An espionage thriller set in Egypt’s most prestigious university for the study of Islam, Cairo Conspiracy is tense, engaging, and not entirely uncritical of the power brokers of the country.
I do like an espionage thriller, and one with an unusual premise or setting is even more enticing – and I’m delighted to say that Cairo Conspiracy is all of the above.
Written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh, Cairo Conspiracy is predominantly set in Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which is regarded as Egypt’s most prestigious university for Islamic study. Fisherman’s son Adam (Tawfeek Barhom) is awarded a scholarship to study his religion at Al-Azhar, and travels to the capital to take his place. Before long he witnesses a killing, and the young man from the village subsequently becomes an unwitting pawn in the struggle between political and religious leaders. His handler, Colonel Ibrahim, is played by renowned Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares Fares, who imbues Ibrahim with more the air of a frazzled university professor than a member of state security, which only heightens the character’s ruthless decision-making.
Egyptian state security forced Tarik Saleh to shut down the filming of his previous movie – The Nile Hilton Incident – and permanently expelled him from the country; Saleh’s latest film is one which does not shy from criticising Egypt’s political and religious leadership. There are references throughout, both visual and verbal, to the control which both have over the country’s citizens, and make it clear that this is a long-standing situation, where hypocrisy and corruption is rife.
Cairo Conspiracy is espionage in the cerebral sense rather than gunfights and street chases, and putting an unsuspecting, almost naïve, young man at the centre of the power struggle creates moments of real tension which keep the viewer engaged throughout.
The film was Sweden’s official submission for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 2023 Academy Awards, where it reached the shortlist, and it also won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
I’m not sure how wide a release Cairo Conspiracy (also known as Boy from Heaven) is getting, but if you see it playing anywhere, I can recommend it.