The scene at the recent opening of the Arabic lingo film “El Erhabi” (The Terrorist) may have been a nightmare for security police, but it was a film producer’s dream come true. For a change, the old cliche “storming the box office” was no exaggeration.
Throngs of youths were literally standing on one another’s shoulders and rattling the metal bars of the sold-out ticket office; traffic was stalled as crowds filled the street in front of Cairo’s largest cinema, the 2,300-seat Diana Palace; police security was draconian, and entry to the hardtop was therefore slow.
The pic has turned out to be as much a talk-of-the-town phenomenon as a movie. It’s also a powerful political statement by the Arab world’s most popular and highest paid actor, Adel Imam, and the first Egyptian feature film to attack directly the tide of religious extremism sweeping much of the Middle East.
Film stars Imam in the title role, and Egyptians have been astonished to see enormous billboard adverts around Cairo featuring blowup pictures of their favorite actor — who’s known for his comic roles — in the guise of a glowering, bearded and gun-toting Islamic extremist.
The script, by leading Egyptian playwright Lenin Ramli, reportedly breezed through the pre-production censorship process, apparently because the government saw the film as a useful adjunct to its own campaign against terrorism.
Like the government, showbiz has been under attack by Islamic militants, and several leading entertainers have been threatened — Imam among them. The actor rarely ventures in public without bodyguards.