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“I just always wanted to be impressive” — Why Yousra Needs Only One Name and No Introduction

There’s a reason why Egypt’s screen idol Yousra needs only one name, and no introduction…

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears blouse, Pucci; shirt, Maison Rabih Kayrouz; pants, socks, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; shoes, photographer’s own; earrings, rings, Yousra’s own

It’s a warm spring day in Marrakech and Egyptian superstar Yousra is in a purple tuk tuk that’s rattling along old, narrow streets through a vibrant medina. Music from a local band playing on classical sintirs and castanets fills the air with its traditional rhythms. The carriage might not be classically regal, yet the moment feels very much like a royal parade – her majesty, the queen of Middle Eastern cinema, has arrived.

00:00 / 00:00

When Yousra enters the riad belonging to artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj for this anniversary cover shoot, the atmosphere drips with excitement. “We are in the presence of a legend,” says an awestruck assistant. The comment is no overstatement. A bona fide superstar, Yousra goes by one name. She’s starred in more than 80 movies, has received more than 60 awards, and this year was chosen to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the Oscars. She has helped define Arab cinema and shine a light on the industry, which overwise might have been overshadowed by the West.

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears blanket, Hajjaj’s Own, hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; shoes, Givenchy; sunglasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

“It is a great honor for me to be on the Oscars academy,” says Yousra in her typically husky tone. The actor, who was one of three Egyptian celebrities (along with producer Mohamed Hefzy and director Amr Salama) invited to join the academy, is humble about the role. “I believe the academy is one of the most prestigious in the world, and being part of it means so much to me.”

In Hajjaj’s studio, typically a kaleidoscope of color and buzzing with organized chaos, Yousra is laughing, her genuine warmth settling any nerves the team members might have. She’s flying to Los Angeles for the awards ceremony in the morning, so there’s a time crunch to be dealt with. Unsurprisingly, she whizzes through each look without complaint – she may be a legend, but she is no diva.

Yousra credits her husband, Khaled Selim, for her grounded attitude. “I respect the way he can handle my life as an actor and the way he is patient. He is proud of me when I take a new step and it is a successful one,” she reveals in a rare quiet moment. The actor is not usually comfortable talking about her relationship – she “doesn’t want to jinx it.” Not that she runs from the notion of it, of course. When asked what makes them such a successful duo, she replies, “Please can you say, ‘God bless your relationship’ instead of asking such a question,” adding, “Khaled and I have known each other since we were children. Without him, I don’t think I could manage to do all this.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears dress, shoes Balenciaga; hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Yousra was 17 when she realized she wanted to become an actor – before that, she wanted to be a diplomat. Her onscreen history dates back to the late 70s, with her debut in Abdel Halim Nasr’s Castle in the Air, and her breakthrough roles in Ebtesama Wahida Takfy and Azkiaa Laken Aghbyaa. She went on to work with prominent Egyptian directors – most notably Youssef Chahine – and rapidly established her position as one of the highest paid stars in the industry, as well as one of the Arab world’s most powerful women.

“I just always wanted to be impressive”

“I just always wanted to be impressive,” says Yousra of her career and work ethic, which has contributed to her lauded status. “If people don’t appreciate your work and don’t see you as a legend, you will never be a legend. You have to understand that you are working for people and that you have to be working to their expectations.”

“Being a legend, you must have something. You are not free as you were when you were unknown. You are always under a special kind of pressure, and expectations of people toward you. But without those people, you will never be a legend,” she explains, adding for future stars, “Be humble as much as you can but at the same time, don’t expose too much of your private life.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears coat, Dolce & Gabbana; jumper, Pucci; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

While she prefers to maintain a guarded privacy, her “sad childhood” is something she does offer some insight into. “I had a tough life when my father took me from my mother,” she says emotionally about the separation following a bitter divorce. “From their divorce I learned that things can still go on and you just need to handle your children with care, love, and honesty. Give them the chance to express themselves. I have to give it to my mother as she was my friend, my mom, and my backbone. She gave me all this. She made me who I am today.”

And who is that person? “A feminist” who believes in equality at work and in personal life. It’s this belief that has seen her purposefully tackle powerful characters and taboo topics. “I choose to play strong roles for women because we have a lot of stories of different women in our society who can be legends but we don’t use them enough. I’m trying to put these legends in the episodes I make,” she shares.

“We changed laws – you can change life through cinema.”

While she hasn’t pursued a political path, she has used her status to help push boundaries and even change laws. “When I made the rape episodes for the Ramadan series Fawk Mustawa Al Shobohat, everyone was against it, but in the end, everyone was clapping and it received the biggest viewership ever.” The show led to Egyptian laws toward rapists being changed. “Before, the law said that a rapist should go to prison for only one or two months. Now, he is very much punished. We changed laws – you can change life through cinema.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman; blanket, photographer’s own. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Outside of the film industry, Yousra works tirelessly as a UN Goodwill ambassador for the Middle East and Africa to change the lives of those less fortunate. “Before being an ambassador, I also did humanitarian work, but being an ambassador offers much more responsibility,” she says. “I’m honored because being a Goodwill ambassador is trying to put the good in everything you do, not only in the mission you have.”

Her reach and engagement with her audience and fans is incredible, especially for someone who shuns social media – she simply will have no part in it. In fact, it’s the only time during the interview when her behavior shifts. “Before, we were stars without social media. Now I feel like anyone can be a star,” she says. “People listen to me because they know I’m not a hypocrite. I talk when I believe, and when I believe it comes from the heart.”

Not chasing likes has had little effect on her career – if anything, fans respect and idolize her more. When it comes to her own role models, she is quick to cite actors Faten Hamama and Nadia Lotfy, as well as her mother. “I had a lot to learn from these ladies, in all aspects of my life, and was lucky to have them,” she explains. “I’m proud that my mother was truly proud of me. She gave me the best love, care, and the best example in my life.”

00:00 / 00:00

Her father was somewhat more critical of her career, infamously slapping her across the face following her first onscreen kiss. “It’s something called الدنيا†علمتني†(what life taught me),” shares Yousra of the memory. “It didn’t make me ashamed at all that I did it. On the contrary, I’m proud of each and every scene I have made in the cinema.”

Despite her personal hardships, the superstar espouses positive thinking and mindfulness. Her ability to swat away bad vibes is admirable, especially in a job that comes with public scrutiny. “When you want to forget the bad or to dismiss someone from your life, just leave them to God,” she says calmly.

“Never take revenge into your own hands.” Yousra’s unflappable confidence comes to the fore throughout the cover shoot. She is completely comfortable in her own skin – and that skin is glowing and dewy, her smile infectious, her style that of a 1950s screen siren. She is the epitome of elegance and won’t bow down to pressures from the film industry. “I simply don’t care about aging,” she says with Oprah-style conviction, which makes everyone immediately want to jump in the air with applause. If she was on Instagram, she’d be the ultimate self-love guru. But for now, she’ll be taking over screens this coming Ramadan in the series Dahab Eira (Fake Gold). “I achieved in my 40 years of work whatever I wanted to achieve and whatever I wanted to dream of,” she says. “I love my age and I love my looks. I’m proud of who I am and how I look, and how I present things – Hamdoullilah.”

Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

Photography Hassan Hajjaj 
Style Katie Trotter & Lisa Jarvis
Creative producer Laura Prior  
Art accomplice Ebon Heath 
Second assistant Tariq Hajjaj
Local producer Marie Courtin 
Hair Sadek Lardjane 
Makeup Jo Frost
Photography assistants Hasnae El Quarga and Meriem Yin
Style assistant Alexandria Lefevre 
Runner Yazid Bezaz, Abdelali Boukrimi, Mohammed Ajib
Studio Riad Yima, Marrakech
With special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Marrakech

Read Next: 8 of Yousra’s Milestone Moments Illustrating Her Icon Status

Journey Through Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’, in Celebration of This Season’s Buzziest Color

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Hello, Jaipur! This summer, Vogue Arabia—and a team of Indian and Arab creatives—took over the streets of the ‘Pink City’ in celebration of the season’s most adored hue. Join Sawai Padmanabh Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur, rising models Nour Rizk from Lebanon, and Maumita from India on this journey, dripping with love for the color, the culture, and above all, the fashion.

Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Videography: Gorkey Patwal, Pulkit Karla
Hair and makeup: Kritika Gill
Production: Ankita Chandra, Sam Allison
On-ground production: Film and Locations India, Mithika Gaekwad, Harshaeta Singh
Models: Nour Rizk, Maumita

Get Ready with Salma Abu Deif for Her First Cannes Film Festival Red Carpet

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Before making her first-ever red carpet appearance at Cannes Film Festival, Salma Abu Deif gave Vogue Arabia an exclusive sneak peek behind her look. The Egyptian actor opted for a bold black dress by Pinko, paired with glittering Chopard jewelry, while her beauty look featured sleek hair and a bright red pout.

Watch the video above as Abu Deif shows us how she got ready for the big day.

Production: Koral Communication

Amina Muaddi, Huda Kattan, and Nadine Nassib Njeim in Conversation with Manuel Arnaut

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Behind the scenes of our March 2022 cover was the usual bustle of a Vogue shoot combined with the thrill of our 5th anniversary, which only increased twofold as the three cover stars sat down for a conversation with Manuel Arnaut. The editor-in-chief spoke to accessories designer Amina Muaddi, beauty mogul Huda Kattan, and actor Nadine Nassib Njeim about growing up Arab, the struggles they overcame as women in their industries, what their incredible success feels like, and much more.

Keeping with the celebration of Middle Eastern women representing the region on a global stage in our latest issue, Arnaut began by asking Kattan what makes Arab women unique. “Having grown up outside the Middle East and moving here later on, I was so amazed by the strength and creativity in Arab women,” said the Iraqi-US entrepreneur. “I actually find them to be so passionate and so creative.” Nassib Njeim said, “Now, Arab women are more dedicated to their goals. They want to achieve their dreams. They don’t accept boundaries anymore even though they respect the culture, traditions, and religion. They are proving themselves in many, many fields.” Having lived outside of the Middle East for the majority of her life, Muaddi shared that people were often curious about her heritage. “Usually people are surprised and find it different that I am half-Jordanian-half -Romanian and work in fashion,” she said. “I am so connected to Italy and France but still very very rooted where I come from.”

The world has witnessed the three women achieve great heights in their careers, however, they reveal that a grounded mindset is key to prospering. “Maintaining a scrappy, self-starting type of attitude is very important to get things done,” advises Kattan, who feels only gratitude for her community upon seeing herself in beauty stores across the world. Muaddi adds that she still feels excited when stars including Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian, wear her shoes. She says, “It’s fundamental to keep that excitement, to keep feeling like you still haven’t achieved what you wanted to, and to be grateful for what you have.” Nassib Njeim, whose moving performances in TV and cinema have touched and inspired so many over the years, shares that she keeps on challenging herself. “When you work with passion, and you have big dreams, and still consider that you are learning, you will always give your best,” she says.

The conversation takes a deep dive into some of the more challenging times in their lives, such as when Nassib Njeim underwent seven hours of surgery due to the Beirut port blast.”Now I’m more attached to my life, to my kids, and to making my dreams come true,” she says when asked about how the tragic incident changed her. The cover stars also discuss living their public lives, how they deal with hate, the best part about being themselves, and their goals for the next five years.

Watch the video above for the full conversation.

Inside Vogue Arabia’s Biggest Issue Ever Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary

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What better way to celebrate our 5th anniversary than by producing our biggest issue ever with 500 pages, and packing them with inspiring and empowering content? Vogue Arabia’s March 2022 issue holds the deeply personal cover stories of three powerhouse Arab women: Amina Muaddi, Huda Kattan, and Nadine Nassib Njeim, and the theme of Arab women taking charge and representing the region on a world stage.

The anniversary issue features conservationist Dame Jane Goodall in conversation with sustainability editor-at-large Livia Firth, talking about why there are still reasons to hope in a world filled with uncertainty. In another inspiring feature, lifelong friends Farida Khelfa and Carla Bruni model the latest couture, while French actor Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu – the iconic Emily in Paris villain – further defies age conventions while showcasing the season’s most striking looks. The edition also salutes Aquazzura on its 10th year in a special shoot with Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece and Denmark, and includes celebratory stories about fashion, entrepreneurs, rising stars, and the region’s biggest talents. Along with all that, the March 2022 issue also shines a spotlight on the new Saudi musicians to listen to now, while model and social entrepreneur Elisa Sednaoui Dellal finally finds her way home to Egypt after two years of a pandemic-enforced separation, in a moving feature where she visits, for the first time ever, one of her architect father’s most personal projects. 

Discover all this and much more in a special teaser video of the issue above, set to the catchy new track ‘Ala Bali’ by Palestinian singer Elyanna, who is also featured in the issue.

March 10, 2020

“I just always wanted to be impressive” — Why Yousra Needs Only One Name and No Introduction

There’s a reason why Egypt’s screen idol Yousra needs only one name, and no introduction…

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears blouse, Pucci; shirt, Maison Rabih Kayrouz; pants, socks, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; shoes, photographer’s own; earrings, rings, Yousra’s own

It’s a warm spring day in Marrakech and Egyptian superstar Yousra is in a purple tuk tuk that’s rattling along old, narrow streets through a vibrant medina. Music from a local band playing on classical sintirs and castanets fills the air with its traditional rhythms. The carriage might not be classically regal, yet the moment feels very much like a royal parade – her majesty, the queen of Middle Eastern cinema, has arrived.

00:00 / 00:00

When Yousra enters the riad belonging to artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj for this anniversary cover shoot, the atmosphere drips with excitement. “We are in the presence of a legend,” says an awestruck assistant. The comment is no overstatement. A bona fide superstar, Yousra goes by one name. She’s starred in more than 80 movies, has received more than 60 awards, and this year was chosen to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the Oscars. She has helped define Arab cinema and shine a light on the industry, which overwise might have been overshadowed by the West.

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears blanket, Hajjaj’s Own, hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; shoes, Givenchy; sunglasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

“It is a great honor for me to be on the Oscars academy,” says Yousra in her typically husky tone. The actor, who was one of three Egyptian celebrities (along with producer Mohamed Hefzy and director Amr Salama) invited to join the academy, is humble about the role. “I believe the academy is one of the most prestigious in the world, and being part of it means so much to me.”

In Hajjaj’s studio, typically a kaleidoscope of color and buzzing with organized chaos, Yousra is laughing, her genuine warmth settling any nerves the team members might have. She’s flying to Los Angeles for the awards ceremony in the morning, so there’s a time crunch to be dealt with. Unsurprisingly, she whizzes through each look without complaint – she may be a legend, but she is no diva.

Yousra credits her husband, Khaled Selim, for her grounded attitude. “I respect the way he can handle my life as an actor and the way he is patient. He is proud of me when I take a new step and it is a successful one,” she reveals in a rare quiet moment. The actor is not usually comfortable talking about her relationship – she “doesn’t want to jinx it.” Not that she runs from the notion of it, of course. When asked what makes them such a successful duo, she replies, “Please can you say, ‘God bless your relationship’ instead of asking such a question,” adding, “Khaled and I have known each other since we were children. Without him, I don’t think I could manage to do all this.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears dress, shoes Balenciaga; hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Yousra was 17 when she realized she wanted to become an actor – before that, she wanted to be a diplomat. Her onscreen history dates back to the late 70s, with her debut in Abdel Halim Nasr’s Castle in the Air, and her breakthrough roles in Ebtesama Wahida Takfy and Azkiaa Laken Aghbyaa. She went on to work with prominent Egyptian directors – most notably Youssef Chahine – and rapidly established her position as one of the highest paid stars in the industry, as well as one of the Arab world’s most powerful women.

“I just always wanted to be impressive”

“I just always wanted to be impressive,” says Yousra of her career and work ethic, which has contributed to her lauded status. “If people don’t appreciate your work and don’t see you as a legend, you will never be a legend. You have to understand that you are working for people and that you have to be working to their expectations.”

“Being a legend, you must have something. You are not free as you were when you were unknown. You are always under a special kind of pressure, and expectations of people toward you. But without those people, you will never be a legend,” she explains, adding for future stars, “Be humble as much as you can but at the same time, don’t expose too much of your private life.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears coat, Dolce & Gabbana; jumper, Pucci; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

While she prefers to maintain a guarded privacy, her “sad childhood” is something she does offer some insight into. “I had a tough life when my father took me from my mother,” she says emotionally about the separation following a bitter divorce. “From their divorce I learned that things can still go on and you just need to handle your children with care, love, and honesty. Give them the chance to express themselves. I have to give it to my mother as she was my friend, my mom, and my backbone. She gave me all this. She made me who I am today.”

And who is that person? “A feminist” who believes in equality at work and in personal life. It’s this belief that has seen her purposefully tackle powerful characters and taboo topics. “I choose to play strong roles for women because we have a lot of stories of different women in our society who can be legends but we don’t use them enough. I’m trying to put these legends in the episodes I make,” she shares.

“We changed laws – you can change life through cinema.”

While she hasn’t pursued a political path, she has used her status to help push boundaries and even change laws. “When I made the rape episodes for the Ramadan series Fawk Mustawa Al Shobohat, everyone was against it, but in the end, everyone was clapping and it received the biggest viewership ever.” The show led to Egyptian laws toward rapists being changed. “Before, the law said that a rapist should go to prison for only one or two months. Now, he is very much punished. We changed laws – you can change life through cinema.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Yousra. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Yousra wears hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman; blanket, photographer’s own. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Outside of the film industry, Yousra works tirelessly as a UN Goodwill ambassador for the Middle East and Africa to change the lives of those less fortunate. “Before being an ambassador, I also did humanitarian work, but being an ambassador offers much more responsibility,” she says. “I’m honored because being a Goodwill ambassador is trying to put the good in everything you do, not only in the mission you have.”

Her reach and engagement with her audience and fans is incredible, especially for someone who shuns social media – she simply will have no part in it. In fact, it’s the only time during the interview when her behavior shifts. “Before, we were stars without social media. Now I feel like anyone can be a star,” she says. “People listen to me because they know I’m not a hypocrite. I talk when I believe, and when I believe it comes from the heart.”

Not chasing likes has had little effect on her career – if anything, fans respect and idolize her more. When it comes to her own role models, she is quick to cite actors Faten Hamama and Nadia Lotfy, as well as her mother. “I had a lot to learn from these ladies, in all aspects of my life, and was lucky to have them,” she explains. “I’m proud that my mother was truly proud of me. She gave me the best love, care, and the best example in my life.”

00:00 / 00:00

Her father was somewhat more critical of her career, infamously slapping her across the face following her first onscreen kiss. “It’s something called الدنيا†علمتني†(what life taught me),” shares Yousra of the memory. “It didn’t make me ashamed at all that I did it. On the contrary, I’m proud of each and every scene I have made in the cinema.”

Despite her personal hardships, the superstar espouses positive thinking and mindfulness. Her ability to swat away bad vibes is admirable, especially in a job that comes with public scrutiny. “When you want to forget the bad or to dismiss someone from your life, just leave them to God,” she says calmly.

“Never take revenge into your own hands.” Yousra’s unflappable confidence comes to the fore throughout the cover shoot. She is completely comfortable in her own skin – and that skin is glowing and dewy, her smile infectious, her style that of a 1950s screen siren. She is the epitome of elegance and won’t bow down to pressures from the film industry. “I simply don’t care about aging,” she says with Oprah-style conviction, which makes everyone immediately want to jump in the air with applause. If she was on Instagram, she’d be the ultimate self-love guru. But for now, she’ll be taking over screens this coming Ramadan in the series Dahab Eira (Fake Gold). “I achieved in my 40 years of work whatever I wanted to achieve and whatever I wanted to dream of,” she says. “I love my age and I love my looks. I’m proud of who I am and how I look, and how I present things – Hamdoullilah.”

Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

Photography Hassan Hajjaj 
Style Katie Trotter & Lisa Jarvis
Creative producer Laura Prior  
Art accomplice Ebon Heath 
Second assistant Tariq Hajjaj
Local producer Marie Courtin 
Hair Sadek Lardjane 
Makeup Jo Frost
Photography assistants Hasnae El Quarga and Meriem Yin
Style assistant Alexandria Lefevre 
Runner Yazid Bezaz, Abdelali Boukrimi, Mohammed Ajib
Studio Riad Yima, Marrakech
With special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Marrakech

Read Next: 8 of Yousra’s Milestone Moments Illustrating Her Icon Status

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