‘Hotel Rwanda’ Director Terry George, Egypt’s Mariam Naoum Team on ‘The Alexandria Killings’

Mariam Naoum
Courtesy Front Row

Oscar-winning Irish writer-director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda,” “In The Name of The Father”) and Egyptian writer Mariam Naoum have teamed up to co-write Arabic serial killer series “The Alexandria Killings” on which George will serve as showrunner.

The high-end show in Arabic and English is based on the true story of shadowy Egyptian sisters Raya and Sakina Bint Hamman who in the 1920s robbed and murdered at least 17 women and were subsequently sentenced to death. The notorious case has already spawned several local films, plays and books.

“The Alexandria Killings” is being produced by Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment and London-based Rocket Science via their Middle East joint venture Yalla Yalla. The producers are Front Row’s Gianluca Chakra, Rocket Science’s Thorsten Schumacher and Terry George.

The show’s executive producers will be Hisham AlGhanim, Michela Scolari, who is represented by Larry Hummel, and Nayla Al Khaja, who is represented by Adel Nur.

Set in 1920 Alexandria, when Egypt was under British rule, the series will delve into the true story of the Hamman sisters, who rose from poverty to run a glamorous brothel that drew on a powerful and influential circle of Egyptian and British officers, informants and statesmen as its customer base.  In its heyday the Hamman brothel became “a hive of secrets, intelligence sharing, and criminal conspiracies among the top echelons of the Alexandria underworld,” according to promotional materials. 

But the fall of their operation found the sisters increasingly resorting to theft and led to the robbery and murder of at least 17 women, all of whom were prostitutes.

The sisters were eventually caught and put on trial. They became the first women in Egypt to be sentenced to death, causing a major social outcry, since other male defendants in the case did not get the same punishment. Public perception of the sisters ranged from being considered cold-blooded criminal masterminds to victims. The case is etched in Egyptian collective memory.

The “Alexandria Killings” show will form the first installment of a Middle East and North Africa-based true crime anthology series set in various periods and locations within the Arab world.

“I am particularly delighted to be working with renowned Egyptian writer Mariam Naoum to tackle a subject matter that, while containing all the captivating elements of a legendary crime, also encompasses global themes of sexism, jealousy, greed and lost love,” George said in a statement.

Naoum (pictured) is a prominent Egyptian screenwriter and social activist whose credits include Kamla Abou Zekry’s Cairo-set ensemble film “One/Zero”; and the TV series “A Girl named Zat,” “Heat Wave” and “The Women’s Prison,” a scathing exploration of the Egyptian prison system, among other popular and groundbreaking shows.

“At this point of my career, I really believe that merging the experiences of Middle Eastern and Western filmmakers is crucial for film and TV industry and it will help perfect the adaptation of the story,” Naoum said.

Front Row chief Gianluca Chakra in the statement noted that “the societal exploration underpinning the murders is unique” and also underlined that there has not yet been a TV project “of this scale from the Arab world.”

Front Row, which is in expansion mode, recently forged a joint venture with Saudi Arabian exhibition chain Muvi Cinemas to launch Front Row Arabia, with plans to cash in on Saudi’s current theatrical boom.

As a film distributor, Front Row’s recent Middle East releases include Liam Neeson thriller “The Marksman” and Florian Zeller’s “The Father.” Their production slate comprises the Arabic adaptation of hit Italian comedy drama “Perfect Strangers.”