This week Egypt lost a remarkable figure — not only an icon of the screen but also of the left — who made vast contributions to the big and small screens as well as the stage.
Mohsena Tawfik — often referred to by the name with which the motherland is conventionally personified, Bahiya, also a role she played in the late, great Youssef Chahine’s Al-Asfour (The Sparrow, 1972) — died at the age of 80 late on Monday in Cairo after a struggle with illness.
Her funeral was held on Tuesday at the Sayeda Nafisa Mosque.
Born on 29 December 1939, Tawfik is well known for her collaboration with Chahine — on Adieu Bonaparte (1985) and Alexandria, Why? (1978) as well as The Sparrow.
In 1978 she took part in Atef Salem’s Al-Boasaa, a popular adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, alongside Farid Shawki, Youssef Wahbi and Adel Adham.
More recently she also took part in Samir Seif’s Deil Al-Samaka (Fish Tail, 2003), with a screenplay by Wahid Hamed, starring alongside Amr Waked, Hanan Tork, Abdel-Rahman Abu Zahra and Sawsan Badr. She starred in Aalamat April (April Signs, 1999), Ahmed Maher’s graduation project.
Through her career Tawfik was also strongly present in television drama and is perhaps even better known for her unforgettable roles as Anisa in Layali Al-Helmiya (Helmiya Nights, 1987) by screenwriter Osama Anwar Okasha and director Ismail Abdel-Hafez.
She also played the role of the political figure Safiya Zaghloul, the great statesman Saad Zaghloul’s wife and an activist in her own right, in director Inaam Mohamed Ali’s biographical television series Um Kolthoum (1999).
She also participated in Al-Shawarei Al-Khalfiya (Backstreets, 1979) and Al-Wesiya (The Will, 1990), but her most recent television appearance was in Al-Marsa wal Bahhar (The Dock and the Sailor, 2005), directed by Ahmed Sakr.
Tawfik was equally formidable as a stage actress, however. It was for the theatre that she was most loyal and in it she emerged as a luminous political and social as well as artistic figure.
She was a member of the National Theatre and participated in more than 30 plays including Afareet Masr Al-Gedida (Devils of Heliopolis), written by Ali Salem and directed by Abdel-Rahman Al-Sharkawi, Demaa ala Malabes Al-Sahra (Blood on Evening Clothes], based on a novel by the Spanish writer Franciso Javier de Balmis, Menein Agib Nas (Whence to Find People), Maasat Djamila (Djamila’s Tragedy, about the great Algerian militant Djamila Bouherid, 1962) directed by Abdel-Rahman Al-Sharkawi, Agamemnon (1966) and Al-Dokhan (The Smoke).
Tawfik is the sister of the late radio presenter Fadila Tawfik, better known as Abla Fadila — Egypt’s most recognisable storyteller’s voice, beloved by generations of children. She was married to Ahmed Khalil, who passed away in 2017, and is survived by the political activist Wael Khalil.
Her last appearance was in the third round of Aswan International Women’s Festival, where she was honoured at the opening ceremony.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Mohsena Tawfik (1939-2019) Good-bye, Bahiya