Nidal Seijari: A Lost Voice for Peace

By Rebecca Joubin
Nidaal Seijari by Etab Hreib for Al Jadid Magazine

Born in Latakia in 1965, Nidal Seijari went on to graduate from al-Mahad al-‘Ali li-l-Funun al-Mesrahiyya (Higher College of Theater of  Arts)and become a member of the Artist’s Union in 1991. Seijari was well known as an actor, film director, and art consultant in Syrian television drama. One of the most sha‘bi (popular)and beloved Syrian actors of all time, he fought throat cancer courageously for a number of years. He passed away on July 6, 2013, at the age of 48.

As typecasting is rare in Syrian drama, Seijari endeared himself to his fans in numerous, multifaceted roles over the years. We remember him in an episode entitled “Ana am Ahlam” (I’m Dreaming) in “Ahl al-Gharam” Part One, as the feisty and unmaterialistic artist, Mayar, who nevertheless falls in love with the wealthy Lana. Not only does he face resistance from her mother, but he suffers immensely from the Lana’s change of heart, as she increasingly submits to her mother’s demands. We recall him as Rif‘at, the headstrong, unemployed nurse in “Qasr al-Shawq” in “Ahl al-Gharam” Part Two, who steals in order to support his family rather than allow his wife to work and contribute to the household income. He brilliantly played the role of the mentally ill Burhan, son of the Agha, in Fouad Hamira’s “al-Husrom al-Shami” (Sour Shami Grapes, 2007, 2008, 2009), a three-part historical miniseries also produced by Haitham Haqqi’s Reelfilms production company. His popularity rose especially in recent years due to his role as As‘ad in the tragi-comic miniseries Day‘a Daay‘a (Forgotten Village, 2008, 2010), written by Mamdouh Hamada and directed by Laith Hajjo.

Even as he suffered from throat cancer, and lost his ability to speak after surgery, Seijari remained dedicated to Syrian drama and film. In 2011, he produced “Ta‘m al-Limon” (The Taste of Lemon) about Syrian refugees from the Golan as well as Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, who all live in the same dilapidated home in a poor neighborhood and make preparations for the visit of Angelina Joli. Seijari portrays how these refugees place great hope in Joli’s visit and do their best – despite some of the madness of their household – to publicize their home as the one the government will allow the actress to see. In the end, after all that trouble – and the distraction of the adults that ultimately leads to the death of a Palestinian girl, Jaffa, whose key to Palestine drops under the bridge – Joli’s limousine drives right past their thin, dusty streets without stopping.  The film is a biting satire of Hollywood Actress Angelina Joli’s professed interest in refugees. Though all she is depicted as seeing and hearing were her pictures plastered on the walls of the neighborhood and its inhabitants desperate cries, a commentary at the end of the film sarcastically states that after her visit to Damascus, Joli’s press office announced that she is thinking of adopting an Iraqi child. Seijari ends the film lamenting that as the Arabs engage in discussions of such trivial matters, the key to Palestine is lost.

Seijari’s kind and warm nature brought out the best in those around him. His friends and colleagues in Syrian drama stood by him throughout his illness and ensured that he had places where he could channel his passion for acting. In 2011, Colette Bahna wrote especially for Seijari the episode “Wahed Samet” (A Quiet One) for the miniseries “Fawq al-Saqf” (Above the Roof), about a man who observes all the political events of the uprising unfold around him, but refuses to take a position and instead stays silent. Writer Mamdouh Hamada and director Laith Hajjo also ensured that he had a role in “al-Khirba” (Ruins) in 2011 by creating Ta‘man, a silent character just for him. In 2012’s “Banat al-‘Aileh” (Girls of Good Family), he played the mute artist that Dima al-Jundi’s character falls in love with as her husband engages in corrupt business practices. Most recently, in 2013, he served as art consultant to director Laith Hajjo’s miniseries “Sa-Na‘ud Ba‘d Qalil” (We Will Return Soon), which vividly portrays members of a Syrian family forced to travel to Lebanon because of the bloodshed in Syria. The miniseries depicts their emotional suffering far away from their country with much artistic spirit, attesting to the collaboration with Seijari.

From the commencement of the Syrian uprising in 2011, Seijari met with both sides of the conflict, stressing the importance of unity and dialogue for the future of Syria. With all the current fighting between intellectuals, with accusations hurled against muwalin and mu‘arad  (government loyalist and pro-opposition )intellectuals, the divide between them remains strong. Yet, Seijari’s death made many of these intellectuals, mourning the loss of a great friend, find common ground for the first time in a long time. Grief does not run along party lines. And those who have been outwardly neutral or pro-regime, as well as opposition artists, wrote pages expressing their personal loss. Pro-opposition actor Jamal Suleiman, for example, wrote, “With the death of Nidal Seijari, Syria has lost one of its most beautiful, talented, and loyal artists.  Nidal was not just a talented artist, but a pure human being who possessed a heart imbued with love toward others. He didn’t know how to show animosity to anyone.” Suleiman wrote of how even as he suffered from his illness, he went from place to place and met with individuals on all sides of the conflict predicting that if Syrians continue to kill each other this way the country would be destroyed. As a pacifist, Seijari was heartbroken at watching his country rip itself apart.

Throughout the conflict Seijari struggled to maintain a just and fair position. He wrote extensively on his Facebook pages: “Oh, death, even you are not just. You only approach the poor in my country…Those civilians and army personnel who have been martyred in my country are only from among the poor… The poor are killed as the rich calculate their possessions, gather statistics, and cunningly induce others to carry out their dirty work.” He wrote: “If I had weapons in my hand, I wouldn’t carry them or direct them toward any Syrian. I say ‘no’ to weapons, and ‘no’ to death. I say ‘yes’ to life and the ability to work out our differences. We wish for minds open to reason, souls filled with purity. Syria is our magnificent mother. She belongs to everyone and is in need of everyone.” His last words to his brother, Fawaz, before he died were: “Ya Suriya ya Fuwaz!”(Oh Syria, brother Fawaz). Tears formed in his eyes and then he was unconscious.

This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 18, no. 66.

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