Egyptian film and TV star Nelly Karim has played several groundbreaking Arab female roles, including an upper-class jewelry designer who mentors women against sexual harassment in “Cairo 678,” a recovering heroin addict in hit Ramadan TV show “Taht al-Saytara (Under Control),” and a mother fighting to protect her family amid Egypt’s post-revolution insanity in Mohamed Diab’s upcoming Islamic-fundamentalism themed “Clash.” She spoke to Variety about her reaction to the Brussels attacks, and what the Arab world’s creative community can do to counter ISIS.
In Cairo you’ve been contending with recurring acts of terrorism related to religion and politics for quite a while. How do you feel about this now happening in Europe?
Yes, in Egypt these terrible things have been going on for a long time. But now after Paris and Brussels, it’s even more shocking. It’s like: Where are they going to strike next? It makes you panicky and afraid and unstable. I think this is what the terrorists want. They want us to live in fear, and to be afraid of each other, and not to trust each other. But I hope and I think that they won’t succeed because the world is very big and people want to live in peace. Terrorism has no religion. These people, they are evil, and I don’t think they have any religion, because religion is about peace, and about love, and about good things.
Is terrorism impacting the film industry in Egypt?
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Of course attacks like these impact our industry. After the revolution started in Egypt, the film industry collapsed because people weren’t going to the movies, they weren’t going to crowded places. Now it’s a bit better, and we are trying to take this fear out of our hearts because we want to live and raise our kids. We want peace. We are fighting this terrorism with everything we’ve got.
Do you think movies can help fight ISIS?
Yes, the Egyptian film industry is trying to make movies that explore issues at the root of Islamic terrorism, and also make movies that are more international. People don’t know much about our life. They only know about pharaohs, and that was 7,000 years ago. They don’t know what’s happening in Egyptian society today. Two films I’ve acted in, “One-Zero” and “Cairo 678,” do that.
Can you talk to me about your role in “Clash”?
“Clash” is set entirely inside an overcrowded police truck packed with pro and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators, people from all social classes. I play a mother who refuses to leave the truck without her son who has no reason to be there. My character is a normal Egyptian woman who has no religious or political affiliation. It could be a mother anywhere around the world, a strong woman protecting her son and her family. The moral is that we are all normal people who want peace and love, and most of all want to feel safe.