Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Hamida (hah-MEE-dah), a resident of Cairo’s Midaq Alley, a beautiful young woman and foster daughter of Umm Hamida, who serves as her matchmaker. Hamida, ever devoted to material possessions, agrees to marry Abbas Hilu, a barber, who falls desperately in love with her and leaves Midaq Alley to work for the British so that he can save money to buy Hamida everything she desires. Having sealed their engagement, he has no sooner left than Salim Alwan, a rich store owner, leaves his wife with the intention of marrying Hamida. Viewing this union as a means of quickly gaining wealth and position, Hamida, with Umm Hamida’s connivance, proceeds to make plans for her wedding to Salim, completely ignoring her commitment to Abbas. Before they can be married, Salim dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving Hamida desolate. Soon afterward, however, Ibrahim Faraj begins his pursuit of Hamida, and they run away together, with the expectation on Hamida’s part that they will marry soon. Ibrahim has other ideas, setting Hamida up in his elegant apartment, which is essentially a school for prostitutes, and turning her into a wealthy, successful prostitute with a large following among the British and American servicemen stationed in Egypt during World War II. When a much richer Abbas returns from his work with the British, Hamida, desperate to escape the enslavement Ibrahim has imposed upon her, persuades Abbas to kill him. Before the planned murder, Abbas finds Hamida in a bar surrounded by soldiers. After she rejects him, he throws a glass at her, cutting her face, and is attacked and killed by the soldiers.
Abbas Hilu (ah-BAHS HEE-lew), a simple barber who, infatuated by the beautiful Hamida, becomes engaged to her and leaves Cairo’s Midaq Alley, where he has spent much of his life, to work for the British, who are stationed outside Cairo during World War II. Although Hamida betrays Abbas, shunning him at times after she has promised to marry him, Abbas retains his feelings for her. He is about to avenge her honor by killing Ibrahim Faraj at her suggestion. He enters the bar where he plans to commit the murder but finds Hamida there surrounded by amorous soldiers. Infuriated at Hamida’s rejection of him when she sees him, Abbas throws a beer glass at her, cutting her flawless face. The soldiers turn on Abbas and kill him before he has the opportunity to murder Ibrahim.
Salim Alwan (sah-LEEM AHL-wahn), a rich, successful businessman who owns a large retail store. Salim, impassioned by Hamida’s great beauty, divorces his wife and plans to marry Hamida, who, already engaged to Abbas Hilu, overlooks that commitment in order to gain the wealth and security Salim can offer her. Salim, however, dies of a heart attack before the two are joined, leaving Hamida desolate.
Ibrahim Faraj (ee-brah-HEEM FAH-rahzh), a pimp who lures Hamida into his plush apartment, leading her to expect that they will soon marry. It becomes apparent, however, that Ibrahim wants only to train Hamida to be a prostitute who will work for him and enrich him further.
Umm Hamida (EWM hah-MEE-dah), Hamida’s foster mother, who conspires with her daughter to negate her engagement to Abbas Hilu in order to marry Salim Alwan for his money. When these plans are shattered by Salim’s death, Umm Hamida again encourages Hamida to snatch the golden ring rather than honor her commitment to marry Abbas.
Radwan Husaini (RAHD-wahn hew-SAY-nee), a holy man, devoutly Muslim, whom Umm Hamida and Hamida consult regarding Hamida’s proposed marriage to Salim Alwan. Although Radwan advises them against this marriage, they completely ignore his advice.
Kirsha (KEER-shah), owner of a coffeehouse where people from Midaq Alley gather.
Husain Kirsha (hew-SAYN), son of the coffeehouse owner, a close friend and confidant of Abbas Hilu.