“The Cairo Conspiracy”, a struggle for influence at the height of Islam

The Cairo Conspiracy **

by Tarik Saleh

Swedish film, 2 hours

With Confidential Cairo, a vibrant and sticky thriller that denounced the widespread corruption of a regime, that of Mubarak, out of breath just before the demonstrations broke out in Tahrir Square, Tarik Saleh struck a blow. The director, Swedish of Egyptian origin, portrayed a policeman who tries to navigate between his personal ethics and the orders of a hierarchy under the orders of power. The film, finally shot in Morocco, earned him expulsion from Egypt, where he is now banned from staying. This incident did not prevent this promising filmmaker from returning to his subject, and after an unconvincing American parenthesis, from signing this politico-religious thriller crowned with a screenplay prize at the last Cannes Film Festival.

But time has passed since the hopes raised by the Arab Spring and this time it is the bitter struggle for influence between President Al Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood that serves as the backdrop to its plot. The epicenter is the famous Al-Azhar University, a pillar of Sunni Islam, where Adam arrives, a modest son of a fisherman, armed simply with a purse and his simple and deep faith. The first in his family to study, like the filmmaker’s grandfather, he was fascinated by this temple of theological knowledge at the same time as he freed himself from the tutelage of an authoritarian father.

A ruthless battle between religious and political elites

Unfortunately for him, the Grand Imam, one of the most influential Muslim personalities in the world, suddenly dies on the first day of school. The council of ulama must meet to appoint his successor. The process, extremely codified, will become the scene of a pitiless battle between the political and religious elites of the country, in which the student will find himself involuntarily embroiled. “Your heart is still pure, but every minute you spend here will blacken it,” warns one of his comrades before being mysteriously murdered.

Under the pretext of investigating, Colonel Ibrahim – played by Fares Fares who already played the role of the policeman in Confidential Cairo – will, in the name of state security, place its pawns to influence the vote and eliminate the candidates who displease the regime in place, either that of the Muslim Brotherhood advocating strict Islam, or an old moderate sheikh whose wisdom is very popular. “There cannot be two pharaohs in the country”, informs him the general commanding the security forces. Reluctantly recruited by the policeman, young Adam is assigned to infiltrate a radical group and engage in all kinds of manipulation.

Inside the most prestigious Islamic university in the world

Once again, Tarik Saleh skilfully mixes genre film and political discourse. His film, with a mastered staging, has the main originality of making us penetrate into the mysteries of the most prestigious Islamic university in the world, with its religious fervor and its doctrinal confrontations which culminate in a competition of recitation and psalmody. . We follow an Adam torn between his innocence and the need to accomplish his mission without leaving too many feathers behind. He evolves in the maze of a university as labyrinthine as the plot unfolding there.

If it is a question once again of corruption, it is that of the souls of believers that is in question here. And the state’s attempt to control religious power. But, as one protagonist sums it up, “there can’t be a confrontation between the religious leaders and the power, or else it’s civil war”. The resulting little arrangements are made on the backs of the Egyptian people, the director seems to be telling us. Despite a somewhat overly convoluted epilogue and villains (generals on one side, Muslim radicals on the other) bordering on caricature, the film seduces by the unique point of view it confers on this subject.


Tarik Saleh, documentary filmmaker of his time

1972. Birth in Stockholm of a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father.

1989. Started out as a graffiti artist under the pseudonym of Circle and Tarik.

2001-2005. He directed with Erik Gandini two remarkable documentaries on the death of Che Guevara (Who Betrayed Che Guevara) and on the Guantanamo detention camp (Gitmo: The New Rules of War).

2009. Metropia (Animation Film).

2014. Tommy.

2017. Confidential CairoGrand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Beaune Crime Film Festival.

2019. After the series Ray Donovan and Westworld, he is touring the United States The Contractor.

2022. The Cairo Conspiracy (Boy from Heaven), selected in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

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