Alexandria, Asharq Al-Awsat- Thousands of miles from Iraq, in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, there is an Egyptian construction worker who might look at home in the Iraqi Presidential Palace. As soon as you lay your eyes on this Egyptian, a scene that is practically engraved upon the memory of every Arab immediately springs to mind, I am of course talking about the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the early hours of Eid ul-Adha on 30 December 2006. When you look at this man, you find yourself asking questions; can this be real? Was it truly Saddam Hussein who died that day?
This is because the man in question is the mirror image of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. His real name is Mohamed Beshr Mahmoud, he is 55 years of age, and Asharq Al-Awsat met with him at one of the coffee-shops that overlooks the Mediterranean ocean in the coastal city of Alexandria. We had to wait for almost an hour to begin our interview after Hajj Beshr was besieged by Egyptians and Arab guests wanting to take pictures with him.
Beshr recounted some of his memories around his resemblance to the former Iraqi leader, he said “I discovered that I bear a striking resemblance to Saddam Hussein a long time ago, more than 25 years ago, but I never paid any attention to this. Some of my friends would teasingly call me Hajj Saddam however things got worse when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and become a hated figure. I decided to grow my beard to look different to him.”
Beshr added “This indeed happened and there was a difference in our appearance, and so the issue was settled but I was surprised that when Saddam was arrested [by US troops in 2003] he emerged with a long shaggy beard and I looked like his mirror image once more! This resulted in a series of misunderstandings which have turned my life upside down.”
Word soon spread about Mohamed Beshr Mahmoud’s resemblance to the Iraqi leader, and Beshr told Asharq Al-Awsat “At the time, I owned a wedding hall and I would find Iraqis coming to see me and check my identity.” Beshr added “the resemblance was so strong that some Iraqis would ask to see my identity card. Of course I word refuse, because they have no right to this, and they would respond ‘In that case, you must be Saddam, otherwise why would you be afraid to show us your identity card?'”
As more Iraqis began to settle in Egypt, the situation grew worse for Beshr, and he told Asharq Al-Awsat that on one occasion an Iraqi approached him and told him “I know people who would pay millions of dollars for your death, Saddam!” Beshr said “I felt that he was serious, and I was overcome by panic and fear for my safety and the safety of my children, so I decided to sell my only source of livelihood, the wedding hall, for less than a quarter of its worth, and I completely stopped working.”
Beshr also revealed that he once received an anonymous phone call from somebody who invited him to meet at a coffee shop to discuss a job. Beshr said “When I arrived I found two muscular young men and two beautiful girls speaking in a Syrian accent, they offered me a role in an adult movie for one million dollars, but I refused and notified the Egyptian authorities.”
Beshr added “After this I began to receive death threats over the phone, and unfortunately this is something that is still going on until now. This has greatly affected my health, and I have undergone a number of medical heart procedures. I am a simple man who wants to lead a strife-free life.”
Regarding any funny situations he found himself in due to his resemblance to Saddam Hussein, Beshr told Asharq Al-Awsat “I used to find myself in funny situation before Saddam Hussein’s execution, for example people might tease me and address me as ‘Your Excellency’ or ‘Abu Uday’ however things have changed now. The situation is more dangerous and explosive.” Beshr went on to recount an incident when he was harassed by a number of Kuwaiti youths in a commercial mall in Alexandria due to his resemblance to the former Iraqi President. He said that this event began with mockery but soon developed into a physical altercation.
Mohamed Beshr Mahmoud sees his close resemblance to Saddam Hussein as something of a curse, and he said “I have even lost my health due to the terror that I live in and the continuous threats that I receive.”
However Beshr did reveal some good news, and he told Asharq Al-Awsat that serious negotiations are taking place with a major Egyptian production company for him to play the role of Saddam Hussein in a film about the former Iraqi President’s life. Beshr said that an initial agreement had been reached with the production company and that details would be announced once the screenplay was ready.
As for his family, Beshr said “I have five boys; the oldest is 26, while the youngest is 10. My eldest son is called Beshr and he looks exactly like me, and I fear that he may face the same problems that I am facing.”