[Cinéma] The hidden side of Cairo

The thriller The Cairo Conspiracy plunges the viewer into the power struggles at the height of Sunni Islam.

Who to succeed the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, a sort of Vatican of the Sunni Muslim world? In theaters since Wednesday, The Cairo conspiracy, screenplay prize at Cannes last May, offers a breathtaking dive into the troubled waters of religion and politics in Egypt. Directed by Tarik Saleh (author of Cairo confidential), the film takes place after the death of the authority that is a reference for millions of believers. Who will then succeed him? Religious, promising Muslim Brotherhood of political Islam, state security services led by Marshal Al-Sissi, in competition with the spiritual power of the imams… The appointment of a successor is a game of chess in which everyone wants to have its say, and where all shots are allowed.

Like a pawn in the middle of this chessboard, finds Adam, a modest son of a fisherman who has just arrived at university. Everything goes wrong when a student, forced to play the undercover agent, is murdered in the university. To take over, a state security officer, Ibrahim, forces Adam to work in a submarine in turn for the police. Who is manipulating whom? Tarik Saleh plays between false leads and pretense, revisiting classic thrillers in a rarely filmed setting, “American-style” cafes in Cairo, where police and infiltrators meet over a latte, in the bays of the religious establishment.

“The West does not understand Islam”

Himself born in Stockholm, of a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father, Tarik Saleh says he is “undesirable” in Egypt since his previous film, and has not been able to shoot in the prestigious university with hundreds of thousands of students, withdrawing into the splendid setting of the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul. After his previous very noticed thriller in 2017, Confidential Cairo (Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), which described a violent and corrupt police regime, the director changed his focus, focusing more on the struggles between political and spiritual power, but kept his uncompromising gaze on Egypt.

The idea for the film came to him while rereading the rose name, Umberto Eco’s classic, which takes place in an abbey. In the casting, he finds his favorite actor, Fares Fares, in the role of the police officer. And in the main role, that of young Adam, Tawfeek Barhom, who has just finished the next film by Terrence Malick on the life of Christ. If the film does not have an educational aim, it nevertheless documents with precision the doctrines, which are opposed, of this majority current of Islam. And offers viewers a glimpse, from the inside, of a little-known world. “I really think that the West doesn’t understand anything about Islam”, continues the director.

The Cairo Conspiracy, by Tariq Saleh. Currently in theaters.

[Cinéma] The hidden side of Cairo