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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Naemet Mokhtar Breaks 30 Years of Silence

 

Translated By Priscilla Adum

 

 

In February, 2012, Naemet Mokhtar broke 30 years of media silence and granted an interview to Hany Samy of El Fagr Newspaper. It appeared in the print edition the week of February 12, and was posted to El Fagr's web site on February 18, 2012.

 

 

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"Lucy and Hayatem are not dancers. Dina is the least bad of the bad dancers. Fifi Abdou is a professor."

 

Naemet Mokhtar Speaks after 30 Years of Silence: Nasser said to me, "Is someone dancing naked for the President?"

 

My mother kept El Mougi's oud until Abdel Halim Hafez paid her 5 pounds.

 

[Translator's note: the reference to Fifi Abdo in the headline above means that Fifi is such a good dancer that everyone else looks like a student in comparison; it compares her to a professor because of her expertise. It does NOT mean that Fifi is literally teaching classes somewhere.]

 

Do you remember the dancer Naemet Mokhtar or the Woman Who Conquered the Devil as she was called in reference to the title of one of her most important films?

For those who don't know, she was a very famous dancer, actress and producer. But she suddenly disappeared for more than 35 years without giving any reason for it, and the only thing that was said at the time was that she had retired and begun to wear the hijab (Muslim attire).

After all these years she has returned and granted us an exclusive interview which touched upon many of her life's secrets. She began by telling us the reasons for her disappearance, saying:

Naemet Mokhtar

The change in my life occurred 35 years ago and I consider it a miracle of God. I had entered into a battle with Abdel Moun3em who was the manager of the Central Bank at the time. He lived next door to me and was buying up all the apartments on that floor. He had often [sexually] harassed me before, but I had flatly refused. When he lost all hope with me, he then began to exert extreme pressure on me to leave the apartment. I refused, so he got together with the owner of the building and they agreed to have me evicted. The fact that he had many powerful ties enabled him to be unjust and to oppress any person who stood in his way. At the same time, I had nobody on my side, so we got into a judicial conflict. When the verdict came in, it was in his favor and I almost died of grief that day. As I cried, I asked God to not allow the Central Bank Manager to set foot in my apartment and to not allow him to defeat me.

The following day my adversary's lawyer suffered a robbery and among the papers that he lost was the copy of the court order to evict me from my apartment. After that, my adversaries returned and prepared new eviction papers, but the courthouse burned down and along with it, my case files. Again the execution of judgment was delayed. My adversaries returned yet again and filed new papers, but on the very day that they were to execute the eviction order, my adversary the Central Bank Manager died. He never set foot in my apartment, just as I had asked God. This in fact astounded me and was one reason why I became closer to God.

Regarding her retirement from art, Naemet said:

The change that occurred to me made me take a look at myself. I saw that it was inappropriate to say my prayers regularly, and then at night appear in public half naked. By this, it doesn't mean that I am against acting or dancing, but I saw that there was a contradiction between one thing and the other, and I felt that this was a sign from God to stay away completely.

This coincided with another event. I had several abortions in the past to terminate pregnancies, thinking that having children would ruin my figure. The doctors informed me that as a consequence of this, I would never be able to have children. During this same period of time I asked God to bless me with a child because I loved children, to the point that I even raised the children of other people. I went to the doctor for a routine check-up and I was surprised when he informed me that I was pregnant. I delivered my baby and I decided not to allow him to be raised by servants. I dedicated myself to him full time.

Naemet

As far as the most important personalities that she danced in front of, Mokhtar said:

I danced for President Gamal Abdel Nasser and on one occasion Nasser said to me jokingly, "Is it not shameful, girl, for you to dance half naked before the President of the Republic?" And I told him, "What about it, President? If we find ourselves naked, you clothe us." [Translator's note: In the original Arabic, Mokhtar's response was a humorous play on words. What she meant was, "If we, the Egyptian people are ever "naked", ie, lacking for a basic necessity of life such as clothing, then you, President, are the one who will provide for our needs." It was a very witty, tactful response to his teasing about her revealing costume.] Hassan el Shaf3 led everyone there in applauding and Nasser shook hands with me.

There was another event in front of Abdel Nasser who wanted to raise the morale of the soldiers. At one of the parties there was a drummer with me, and we'd had a disagreement prior to the party. The drummer teased me and I warned him several times to stop. But he didn't care, so I slapped his face in front of everyone. Then I escaped by running away and he ran after me. The organizer of the party, Wageh Abaza, made us return to the party. The strange thing is that Abdel Nasser and the soldiers thought it was part of the act.

She added:

I worked as a dancer by accident. I was a well-known comedienne. On one occasion I was doing a monologue, and the owner of the band asked me to keep going because the dancer was late. She finally notified them that she wasn't coming. So the owner of the band found no other alternative except to make me a dancer. The wedding reception was in the Minya Governorate for the son of a wealthy dignitary and it was essential to provide a dancer. Otherwise, we'd never be allowed to leave the party. So they brought me a dance costume and because my body is very small, and the costume was very large, they had to pad it with cotton. This gig ended up being surprisingly successful, and because I proved to be skillful I became a dancer.

Regarding the dancers of today, Naemet said:

Recently, I followed the fighting that has been going on between Lucy and Hayatem. The first one got angry because the second one said that she was younger than her. So Hayatem revealed Lucy's real age and the dispute reached a climax although I don't consider either of them to be dancers to begin with. Regarding dancers Dina and Fifi Abdou, Mokhtar said: Dina is the best of the bad ones, but Fifi is the absolute best in the last 25 years of raqs sharqi.

Regarding her important memories of Abdel Halim Hafez, Mokhtar says:

The Nightingale was just starting out. He came to our home with the Maestro Mohamed El Mogi and pleaded with my mother to allow me to go with them to dance at a party. My mother set down the condition that they must leave 5 pounds in advance [payment]. Abdel Halim said he didn't have it, and that he'd pay it when they returned. My mother refused, and she demanded to keep El Mogi's oud as collateral until he returned with me and with the five pounds. This actually happened. Then when Halim and El Mogi became big stars and we ran into each other, El Mogi would tug at my clothes and jokingly ask for his oud back, which my mother had not returned to him.

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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