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

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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.

Cour­tesy Abu Dhabi TV

Sherif Mounir stars in the Abu Dhabi TV spy drama Al Zaibaq, about a man re­cruited to ex­pose Egyp­tians work­ing for Is­rael’s Mos­sad.

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