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

About Zeinat Olwi


Translated By Priscilla Adum


This profile of Zeinat Olwi is a synopsis of a much longer article that appeared on the Ya Beyrouth (Ya Beirut) web site in the Friday, November 3, 2010 through December 1, 2010 edition. The original in Arabic used to reside on the Ya Beyrouth web site at, which is now defunct; however, that link no longer works.


Ran away from her family, preferring loneliness and isolation to death.

Zeinat Olwi (sometimes spelled "Elwi" or "Aloui") was an Egyptian belly dancer who appeared in many films. She was born in 1930 in Alexandria where she suffered severe abuse throughout her childhood at the hands of her family.

At age sixteen she escaped and fled to Cairo where the young Zeinat remembered that she had a female relative who might help her. This relative had been rejected and disowned by the family for having become a dancer. But after Zeinat searched for her and finally located her at Badia Masabni's club, she was surprised to discover that her relative did not want to help her out of fear of retaliation from the family. She was afraid that they might discover that she had helped her in any way. Zeinat begged her relative and told her she would be willing to work even as a background dancer at Badia's club. So after much convincing, her relative took her to meet Badia Masabni who immediately saw a diamond in the rough, and hired her on the spot.

Zeinat Olwi

Within six weeks Zeinat was a regular background dancer at Badia's club. Not long after, she was performing as a raqs sharqi soloist and Badia Masabni increased her salary accordingly. She became well known for her excellent dancing and for her special ability with the assaya. People came to Badia's club just to watch her perform and she soon had a loyal fan following. Not long after this, Zeinat caught the attention of the media and soon the newspapers were comparing her with the famous dancers of the day such as Samia Gamal and Naima Akef.

Zeinat was known for her pleasant and likeable personality, but she was a loner who preferred to spend her free time alone in her dressing room at the club, and when her work day was over she went straight home. She didn't go out much and seemed to have an aversion to men in general because of the trauma caused by the severe abuse she suffered at the hands of the male members of her family. She was not easily swayed nor impressed by sweet words.

Zeinat began performing in theater shows appearing with such famous singers as Abdel Aziz Mahmoud and with groups such as the Shecoco group. She was offered film roles but she preferred to appear in films as a dancer and not as an actress, because she considered herself first and foremost a dancer. She accepted some small acting roles but not leading roles. She accepted a part in the 1962 film Zawga el Talattashar (Wife Number 13) with Rushdie Abaza, who was a notorious womanizer and who was also Samia Gamal's husband. There was somewhat of a scandal when Rushdie Abaza began to show interest in Zeinat during the filming and made inappropriate advances towards her. Zeinat rejected him and promptly went to inform Samia what her husband was up to.

Zeinat Olwi was romantically involved for a short time with actor Abdel Salam el Naboulsi. She appeared in over 22 films and surprised everyone by retiring early in 1965 as a way of protesting against discriminatory laws and against the harsh treatment suffered by belly dancers at the hands of Egyptian police. She tried to form a dancer's syndicate but was not successful. She returned briefly to work for a short period, but retired again in 1967.

Zeinat Olwi died in 1988 at age 58 of a heart attack. She had been a heavy smoker. She died alone in her Cairo apartment, where a maid discovered her three days later. The only two people from the entertainment industry to attend her funeral were Fifi Abdo and Taheya Carioca.



Some Video Clips of Zeinat Olwi

  • Al Anisa Hanafi. 1954.
  • Ranet Al Kholkhal. 1955.
  • Sahebat Al Esma. 1956.
  • Al Akh al Kabir. 1958.
  • El Bolis Serry. 1959.
  • Souq al Selah. 1960.
  • Adham Al-Sharkawi. 1964.
  • Bent Al Hetta. 1964.
  • Al Zawj al Azeb. 1966.



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. 




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