As Cairo Conspiracy (Walad Min Al Jann) opens, Adam (Tarfeek Barhom), the son of a poor widowed fisherman, receives the wonderful news that he has qualified for a scholarship to attend Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious Islamic university. It is also one of the world’s oldest continuously-operating universities, having been created in 972.
At first, Adam is in awe of the pure and righteous atmosphere of the university. His roommate, Zizo (Mehdi Dehbi) takes a liking to Adam and shows him the ropes. For example, by bribing the security guard, it is possible to slip out at night and experience the supposedly prohibited attractions of Cairo. Zizo does warn Adam, “Your soul is pure, but every second in this place will corrupt it.”
The aged grand imam of the university dies of a heart attack, setting off a contest to see who will replace him. The favorite is a well-liked and well-respected blind sheikh. But the authoritarian Egyptian government has other ideas. Zizo, it turns out, has been working as an informant for the government. After Adam watches some men murder Zizo, Adam is contacted by Colonel Ibrahim (Fares Fares), the disheveled point man for the government. Ibrahim chooses Adam to be his new spy because Adam is provincial, innocent and powerless. He lures Adam by offering to arrange proper medical treatment for Adam’s ill father.
Ibrahim sets up regular meetings with Adam in a café, and gives him increasingly dangerous assignments. These include infiltrating a radical anti-government clique and working for one of the candidates for grand imam in order to expose his secret scandalous sex life. This turns Cairo Conspiracy into a political thriller.
Cairo Conspiracy is written and directed by Swedish-born Tarik Saleh, who, because of his previous film, The Nile Hilton Incident, cannot risk visiting Egypt. This film is unlikely to change his status, considering that Egypt has been ruled since 2014 by a human rights-violating dictator, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The film was first released with the title Boy From Heaven. I had the opportunity to ask Saleh why the film has two titles. He said he originally wanted to use the title Al-Azhar. Distributors discouraged him and asked if he had thought of an alternative title. Yes, Boy From Heaven. It was under this title that the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where Saleh won the Best Screenplay award. But when it came time to release the film in France, distributor Memento Films felt this was not a selling title. They suggested Cairo Conspiracy. Saleh agreed and, sure enough, the film was a bigger box office hit than anticipated. When Samuel Goldwyn Films bought the USA rights, they kept Cairo Conspiracy.