Broadening my horizons, I went in search of Arab entertainment news and was surprised to learn that Omar Sharif is still alive. He just turned down a 20 million dollar offer from Al Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan president, to play a television role, according to Al Bawaba Entertainment News. This despite Sharif needing money as he is being supported by his son Tareq (actors, they always squander fortunes).
The TV role in question was for Sharif to play Omar Al Mukhtar, a Libyan hero. One of Sharif’s reasons for turning the role down was that he didn’t think there would be enough interest, internationally speaking most people don’t even know who Al Mukhtar is. The other excuse for the refusal is age, too many episodes in the series and too many lines to memorize. Sharif did do a television drama last year called Hannan wa Haneen (a nostalgic serial about Egyptian expatriates in America per Al-Ahram Weekly), but more for fun than any serious effort to gain recognition. Sharif, after all, was born in 1932–he’s retired, acting as a lead is grueling work.
So who is this Omar Al Mukhtar guy that Libya is so keen on? He led the resistance against Italy’s control of Libya for nearly 20 years from 1912. Italy hanged him in 1931–so he’s a Libyan martyr which explains the local popularity. Interestingly enough, Al Mukhtar was a teacher of the Koran, a common theme as religion is ingrained into revolution and warfare in the Middle East (more so I would say than the God-Nationalism of the United States or maybe even the west in general).
Now you may have heard of Al Mukhtar if you are an Anthony Quinn fan. My wife’s favorite movie is Lion of the Desert (1981) which recounts Al Mukhtar’s last days before his execution at age 70. I doubt that Sharif could have improved on Quinn’s performance as it is a great film, though exploring Al Mukhtar’s early life could be interesting. I wonder, with the president of Libya putting up the funds, if it will be an honest depiction of their hero? Not that I would want to malign the hero, but all heroes are imperfect and in some instances their lives contradict the current positions of government.
SIDENOTE: For an old guy, Sharif has his violent moments. In 2003 he struck a police officer at a casino and in 2007 he broke the nose of a Beverly Hills parking attendant.