intelligence Service operations in the late 1990s.
“This project deals with an important part of our modern Egyptian history,” says Mounir. “And it presents the sizeable effort made by our Egyptian Intelligence. The main crux of the series is to showcase our special abilities, and I took great pride in presenting that to an Egyptian and Arab audience.”
Mounir says he was eager to be a part of an artistic project that he considers both unconventional and original. That said, spy dramas based on the work of the Egyptian Intelligence are a popular television theme. One of the most watched Arabic dramas of all time was the popular Rasfat El Haggan series of the 1980s, which tells the true story of Egyptian spy Refaat Al- Gammal, who spent 17 years undercover in Israel.
The show is largely believed to have begun the trend of Ramadan spy dramas. Of note, there is Al Suqoit Fi Bir Sabe’ (1994), based on a true story and starring Saeed Saleh and Essad Younis, who play the roles of a married couple recruited as spies by the Israelis after the 1967 Six-Day War. Then there is Agent 1,001 (2005) starring Egyptian actor Mustafa Shabaan, who also works undercover as a spy in Israel. Even comedian Adel Imam got in on the act. In 2012, he starred in the satirical series Naji Attallah’s Squad, in which he played the role of a former diplomat living in the Egyptian embassy in Israel.
Despite the formulaic plot of the Egyptian Intelligence duelling with the Israeli Mossad, Mounir insists Al Zaibaq can stand out from the pack.
“This type of spy tale is different than anything done before,” says Mounir.
“It’s classy and it combines action, drama and even comedy – unprecedented when it comes to spy tales. And it benefited from a large budget.”
Planning for the series began after Mounir and co-star Karim Abdel Aziz agreed to team up again following the success of their last spy drama, Welad Al Am ( The Cousins).
The 2009 film, which also goes by the working title Escaping Tel Aviv, tells the story of an Egyptian woman who discovers that her husband, played by Mounir, is a Mossad agent. “Abdel Aziz and I knew we wanted to tackle the same subject,” says Mounir.
“We decided to choose a true story based on the successes of the Egyptian Intelligence machine; something that is applicable and relevant to the tumultuous times we are currently living in our region.”
With numerous series outlines produced, Al Zaibaq was chosen for its rigorous research and good old-fashioned thrills.
“It was the strongest story and the most attention- grabbing,” says Mounir. “It was the one most guaranteed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.”
Al Zaibaq follows Omar, played by Abdel Aziz, a camera technician who is recruited by the Egyptian Intelligence Service for a mission that will take him across Europe and into Israel. The task involves him uncovering the traitorous doings of Egyptians working for Mossad.
Mounir is all cloak and dagger regarding his role. “I really can’t divulge too much, because my character’s story is meant to be a suspenseful surprise for the audience, especially in the first few episodes,” he says. “And preparing for the role was easy; I just had to dip into my love for my country.” Mounir will continue to be a stalwart in Ramadan soap operas; a 30-episode second season of Al Zaibaq is already in the works and will be released next Ramadan.
“Personally, I can’t wait to start filming the second season,” he says. “I really think people are going to love this show.”
Al Zaibaq is on Abu Dhabi TV at 10pm and on OSN Ya Hala Al Oula at 11pm daily.
Sherif Mounir stars in the Abu Dhabi TV spy drama Al Zaibaq, about a man recruited to expose Egyptians working for Israel’s Mossad.