Arwa’s Escape to Eden

On the edge of the Sinai, where red mountains meet azure blue seas, lies a little piece of paradise that Egyptian supermodel turned actress Arwa calls her “favourite place in the world.” Enigma gets up close and natural with the star in her secret summer hideaway…

I f fame were positively correlated to the size of one’s personality, Arwa Gouda would be a superstar. The moments she spots our car, she starts running up the sandy driveway, her sinewy bikini-clad body making light work of the difficult terrain. A two day diet of sun, sea and sand has turned her tumbling locks into a mass of enviable loose curls, her taut skin has taken on a shimmery shade of bronze and her smile is little too effervescent for seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. I am preparing to dislike her intensely. But she does not allow me the luxury. She is virtually pulling me out the car, demanding that I shed my constrictive city clothes immediately, and get into the beach spirit. “You’re in Nuweiba now!” she yells back at me as she runs back down to the beach. Or was she skipping?

“Anything goes here!” she giggles when I finally catch up with her. “There’s no one here to judge or talk. That’s why I love this place. Come on let’s take a dip before we have breakfast.” Nancy, Enigma’s stylist stands back reluctantly. She has forgotten her swimsuit. Arwa takes her hand, pulls her into her two metre squared beach hut and virtually forces her into one of her bikinis. We’ve never met before and yet there is no talk of a shoot or an interview; she chats away comfortably and casually, as if we’re all old friends catching up in the summer sunshine. The Bedouin owner of the back-to-basics resort is sent off to prepare a hearty Egyptian breakfast while Arwa espouses the benefits of getting back to nature. And Arwa’s version of back to nature is the real deal. No luxury stylised eco-lodges for her – we’re talking no electricity and no running water – not a spa or blow-dryer in sight. Barely minutes after having arrived and without quite knowing what just happened; we are knee deep in azure sea laughing uncontrollably at her hilarious commentary

uncontrollably at her hilarious commentary.


There’s more than a little Cameron Diaz about her – the funny faces, the impressions, the quirkiness, the easygoing willingness to poke fun at herself, that contradictory blend of picture-perfect packaging and tom boyish lack of pretence. Their career paths also bear more than a passing resemblance. Both started out as models and both blew critics away with their first tentative steps onto the silver screen. Arwa’s debut starring role alongside Khaled Aboul Naga in the big screen musical Mafish Ghier Kida (This Is All There Is) won her rave reviews, with journalists hailing her as the ‘next big thing’. The movie itself might not have done as well at the box-office as hoped, but her energetic yet subtle performance as the girl-next-door turned superstar singer made its mark in the industry. The scripts have been rolling in ever since. Currently filming the rollicking comedy caper – Aala Gamb Yasta – with Ashraf Abdel Baki and Egyptian comedic legend Samir Ghanem, the one time ‘Model of the World’ (the first Egyptian in 50 years to win the accolade), is still insistent on taking things slowly. “I don’t want to accept just any film. If I’m going to act I want to create something of value. To me, filmmaking is an art and I don’t want to patronise the audience’s intelligence. I want something that will satisfy both me and the viewing public.”

Spoken like a true thespian, and yet her foray into the film world was unplanned, reluctant even. Good friend and producer Nihad Ramzi spotted the X-factor in her and asked her to take on a small role in the film Montaha Al Laza. “I was completely against the idea,” says Arwa. “But she was so persistent and I didn’t want to upset her!” Her screen time may have been fleeting but it was enough to convince the Egyptian Acting Union to offer her a leading role in Mafish Ghier Kida. Again she was reluctant. Again they persisted. A chance to work with director Khaled El-Hagar, the man behind the critically acclaimed A Room to Rent (staring Juliette Lewis) eventually swung the deal. “When he saw my modelling portfolio he was really impressed,” says Arwa. “When I met him I was just wearing a pair of jeans and no makeup. The contrast between reality and my portfolio pictures was exactly the sort of transformation he needed the character to undergo. He felt he could really play with that.”


With six languages to boast of and a degree in marketing, Arwa is more than the sum of her pretty parts. There’s also a street-smart sharpness, no doubt honed over a decade in the cut-throat word of modelling. Barely in her mid-twenties, she’s already a veteran, having sashayed down her first catwalk at the tender age of 13. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, she was spotted in a neighbour’s pool and was immediately catapulted into a world of Arab extravagance; featuring in couture shows held at the behest of Saudi royalty. At 17 she hopped on a plane to Egypt, not so much to find her fortune, but to knuckle down to some good old fashion studying. That didn’t stop the modelling offers from flooding in and she had soon established herself as one of the county’s first ‘supermodels’. But what would success be without the eventual media backlash?

As the niece of Saleh Kamel, the billionaire owner of Arab Radio & Television (one of the region’s biggest media conglomerates), the starlet was caught in the line of fire when the Arabic press decided it was time to throw a little negativity Kamel’s way. If his niece was cavorting about being liberal and western, modelling and acting and all those other sure-fire signs of ‘depravity’ what did it say about him? For a girl who admits to being a little too sensitive in the most ordinary of situations, it was enough to have her reaching for a different career all together. “The press treat public figures as if they are heartless and have no emotions,” she says. “They are willing to write anything at all for the sake of selling a few extra papers, no matter what the consequences. They can really be evil. I was so close to giving up modelling and acting.” A few months down the line however, the tough-skinned stoicism required for survival in the spotlight has started to take effect. She’s doing her best to find a balance between the open-minded liberalism she so values in her private life and the conservatism demanded from her as a public figure in the Arab world. “I’ve learnt there are some things that are best kept just between me and my friends.”

This is something of a problem, because Arwa’s arms wide open, ‘take me as I am and borrow my spare bikini’ attitude will likely turn anyone who crosses her path into a friend. Including a certain magazine editor whose office Arwa has just walked into with a tub of ice cream in hand. “When you told me you were working all night on my article I figured you’d need this,” she said placing the tub on my desk, pulling up a chair and getting down to some serious girly gossip.


The new millennium might be defined by undeserved celebrity, but for once (and I’m not saying this just because I’m a sucker for chocolate chip ice cream) fame seems to have made a very sensible decision.