Director: Tarik Saleh | Script: Tarik Saleh | Cast: Tawfeek Barhom (Adam), Fares Fares (Colonel Ibrahim), Makram Khoury (Blind Sheikh Negm), Ahmed Laissaoui (Raeed), Sherwan (Haji Soliman), ea | Time to play: 121 minutes | Year: 2022
Cairo conspiracy it stands out as a spy thriller because of its location: Al-Azhar University. This prestigious religious institution in Cairo, which has been in existence for over a thousand years, provides the film with a special setting that is initially intriguing. Unfortunately, writer-director Tarik Saleh puts out a standard thriller that doesn’t really excel in script or style. “The sphinx smiles again,” says a character (about the return of tourism in Egypt), but after seeing [i]Cairo conspiracy[/] it will only achieve an affable smile.
Cairo conspiracy is released in some parts of the world as sky boy, a rather literal translation of the original Arabic title. This child is called Adam and comes from a nest of poor fishermen. To his own surprise, he is allowed to go to Al-Azhar University to study theology. It is one of the oldest universities in the world and its Faculty of Theology is one of the most important religious authorities within Sunni Islam, including for the knowledge and interpretation of the Sharia.
No wonder the Egyptian government looks askance at the university and tries to influence who is in charge of the institute. When the Grand Imam dies unexpectedly, a successor must be chosen, after which the Egyptian secret service tries to infiltrate the university to help a pro-government candidate mount. That’s where Adam comes in, a blank slate who can gain the trust of the various factions within the university.
A solid premise in a fascinating location, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The script faithfully follows the conventions of the genre: the naive young man is recruited by the veteran of the trade, who explains how everything works, asks him for more and more and demands that he betray his friends for ‘the good cause’. It all builds slowly, slowly but steadily towards a climax, but Swedish-Egyptian Tarik Saleh’s rather flat direction prevents it from getting really exciting.
In the right hands, the scene where Adam’s second identity is almost revealed could be a thrilling climax, just as the betrayal of his only college friend to save his own ass is fit for a dramatic climax. But because the tone of the film hasn’t changed with these developments, they don’t excite. It doesn’t help that protagonist Tawfeek Barhom always has the same scared look in his eyes and tries to be as discreet as possible that it’s hard to believe anyone would trust him.
Barham’s monotonous playing suits the direction of the same, but that combination reduces the potential for Cairo conspiracy stronger than the Aswan Dam. By the way, the film could not be made in Egypt due to real tensions between the university and the government. This Swedish-French-Finnish co-production with a mostly European-born Palestinian and Lebanese cast is sadly far less exciting than the real thing. A missed opportunity, but a good advertisement for the filming location that serves as a university: the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.