Also known as Boy from Heaven, this gripping political thriller is written and directed by the half-Swedish, half-Egyptian filmmaker Tarik Saleh, whose previous film The Nile Hilton Incident explored police corruption in contemporary Egypt. Such were the sensitivities around that film, Saleh was expelled from the country three days before shooting was due to begin, and he is now banned from Egypt.
Cairo Conspiracy takes on an equally sensitive subject, the relationship between organised religion and the Egyptian state, centring on the hallowed Al-Azhar University: a vast hub of learning and a theological wellspring for Sunni Islam, whose history dates back to the 10th century (given the ban on Saleh filming in Egypt, Turkey’s Suleymaniye Mosque provided a stand-in location).
While a work of fiction, some of the characters are modelled on real figures, e.g. the spy recruiter played by Fares Fares was inspired by the late head of Egyptian state security, Safwat el-Sherif. Saleh’s grandfather was also a key inspiration: himself a student at Al-Azhar, he went on to teach in the fishing village featured in the film.
Saleh tried the script on imams, discussing the theological arguments contained within it with them, as “I don’t intend to provoke anyone”. But he accepted when making it that the film would “ruffle feathers … because the tension between state security and religious power in Egypt is enormous.”
“The film’s biggest coup is the common thread it finds in both worlds: military back rooms and holy offices alike filled with the ambitious jostling for position.” Danny Leigh, Financial Times
“The Name of the Rose meets John Le Carre.” Phil Hoad, The Guardian