Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Omar Sharif: At Home in Egypt He Says He Feels Familiar Warmth in Cairo after Years of Living Abroad

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Omar Sharif: At Home in Egypt He Says He Feels Familiar Warmth in Cairo after Years of Living Abroad

Article excerpt

`WHERE are you going?" asked the driver of my battered taxi as he negotiated the anarchic Cairo traffic between the pyramids and the center of town.

"To meet Omar Sharif," I said.

"Mr. Sharif? Mr. Omar Sharif?" he said, swerving alarmingly toward a bus in excitement. "But Mr. Sharif is the most famous Egyptian since Cleopatra."

He is also the most famous bridge player in the world, although it is films rather than cards that give him his status in Egypt. Before he was discovered by David Lean and found international fame in "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago," Sharif had already made 25 Egyptian films and married the country's most famous starlet. His popularity has not waned.

On the short journey between the Sheraton Hotel, where he lives, and his new half-built flat in smart Mohandesseen, everyone we meet nods, smiles, double-takes and shakes his hand. At dinner later, stiff-looking businessmen ask shiftily to take his photo while other diners find an excuse to troop past our table for a glimpse. And everyone from unused porters to loitering taxi drivers seems to expect a tip.

Sharif carries a separate pocket full of crisp new Egyptian notes to pay his way - his public expects it. He revels in the attention, joking in Arabic with the driver of his Mercedes, giggling in French with his son, Tarek, and housekeeper Pepita and flirting outrageously with every woman in sight.

Sharif has not always been so welcome in his home town. Under the Nasser regime he left, taking his family with him - fearful of reprisals for working with Jews in Hollywood. However, after 30 years of living in five star hotels (and their casinos), he has decided to settle permanently in Egypt.

He could have chosen Paris - where he rented a flat for several years close to his racehorses and his favorite bridge tournaments - but instead has opted for the chaos of modern Cairo.

Back at his suite he tells me why.

"I belong here in Egypt. I feel warmth. For many years, I felt I had lost my identity. I was a foreigner everywhere. When I came back to Cairo and saw childhood friends, it made me realize that I want to spend my last years here, I want an old man's routine, to sit and chat about the past with people who remember."

Sharif says he has always had the kind of logical mind essential for bridge: "It is a taste I have for working out puzzles - cards, bridge, maths. It is the same thing. Bridge like math is all about logic, but with bridge every two or three minutes, every time you deal the cards, you have a new puzzle."

Sharif first began to play on location for an Egyptian movie when he was about 22. He was no stranger to cards or the tempting glamour of casino life.

Sharif's mother, bankrolled by her rich timber merchant husband, played cards with King Farouk of Egypt and his set throughout Omar's childhood. …

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