Ragaa Al-Geddawy passed away at the age of 86 in the small hours of Sunday. By the first day of Eid she had been admitted to the Abu-Khalifa Isolation hospital in Ismailia – her birthplace – after it became clear she had Covid-19, which she seems to have contracted while shooting the Ramadan TV series Loabat Al-Nessiyan (Game of Oblivion). She spent 43 days in hospital battling the virus.
As well as being a beloved socialite, Ragaa Al-Geddawy was one of the most talented actresses in the history of the Egyptian cinema. After starting out as a fashion model, her career lasted nearly six decades.
Al-Geddawy was born in 1934 in Ismailia as Nagat Ali Hassan Al-Geddawy. Together with her elder brother Farouk, she came to Cairo to live with her aunt, the late epic belly dancer and actress Tahia Kariouka, after their parents’ divorce. Al-Geddawy enrolled in the Franciscan Sisters Boarding School in Cairo, where she learned French and Italian at an early age and worked as an interpreter at an advertising company.
Beauty pageants were numerous at the time and Al-Geddawy won the Miss Cotton contest, one of the most important, in 1958. She consequently started a modelling career, becoming a regular on the gangway and appearing on the covers of such wide-circulation magazines as Hawwaa. She also became Miss Mediterranean, awarded the Cairene Brunette ceremonial scarf at the Andalusia Gardens. It was at that time that her bearing and beauty caught the eye of film industry professionals.
Her debut appearance on screen was in Ahmed Badrakhan’s Ghariba (Stranger, 1958), starring Nagat Al-Saghera, Ahmed Mazhar and Ahmed Ramzi. But her first memorable role was in Henry Barakat’s Doaa Al-Karawan (The Nightingale’s Prayer, 1959), based on Taha Hussein’s novel, in which she acted opposite the late Faten Hamama and Ahmed Mazhar, playing the role of Khadiga.
From then on, Al-Geddawy acted opposite nearly every Egyptian actor, including – as well as the younger generation – such legendary figures as Omar Sharif, Youssef Wahbi, Soad Hosny, Ahmed Zaki, Fouad Al-Mohandes, Ahmed Mazhar, Shadia and Adel Imam, working with Imam on stage as well.
A year after her appearance in The Nightingale’s Prayer, Al-Geddawy took part in the unforgettable classic Eshaet Hob (A Love Rumor, 1960), directed by Fatin Abdel-Wahab and starring Soad Hosny, Omar Sharif, Hind Rostom (playing herself) and Youssef Wahbi. She played a hip young woman who rejects the advances of Hussein (Omar Sharif) for being uncool only to fall for him when a rumour spreads that he used to be Hind Rostom’s boyfriend.
In the 1960s she took part in no end of films: Al-Doa Al-Khafit (The Fading Light, 1961), starring Ahmed Mazhar and Soad Hosny and directed by Fatin Abdel-Wahab; and Al-Qahira fil Leil (Cairo at Night, 1963), starring Shadia, Nagat Al-Saghera, Nadia Lotfy, Fouad Al-Mohandes and directed by Mohamed Salem. In 1967 she took part in another comedy by Fatin Abdel-Wahab, Karamet Zawgaty (My Wife’s Dignity), starring Shadia, Salah Zulfikar, Adel Imam and George Sidhom.
Her 1980s highlights included a role in Mohamed Khan’s remarkable film Maweid Ala Al-Ashaa (A Dinner Appointment, 1981), starring Soad Hosny, Ahmed Zaki and Hussein Fahmy, Zouzou Madi and Khairy Beshara. In 1982 she worked with the late Youssef Chahine in Hadouta Masriya (An Egyptian Story), starring Nour Al-Sherif, Youssra, Mahmoud Al-Meligi, Mohamed Mounir, Soheir Al-Babli, Magda Al-Khatib and Mohsen Moheiddin.
In 1987 she played a much bigger role with Fouad Al-Mohandes and Ahmed Zaki in Al-Beih Al-Bawab (His Excellency the Doorman): Gamalat, the wife of Farahat (Al-Mohandes), a hard-up retired civil servant with three children forced to watch while the Upper Egyptian doorman (Zaki) becomes a real estate tycoon.
She joined forces again with Imam in Mohamed Abdel-Aziz’s Hanafi Al-Obaha (Hanafi the Great, 1990) starring alongside Farouk Al-Fishawi and Mustafa Metwalli.
After the millennium she worked with the younger generation, appearing in film such as Sandra Nashaat’s Lih Khaletny Ahebak (Why Did You Make Me Love You?), starring Karim Abdel-Aziz, Mona Zaki, Hala Shiha and Ahmed Helmy, Tarek Al-Eryan’s Al-Sellem wal Thoban (Snakes and Ladders, 2001), Hani Khalifa’s Sahar Al-Layali (Late Nights, 2003), starring Mona Zaki, Hanan Turk, Sherif Mounir, Fathi Abdel-Wahab, Khaled Abul-Naga and Gihan Fadel, and Khaled Marei’s Taymour wi Shafika (Taymour & Shafika, 2007) with Mona Zaki and Ahmed Al-Sakka.
All the while she starred alongside Adel Imam, appearing in Amir Al-Dhallam (Prince of the Dark, 2002), directed by Rami Imam, Al-Tagrouba Al-Denmarkiya (The Danish Experience, 2003), directed by Ali Idris, and Bobbous (2009), directed by Wael Ihsan.
She also worked with Imam on stage comedies such as Al-Wad Sayed Al-Shaghal (Sayed the Servant), directed by Hussein Kamal – starting in 1985, it ran for eight years – alongside Omar Al-Hariri, Mustafa Metwalli, Mushira Ismail, Farouk Falawkas and Youssef Dawoud. Another Imam stage hit in which she appeared was Al-Zaim (The Leader), directed by Sherif Arafa, starring with Ahmed Rateb, Mustafa Metwalli and Manal Salama.
Al-Geddawy also participated in a large number of TV series like Al-Cinderella (The Cinderella, 2006), with Mona Zaki, the sitcom Tamer wi Shawkiya (2006), and Qadiyet Raai Aam (A Public Opinion Case, 2007) with Youssra and, more recently, again with Adel Imam in Awalem Khafiya (Hidden Worlds, 2018), directed by Rami Imam. In addition she appeared as a radio and television host, notably with Amr Adib for a regular phone-in feature entitled Esaalo Ragaa (Ask Ragaa).
Al-Geddawy married Al-Ismaili goalkeeper Hassan Mokhtar, who died in 2016. She is survived by one daughter, Amira.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly