Over 70 years after her death, a Druze princess-cum-icon continues to inspire
On Friday the 14th of July, 1944, the singer and actress Amal Al Atrash took a break from filming in Cairo and headed to the seaside resort of Ras El Barr. A talented and beautiful Druze princess, she travelled northwards in the backseat of a two-door sedan with her friend (and sometime secretary) Marie Qelada towards the tranquility of the Mediterranean coast. For the journey, Al Atrash wore a yellow dress, and carried with her an unfinished French novel. At around noon, not far from the city of Mansoura – and with a suddenness that would shock the Arab world – Al Atrash and Qelada were both killed. The two women, trapped in the back as the driver lost control and careered into a canal, were unable to escape, and drowned. Al Atrash, better known by her stage name of ‘Asmahan’, was just 26 years old.
Asmahan’s premature death would cement her status as a cultural icon. Highly sexualised, provocative, and divisive, she was a ‘glorious voice, a wanton woman, a daredevil, the mistress of many, and a self-destructive force’, says scholar Sherifa Zuhur. Her death only acted to compound her already controversial reputation, with the conspiracy theories surrounding her death multiplying as days and weeks turned into years. In the immediate aftermath of her death, she left behind an incomplete film – Youssef Wahbi’s Gharam wa Intiqam (Love and Vengeance), which featured a stunt double. The changing of the film’s ending to mirror Asmahan’s passing only added to the intrigue that enveloped her.