Adam, the son of a fisherman, is offered the privilege to study at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the center of power of Sunni Islam. Adam becomes a pawn in the conflict between Egypt’s religious and political elites.
‘Cairo Conspiracy’ (titled ‘Boy from Heaven’ in some other countries) is a fascinating political thriller about the government’s attempts to ‘rig’ the election of a new Grand Imam in Egypt. Directed by Swedish based Tarek Saleh, this is a brilliant follow up to the equally excellent ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’, exploring the political manipulations in a country and culture where religion and state are of almost equal importance. I should note that this is not based on a true story, at least not directly, but Saleh is clearly attuned to the machinations of the country where his father was born.
The film begins by introducing us to Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), who receives an offer to study at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the most prestigious universities in the world for Islamic learning. When the current Grand Imam dies, he finds himself recruited as an informer by Ibrahim, a shadowy detective played by Fares Fares (who was so good in ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’ and may be known to Western audiences for roles in HBO TV series ‘Westworld’ and ‘Chernobyl’), and tasked with helping to manipulate the election of a new Grand Imam in favour of the president’s preferred choice. It is essentially a two hander between informant and his handler, with Adam starting off scared and naïve before beginning to become more adept at the manipulation and power dynamics required to succeed. It is a movie that shows how people can be used as pawns in a game played by those in power, especially those who have limited agency of their own to resist, and Tawfeek Barhom’s excellent performance as Adam epitomises this.
Fares Fares is brilliant as Ibrahim, a morally duplicitious individual whose callous approach masks a moral compass that has been driven deep down inside himself by a career operating on the shadier side of police work. He keeps his cards close to his chest and ‘Cairo Conspiracy’ keeps you guessing as to his next moves, particularly intriguing as we learn he is also to a (lesser) degree beholden to those with more power. One of Saleh’s aims in making this film is to shine a light on the hypocrisy of those in power, who often portray themselves as holier than thou religious believers, yet act in their own interests when it comes down to it and adapt their ‘moral’ outlook to whatever suits their circumstances best. As an exploration of the corruption and shady dealings that underpin Egyptian society and the political, military and religious classes, ‘Cairo Conspiracy’ is a gripping piece of work, riddled with tension and succeeding as both thrilling entertainment and insightful drama.
Directed By: Tarik Saleh
Starring: Fares Fares, Tawfeek Barhom, Mohammad Bakri, Makram Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Moe Ayoub, Sherwan Haji and Ramzi Choukair