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The prominent author: I do not write to serve regimes, I write to benefit my country

Wahid Hamed taking you behind the scenes of Al Gamaa II

Wednesday 31-05-2017 - 06:12 PM
Sherif Arif. Translated by: Al-Bawaba
Poster of the series
Poster of the series
Cairo - "A couple of years ago, I woke up to a phone call from Wahid Hamed.  He quickly asked me, “Do you know Jefferson Caffrey?” I answered, “Yes, he was the American ambassador during the July '56 revolution.” He said, “I want to know if he spoke Arabic or not? Take your time, and I will wait for your answer.”
I met him a few days later to inform him that Caffrey and the majority of the American embassy team spoke fluent Arabic. My curiosity as a journalist drove me to inquire why was he asking. He said that every scene in Al Gamaa II (second season) will be backed by facts rather than assumptions, even the dialogue will be backed up by historical documents.", said the Egyptian journalist Sherif Arif. 
(Al Gama'a (two seasons) is an Egyptian television drama series deals with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist political group, which was officially banned.)
This is the standard that the prominent, talented author and script writer Wahid Hamed has set for his grand endeavor Al Gamaa  II in which he documents the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood and their conspiracy against the homeland. 
Waheed Hamed. Photo
Waheed Hamed. Photo by: Scott Nelson
Wahid Hamed talks exclusively to Al Masry El Youm about Al Gamaa II, the TV series that is shrouded in mystery. Taking pictures is forbidden, and private visits are forbidden in the time remaining for this work of art to be complete.  

The prominent writer unveils some of the historically sound facts he checked which still cause controversy till this day. He also discusses how the stars of the series were chosen, the artistic challenges the series faced as well as the extent of his intervention in the drama series.
The table he sits at, in a famous hotel he has been frequenting for years is always littered with a variety of colored papers and pens. The variety of colors pleases him, and so does the variety of ideas and thoughts.
Hamed is known for his opposition of religious fundamentalism and is considered a staunch opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood. 
Wahid Hamed taking
Throughout the years, you have been labeled as a writer who is opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. How does the political scene affect you as a writer, especially when it comes to drama?
As a citizen, I like to live in a secular state.  The Muslim Brotherhood started as a religious group but by time, it shifted to becoming a religious and a political group and evolved to drag the country to what is called an ‘Islamic Caliphate’.  I am opposed to living in a country that contains conflicting movements, and the current situation in Egypt is very strange. We have the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, Sufis and Shias, all of them want to seize power, which is ridiculous. Every now and then, they come up with trends; the Salafis pray Fajr at the wrong time and we must rectify this, and others denounce the Minister of Endowments decision to ban loud speakers during prayers. How can a writer stay isolated from all this?  The empowerment of these movements, especially the Salafis will burn the country to the ground and I do not know why the state is passive towards the spread of Salafis who will destroy the fabric of Egyptian society and identity.  This passiveness will drag us into another world, far removed from the Egyptian identity we grew up in. It will drag us to a world very similar to that of ISIS.  

In his comments about Al Jamaa, part 1, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie stated that the light of God cannot be dimmed by a human, and that God will defend the Brotherhood against those who try to ruin its name. He also said that there is a team preparing  answers to whatever was shown in the series. What is your comment, and did any Muslim Brotherhood leader defend the Brotherhood against what the series showed?
The man was right, no human can dim the light of God and no human dares to do so. When I finished writing the first part, I candidly said that whoever does not like the series can take me to court. It is strange that they said there is a team preparing a documented answer to what I wrote because till this day, this did not happen and it will never happen because they do not have answers.  I never write anything that is not backed by documents, because documents and historical facts are the only truths, which will also be shown in part two of Al Jamaa. We will shut them up and they will not be able to answer because they cannot prove the opposite. The only thing I can guarantee, and my audience knows this well, is that I never talk nonsense. Everything is supported by documents and who ever can prove the opposite can take me to court. 

Why did you choose director Sherif El Bendary instead of Mohamed Yassin who directed the first part?
It is only because Yassin is working on another project.  Had he been free, I would have sought his help in directing part 2. By the way, I always seek his advice in matters related to part 2 and he is always willing to provide help when needed. 

Will changing the director affect the overall look of the series?
A director’s job is to fully understand the script and present it appropriately to the audience.  Any experienced director is well aware of this, so the project will be complete and harmonious. 

Wahid Hamed taking
Some say Bendary does not have enough experience with TV serials. What is your comment on that?
Art does not care about experience, as long as there is talent, perseverance and belief in what you are doing.  A young man who had graduated from the cinema institute a year ago can write a better script than I can, for example. 

You always deal with different generations of directors and artists, which is a point in your favor.  How do you discover new artistic talents?
I always see the previous work of whoever I deal with and so I build my opinion based on what I see, the strength of the project and the ways ideas are implemented. I have only seen one film directed by Sherif El Bendary and I was convinced of his talent.  I understand people through their work, which is what happened before with Sherif Arafa when I asked him to direct ‘Al Leib Maa El Kobar’ (Playing with the Big Shots) as I saw only one of his movies and I did not know him back then.  The same with Yassin, Tamer Mohsen and others.  When I called Sherif El Bendary for the first time, I did not even know what he looks like.  He was in Algeria back then and I told him I want to see him when he gets back.  

Will there be a part 3 of the series?
If I live that long, yes. 

Do you think a writer has the right to cast a certain actor for a role or is it the job of the director to do so?
Casting actors is the fundamental right of the director. I remember when we were preparing to shoot “Al Aaela” (The Family), I chose Mohsena Tawfik to play the role of the mother but she declined. Director Ismail Abdel Hafez, God rest his soul, chose Khayreyah Ahmed instead but I objected, even though I had been friends with her for years. But the role involved a lot of crying and she is a comedian in essence, so the role did not suit her. But Abdel Hafez told me to be patient and sure enough when we started shooting I was amazed by her performance. This goes to show that a director can have a point of view totally different from that of a writer.   

Does this mean that you cannot object or disagree, despite your experience?
I cannot enforce my will on any project, but I can only offer my opinion. 

Why do you always shroud your projects in secrecy?
You cannot say this because I do not like words that only serve to amplify the promotion of the project.  I let my projects be till they are judged by the audience. 

Are you worried that Al Jamaa 2 will not be watched because of all the other serials being aired at the same time?
Not at all, because good, strong projects always prove themselves. It is true that people tend to lean towards light drama or comedies but drama that is well constructed and sound is also needed.

For decades, we have lived a ‘dramatic history’ that served the regime. Such drama accuses certain people of things that, later on, have proven to be false. Who will write the genuine dramatic history of Egypt?
History, first and foremost must depend on reliable, documented and varied sources. It is the duty of the author to investigate each incident and look at it from different angles and verify it from different sources.  If the sources match, well and good but if sources vary then one must use reasoning.  One must stay true to history for we do not write to serve a regime, we write to serve a country and there is a huge difference between the two concepts.

Wahid Hamed taking
Which incident or scene necessitated the most research while writing Al Jamaa 2?
There is a very important scene between Abdel Nasser and Al Hodaiby.  Truth be told, both had a personal conflict that had lasted for years and so writers have a duty to investigate this conflict, especially that some of the witnesses of this conflict are still alive.  For the pleasure of the audience and to enrich the drama, one must do extensive research no matter how difficult this task proves to be. For instance, everyone knows that Abdel Nasser was a heavy smoker so I sought the help of his assistant, Samy Sharaf to ask him about the brand of cigarettes he used to smoke and indeed, we used the same brand in the series.  But, what pleased me was the willingness of actor Yasser El Masry, while we were shooting the scene of Abdel Nasser approving the death sentence on Sayed Qotb. Everyone on set, including me, were surprised that El Masry signed the exact same signature as Abdel Nasser did, which means that he took the initiative to train himself well.  We have to applaud actors who exert effort and research for themselves, even though they are not required to but still remain diligent. 

Are you worried about repeating the character of Abdel Nasser, who has been played by many actors of all ages and generations so much so that your series was faced with the obstacle of looking for a new Nasser?
We had the belief that we are not looking for an actor to play the role of Abdel Nasser, but rather an actor who can convey his spirit.  This has nothing to do with looks or makeup, but how to present a new aspect of Abdel Nasser that has never been presented before. We held meetings with a lot of actors until we stumbled upon Yasser El Masry who frankly had a strange request.

What was that request?
He asked to be given six months to study the character which is something I respected a lot. I told him that he is right. 

What was the outcome?
We postponed all scenes related to Abdel Nasser till he was done studying them. Once he was done, we started shooting. 

Some say there is no lead character in the series. How do you see this?
They are all leading characters who are in competition to make the series a success, leading actors such as, Sabrin, Makhyoun, Fahim and El Masry. Some characters play minor roles like Reyad El Khouly did in the first episode. But his role had a profound effect even though he did not appear in many scenes. 

During the past few years, drama that deals with certain historical periods of time has stirred a lot of controversy due to inaccuracies.  How do we protect history and its reproduction as well as the audience from such inaccuracies?
As a writer, I must strive to assure accuracy. Of course, there will be some mistakes regarding location because times change and locations change as well. For instance, the Revolution Command Council cannot by shot as it was by any means so we had to devise another location similar to it.  This is the effort that must be exerted.  The same happened in other drama series like ‘Harit el Yahood’ (The Jewish Alley), because the alley that was present half a century ago is not here today.  Buildings were demolished and we do not have a clear picture of what it used to look like so we had to imagine how it used to be as best we could.  

What about the accuracy of information?
History has a sanctity that must be respected, so we must refer to researches, each specialized in their field. For Al Jamaa 2, we sought the help of Dr. Hamada Hosni, the prominent historian because we cannot rewrite history according to what we see fit. 

Did you hint, in the series, that Mohamed Naguib had Brotherhood tendencies or did circumstances drive him to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood because he could not find any other way?
They recruited him.  Before I started writing I always used to wonder why Abdel Nasser dealt so violently with Mohamed Naguib. I always looked for an answer to this question.  But once I started my research, the truth started to come out little by little. I found out that Naguib knew about the conspiracies of the Muslim Brotherhood and their plot to assassinate Abdel Nasser in 1954.

Sometimes you seem to be depressed.  You stop writing and just watch from afar. What prompts this state and what gets you out of it?
Sometimes one grows cold. I always believed that one must dream big because when dreams come true they become small. I always dreamed of an Egypt that is different than what it is today. 

In what sense?
We are country that is recovering, like a patient who is afraid of undergoing surgery so he relies on pain killers instead. Unfortunately, the state of Egypt now urgently needs surgery. We must revive the culture of hard work and stand firmly in the face of the culture of begging, which is prevalent now.

What will part 2 of Al Jamaa uncover?
Several things, like that the inception and continuance of the Brotherhood was achieved with the blessing of the rulers. Had it not been for the ruler, the Brotherhood would have died a long time ago. Also, the Brotherhood resorting to violence is not a new concept about them, they are used to betrayal and do not respect promises or treaties.

How do you think the Muslim Brotherhood will perceive part 2 of Al Jamaa?
It will not be any different than how they perceived part 1, with an onslaught of curses and swears that will never come out of the mouth of anyone who knows the true meaning of Islam. They do not tolerate anyone who faces them with their crimes and conspiracies. They cannot even tolerate criticism, let alone anyone who documents their crimes. 

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