The regime is using cinema as a propaganda tool against dissidence

The makers of Sahib Al Maqam did not expect their film to be attacked so extensively. Instead of the audience celebrating the film, the work was subjected to a violent religious, intellectual and artistic attack. The film deals with the story of a young businessman who builds a residential complex in one of the areas where there is a shrine for a person called Sidi Hilal, and one of his partners warns him against demolishing the shrine, but he does not care and does it anyway. After that, misfortune collapses upon him, and bad accidents begin, including his wife falling into a coma. At that time, the only hope comes in the form of a mysterious woman named Rouh, and together they begin trying to appease the saints. To solve the problem, the protagonist goes to the shrine of Imam al-Shafi’i and somehow gets the messages that the visitors send to him and their demands; he became the Messenger of Imam al-Shafi’i, and he begins to realise their dreams, and thus his wife is healed after he believes in the power of the saints. This story strikes all attempts to get rid of the idea of God’s righteous saints and the intercession that for centuries dominated the Egyptians, as some viewers’ nostalgia returned to such a false religiosity and to believe in unreal powers.

The film contrasts greatly with what the film writer Ibrahim Issa discussed in his previous film The Guest, which dealt with a conversation between a secular person and a Salafi person. But in the movie Sahib Al Maqam, it seems as if he has thrown this method aside to retain popular myths among the Egyptians. The director has already tried to blackmail the viewers’ feelings in these scenes, especially to beg tears of faith from the audience.

Observers say that the Egyptian regime has wholly controlled the drama and cinema industry in Egypt. It is impossible to produce a film with this production, from companies owned by the intelligence services, without the regime being satisfied with it or having requested it directly. Many criticised the film, pointing out that it “establishes the idea of ​​blessing the saints and righteous people, and that the film’s story killed all attempts to get rid of the idea of ​​the saints of God, and the intercession that has dominated Egyptians for centuries.”

The Jordanian writer Ihssan al-Faqih raises several questions about the film, saying, “Issa the Enlightenment, the civilised secular, who tests the Islamic text and the history and heritage of the nation, why does he revive and reinforce the religious myth that law and reason are undermining together?” And she adds, “Why does he promote the ability of the dead to relieve the concerns of the living and meet their needs? Why does he want to drown people in religious delusions? And why did he send messages to the shrines that almost disappeared among the Egyptians?” Al-Faqih adds: “In his film, Issa presents the model of Sufi Islam, to meet the Salafi currents that work to purify the curriculum from heresies, myths and misconceptions, and between them a long history of intellectual and scientific battles.”

She confirms that “the issue for the writer does not stem from his belief in these myths, but rather is a use of that, to direct these old stories in its battles, and the battles of the regime, with those known as the fundamentalists.” She continues: “General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime wants to use religion and adapt it so that it is acceptable and active in the new Middle East project.” Ihsan points out that “the UAE wants the same target, so it established a network of political mysticism for this purpose.” This approach, which prompted the Mufti of Egypt to comment on the film, justifying the blessing of the saints: “When I go to the righteous saints of God, I go to this sublime meaning, to the saint who gave God Almighty a bright history, so he was closer to God, and for this closeness and blessing I am with him. “

The hadith of the Mufti came despite the fact that the stable one of the tenets of the Islamic creed, that benefit and harm are in the hands of God alone, and no one has any benefit or harm for himself except what God wills. Likewise, seeking blessings at the shrines is one of the intimate cultural legacies that do not rise to the level of belief that God Almighty is the only one who grants and prevents what he wants. The Enlighteners fought for decades in Egypt to convince the people that whoever is in the shrines are dead people who will not provide any benefit or harm.

As for the artistic attack, it was less weighty, although it was accusations undermining the credibility of the work, which was said to be quoted from several other sources, especially the novel of Mawlana Sheikh Jawab by the Egyptian writer Yusri Abu al-Qasim and the Israeli film Maktoob that was on Netflix in 2017. Maktoob is an Israeli film, which revolves around two criminals who survive a massive bombing in a restaurant, and after the accident in which everyone in the restaurant was killed, their lives changed and completely differed. The criminals have moved away from a life of fraud and criminality, and they decide to do good deeds, to go on a journey to realise dreams for people who write their wishes on paper and place them among the stones of the Western Wall.

The dramatic structure and the form of narration were not wholly free of stereotypes throughout the film’s events. In light of questions, we did not find answers related to the dramatic plot, such as how did Yahya reach the addresses of worshipers and visitors to shrines? Writer Lamia Raafat wonders about the completely incomprehensible character Rouh, a woman we do not know is real or an illusion, who appears from time to time to Yahya until she guides him to get rid of his sins and restore “the satisfaction of the Awliya.”