Mariam Naoum, a young mother and talented scriptwriter, pulled off some very successful projects such as in quite a short time span. She knows how to create characters and develop them, whether from Egypt’s elitist communities or the less privileged man restlessly roaming the streets for survival, she knows them all. She does her research well, works hard and takes writing very seriously.
One of Mariam Naoum’s success stories is “Moga Hara”, a thrilling TV series starring Eyad Nassar as well as the masterpiece of novelist Sonallah Ibrahim “Zat”, which stole the thunder from all TV productions the year it aired, “I never thought that from the first time being aired on TV it would receive this kind of feedback especially from the younger generations. On the other hand, the generations that lived these times felt great nostalgia”, she says, “It was a chance to see history in sequence versus the usual Nasser or Sadat eras discussed in films, here we were able to see modern Egyptian history unfold covering all phases. We didn’t want to criticize or give a value to history; we wanted to tell a story. I think that when a series talks about a certain character it usually takes the side of the character. Like in ‘El Gama’a’ when people sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood, although that wasn’t the aim of the series”.
“Zat” is a reflection of the typical Egyptian family, with its hardships and moments of happiness. Every one of us relates to a certain character in the story. The novel talks about Zat starting from the mid-70’s until the 80’s while the timeline of the series began in 1952 with Zat being born, until 2011, “the production company wanted to turn the novel into a TV series and there is a big difference between the novel and the series. For example, the romantic relationships between the younger generations weren’t exactly in the novel. This novel was written in the early 90’s and we wanted to re-write it in 2010. A lot has happened in this phase but we didn’t want to transform the novel we wanted to build on it”, she tells.
“if the regime was aiming to kill women empowerment but society and women stood for their rights, women would have enjoyed more power and freedom.”
Working with a group of women on “Zat” was a vital part of its success, “Zat is a story about a woman, who reflects Egyptian history in a way. Kamla and I had a detailed background about our families and other families we know, which helped us in creating some good input. It’s piled up experiences, I write something, Kamla adds another and Nelly joins. It’s teamwork as the story isn’t a holy book that you can’t touch. Entesar was also amazing; she just digests the character and gives this great and deep input. In addition to that I believe that Nelly Karim is a hard worker and Kamla is always able to get the best out of her”, she adds.
Watching every episode of “Zat”, you feel that women empowerment in Egypt was killed softly through the past decades, “if the regime was aiming to kill women empowerment but society and women stood for their rights, women would have enjoyed more power and freedom. You see the two daughters of Zat, one who surrendered to society’s norms and another who fought for her rights. If you don’t stand up for your rights no one will hand them to you on a silver platter”, she explains.
“If you don’t stand up for your rights no one will hand them to you on a silver platter”
There is this thought that controls the Egyptian mindset that if a woman is successful at work she is a failure at home, “there are a good number of women out there who should be ready to fight the war to prove themselves. It’s a hard equation but a woman is more powerful as she can do various roles, at home and at work”, she comments.
“It’s a hard equation but a woman is more powerful as she can do various roles, at home and at work”
From Zat’s circumcision in the 60’s to her terrible wedding night experience in the 70’s and technology paving the way for Egyptian men to watch porn in the late 80’s, we feel that one of the major reasons of our social problems stem from sexual frustration, “yes a very big part of our problems is sex. Sex is a taboo in art and at home. Most parents don’t talk about sex with their children and you never know where their sexual curiosity will take them. It’s very dangerous. Another problem is treating girls as a tool. Men would think they should please themselves with you regardless of your own needs. As a result, women are often scared of this sexual relationship and sometimes despise it”, she points out.
In Egypt, the 70’s witnessed an outstanding fashion revolution with huge hairstyles, color flashing short dresses and wigs, while the 80’s marked the beginning of an era that called for covering up, “in the 70’s, Egyptians started travelling to the Gulf and returned in the 80’s with the Khaliji culture. It also poured into people’s taste. We used to live in classic houses before but out of the blue we found weird decors that had shimmering golden walls for example. We started obtaining this Gulf culture that focuses on the outer image. From the outside all is covered up and behind closed doors they are filled with major social problems and the idea of covering women appealed very much to Egyptian men”, she says.
“Most parents don’t talk about sex with their children and you never know where their sexual curiosity will take them. It’s very dangerous.”
Mariam’s career and family are not mutually exclusive. She makes sure her career doesn’t stand in the way of her relationship with her 5 year old son. “He comes with me to meetings and I explain to him how important work is as it’s the source of money. He feels happy when he sees Zat’s billboards on the street. I never want my child to be raised by a nanny. A nanny is to watch him when he is in the pool or if I was in a meeting in the next room for example”, she says.
“I want to keep and keep on writing. You don’t always get to only do the things you love; we know that for a fact. It’s a career for me, I’m not just an amateur or hobby writer so I might one day do something that I’m not very convinced of because the market doesn’t provide you with many choices, but I hope for the best”, she tells. “You have a market that sometimes rejects fine material. The problem is with advertising; it’s the thing that controls the whole process how you advertise and how channels will buy accordingly. We wait until advertising spots are sold so basically the serial is late because of a butter commercial!”, she adds.
“I never want my child to be raised by a nanny. A nanny is to watch him when he is in the pool or if I was in a meeting in the next room for example”
When it comes to what women want, Mariam shares her opinion clearly, “women need to feel independent and need to know that a man shouldn’t be the only source of income. They have to depend on themselves. Women should want to start a career first then look for the right guy to share her life with and not the contrary”, she comments.
Photography by Hatem Saleh
Hair by Rafy from Al Sagheer Salons
Makeup by Sherif Khalil from Al Sagheer Salons
Chair, fan and telephone by Vintage Furniture & Object Emporium
Desk by Dokan Boutique