Ezzat Al-Alaili, widely acknowledged to be one of Egypt’s greatest actors, passed away at the age of 86 last week.
Al-Alaili was born in 1934 in Old Cairo. He developed a passion for acting at a very young age, graduating from the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts in 1960. He began his career as a stage actor, also working as a television presenter before making his debut Ressalah Min Emraa Maghoula (A Message from an Unknown Woman, 1963), directed by Salah Abu-Seif and featuring Farid Al-Atrash, Lubna Abdel-Aziz and Amina Rizk.
Al-Alaili famously worked with Youssef Chahine, starring in Al-Nas Wal Nil (People and the Nile, 1964) and playing a role in Chahine’s classic film Al-Ard (The Land, 1969) before performing one of his most memorable and brilliant roles as Sayed/Mahmoud, a man with split personality, in Al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice, 1970), starring alongside Soad Hosni, Mahmoud Al-Meligi, Hoda Sultan and Youssef Wahbi. Al-Alaili also starred in Iskendriya Lih? (Alexandria... Why? 1979).
Over a 50-year career Al-Alaili also worked with brilliant filmmakers, acting opposite nearly all the icons of Egyptian cinema. He starred in Kamal El Sheikh’s Ala Maan Notlek Al-Rasas (Who Should We Shoot, 1975) together with with Soad Hosni, Mahmoud Yassin and Gamil Rateb. He starred in Al-Saqqa Mat (The Water Carrier Is Dead, 1979), Al-Qadisiya (1981) and Al-Mowaten Masri (The Egyptian Citizen, 1991), all three directed by the late Salah Abu-Seif.
In the same year he worked with director Ali Badrakhan in Ahl Al-Qima (People on the Top). He also starred alongside Adel Imam and Youssra in the horror film Al-Ins wal Jin (Human and Elves, 1985), directed by Mohamed Rady.
Al-Alaili worked with director Khairy Beshara in Al-Touq Wal Eswera (The Collar and the Bracelet, 1986), performing a brilliant and memorable role. He also starred in Al-Mealema Samah (1989) and Leila Assal (Honey Night, 1990) with director Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, and in the film Al-Tariq Ela Eilat (The Road to Eilat), set in 1969, when a group of Egyptian frogmen aim to destroy two Israeli vessels during the war of Attrition.
Al-Alaili wrote the stage plays Thawret Al-Madina (The City’s Revolution) and Al-Touffan (The Flood), performing in such productions as Al-Omr Lahza (Short Lifetime, 1974) and Tamr Henna in the same year.
He made almost as much of a contribution to television as to cinema, starring in countless shows including Miramar (1970), Al-Esaba (The Gang, 1970), Al-Garima (The Crime, 1977), Al-Gesr (The Bridge, 1983), Al-Faddan Al-Akhir (The Last Feddan, 1988), Reyah Al-Khouf (Winds of Fear, 1994), Al-Sharei Al-Gedid (The New Street, 1997), Al-Mansouria (2005), Al-Gamaa (The Brotherhood, 2010) and – his latest – Qaid Aayeli (A Family Register, 2019).
His latest appearance on the silver screen was in Marwan Hamed’s Torab Al-Mas (Diamond Dust, 2018) starring Asser Yassin, Menna Shalabi and Maged Al-Kedwani.
Al-Alaili received many awards and honours in Egypt and in other Arab countries. He received a lifetime achievement award at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2015, and was honoured at the Sharjah International Book Fair for his contribution to Egyptian cinema.
Last November, he was honored in the 36th edition of the Alexandrian Mediterranean Film Festival.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly