At The Movies: Cairo Conspiracy
Background (shown at the start of the movie): In 972, the Fatimids founded Al-Azhar to make it the centre of Islamic learning. The Grand Imam is the highest authority in Sunni Islam. Over the centuries, the rulers of Egypt tried to control Al-Azhar. Until now, they have failed.
Adam lives in a small fishing village in Egypt with his very strict father and two younger brothers. When he visits the local mosque, where he learnt to read and has been studying Islam, the local Imam gives him a letter saying that he has been granted a scholarship at Al-Azhar. Adam is worried about telling his father, who soon finds out when he forces Adam’s younger brother to read him the letter. His father considers it a blessing and an honour and allows Adam to pursue his dreams.
He looks a bit overwhelmed at first with the transition from a small fishing village to the hustle and bustle of Cairo. He makes friends with Raeed, one of his roommates, and is also befriended by Zizo. At morning prayers, the Grand Imam takes ill and subsequently passes away. This is where we see an urgent meeting convened by military advisers to the Government. Colonel Ibrahim advises that the likely candidate to become the new Grand Imam is the “Blind Sheikh”. However, General Al Sakrah tells the Colonel in no uncertain terms who the President wants to take the roll (ie. someone they can control) – and to “make it happen”.
Soon after, Zizo and Adam are in the grounds of Al-Azhar one evening, when Adam witnesses Zizo being attacked and killed by four assailants. Colonel Ibrahim interviews students as part of the investigation, then surreptitiously recruits Adam to be his informant at the University. He is required to report daily on the goings-on and to gain the trust of a small group of four men who pray together every morning, and who are suspected of murdering Zizo.
Adam is confronted with banned Jihadist texts provided by the Colonel, and setting up his friend Raeed to gain the trust of the four suspected murderers. However, the Blind Sheikh “confesses” to murdering Zizo, and Adam is ordered to become close to the next-in-line Grand Imam. The young man is torn between the hold over him by the Colonel and his Faith.
I won’t give too much more away, but this is a captivating drama which has a subtle approach to suspense and is a film I became totally absorbed in. It also gave me a greater appreciation of the devotion of Sunni Islam and its role in overall power in Egypt. I fully comprehend why it won the award at Cannes and it is definitely worth a visit to the cinema to see it!
Movie Review By John Glennie