Friday, July 25, 2008

Faith in the known

A man of unidentifiable age gathers together all his hope and crosses Tala’at Harb Street. In his left hand is a thick stick, held slightly aloft, a sign rather than a support. His right hand is extended in front of him, his palm pointed backwards at him, his fingers bunched together like open-mouthed starving baby birds in a nest. Patience the hand says to the world, patience. His eyes closed, the man crosses the unknown, slowly, steadily, led by the semaphore of his hand, and his blind faith.

In another part of the city life is led inside wheeled and un-wheeled frozen universes where faith is worn on heads and around necks, and where hope is distilled into formulaic mantras for a future already assured. Passwords. Life is solid, tangible, purchasable; separated and arranged in levels of glass and copper. Blind men and their searching hands are kept out: no vulgar reminders of fallibility here in this place with its guardians and gates and fountains.

Up at the top and crowds have gathered for a film premiere of a film in which real-life singers play themselves – who needs fantasy when the facts are this good? Some of the stars will be here tonight, walking talking embodiments of perfection in this perfect place. Cameramen and photographers, that strange separate species, are poised for attack. Clusters of young men smoke furiously, factories emitting fumes of hormones from their chimneys.

Suddenly a kafuffle at the door and a huge terrifying tide of a mess of humans and cameras rolls forward. Big men in suits surround the very special guest, cameras borne aloft on arms stretched upwards are blinking antennae transmitting the news: she’s coming…she’s coming.

It is Haifa Wahby coming. The cat-eyed middle-aged teenager who peddles sexless sex. She is swept in - rather than sweeping in - to the cinema where she will watch herself on screen. Her head is briefly visible through the throng. She has raised her chin up imperiously as she is buffeted about.

Inside the cinema she occupies a whole back row to herself, guarded by huge men who form a semi-circle around her. Incongruously, she sits and pretends to do things with her mobile phone while the determined photographers look for different angles, chinks in the smiling blandness. Beautiful and empty, she doesn’t speak (what’s the need) and is instead simultaneously present and absent, visible and unreachable, yet another priceless and worthless commodity.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Another protest today, outside the public prosecutor’s office. Ten or so activists from the Shebab 6 April group surrounded by twenty men in white bearing truncheons. The cordon would eventually mutate into fifty boys in black riot gear with the blank looks and the plain-clothed ‘Karate gangs’ – bad boys offered an escape and twenty quid a day in return for a pledge to kick the shit out of line-crossers.

I go into the court building for a bit of respite from the sun and walk past two women standing at the entrance.

“Why are they insulting the president?” one of them asks the other.

The officer in charge thinks he’s a bit smooth, in his summer whites and wrap around shades and, of all things, a cigar. He watches the protestors with a smirk on his face, conspicuously brandishing his authority and his cigar. The protestors are allowed to chant whatever they want, but must remain on a ledge next to the court building’s stairs: they are not allowed to stand on the pavement.

Fierce exchanges and a mini-war at first over this patch of land. The officers win, of course.

Chanting continues and a middle-aged woman walking past stops to watch.

“Yalla ya mama” [move on, love], says the officer.

“I’m just interested in hearing what they’re saying,” she says, meekly.

“Yaaaaa, I’ve heard it 6 million times before,” he tells her, proudly.

“Wallahy?” [Really?]


“It’s the first time I hear such things,” she replies.

“Tab, yalla emshy 3alashan…” [ok, well move on because…] – but she is already gone, looking behind her as she walks, unable to tear her eyes away, and he doesn’t have to think of a reason why she should leave.

As usual the police busy themselves with preventing the general public from receiving the message that they are being oppressed, cheated and wronged. Passer-bys are moved on, waved on, urged on, ordered on. But like the 6 million times woman they are fascinated, and stop and suck it all in for as long as the men with the guns tucked in the back of their jeans will let them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More hours of my life lost in dark rooms

Mr El-Sobky, butcher turned film producer, has an identical vision of customer service in both careers: give the people what they want and don’t surprise them with lamb’s brain when they’ve asked for half a kilo of chicken breast.

Like an economy class airplane meal, the appearance of the slightly odd, pharmaceutical company-like El-Sobky Films logo means certainty, few surprises and a slight feeling of queasiness for the next 90 minutes. Judging by El-Sobky’s output, it is an unstoppable formula.

I was force-fed the formula again this week in the company of Hamada Helal, a member of the group of Egypt’s generic ‘youth’ singers who have built careers out of lite love songs interspersed with ostentatious displays of piety performed while wearing tight t-shirts.

Tamer Hosny – who graced these pages last week – is another almost identical member of this tribe, except that where hirsute Hosny likes to give off an air of ineffable, racy, cool, Helal has constructed an image for himself of a cheeky, lovable boy-next-door type - an image which he doesn’t venture very far from in his latest role in which Hamada Helal plays a character called Hamada.

The only thing separating ‘Dream of a Lifetime’ from the approximately 3851 other Egyptian mainstream films I have seen this year is the boxing, and Tawfeeq Abdel Hamid, about which more later.

When we first meet Hamada he is an 8 year-old living in Ismailia with his mum, Hala Fakher, who essentially reprises her role in Heyna Maysara, only with less swearing. She does a reliable job, as usual.

The opening scene shows young Hamada being sent off to school with his egg sandwiches before he is mugged for said sandwiches in slow-motion by a group of school bullies. Never before have eggs had such meaning.

Eggless and traumatised, Hamada returns home where, luckily, his neighbour is a professional boxer with a punch bag in his living room. The neighbour takes Hamada on and we see images of them running and air-punching their way through Ismailia’s pretty streets in a Rocky fashion for what seems like hours.

Why director Wael Ehsaan chose to torture us with prolonged scenes of running in his film is a mystery.

Young Hamada turns into a fine young man with a new grown-up name, Ahmed, while hitting a punch bag. We join him on his odyssey to become a professional prize-winning fighter. He outgrows Ismailia and forces his family to move to Cairo to pursue his dream.

By family, I mean Hala Fakher and his new 9 year-old sister, who he has suddenly and miraculously – given that his mother has been a grieving widow since the start of the film - acquired out of nowhere. Yet another of the film’s amazing mysteries.

Off we go to Cairo and within the space of three minutes are introduced to the film’s two other principle characters from which we deduce that Ahmed will fall in love with a beautiful rich girl, Nour, (Dina Fouad) who evil police officer and amateur boxer, Akram, is after – fancy that!

Why after spinning out the jogging scenes for years Ehsaan felt compelled to compress all this action into a millisecond is yet again beyond me, but perhaps explainable by the fact that the running scenes allow him to show off Raouf Abdel Aziz's undeniably gorgeous cinematography: the film’s vivid colours and nicely-framed shots are one of its few compensations.

Nour works in a flower shop in the sports club in which evil Akram trains, and in which Ahmed arrives to seek out his shot at stardom. Ahmed claps eyes on Nour amongst her roses and violins start playing in his heart and in our ears, such is her loveliness. We also learn for the first time that while acting scenes of great emotion, Hamada Helal’s voice goes really high. Which is disconcerting.

This is also when we meet lovely Tawfeeq Abdel Hamid, an actor who I was first introduced to through his memorable roles in TV soap operas notably ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and his excellent performance in last Ramadan’s ‘Window on the World’.

I have an enormous soft spot for Abdel Hamid - despite his habit of looking like Beaker out of the Muppet Show when upset - because there is a certain warmth and emotion about his acting. This was apparent despite the lamentable poorness of the script thrust upon him in Dream of a Lifetime, particularly in a scene in which he laments his missed chances and dead wife and wheelchair-bound daughter. While it isn’t ‘I could have been a contender’ it is extremely moving.

A word about Nour: could Ehsaan not just have used a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a sexy female figure? Wonder Woman, or Princess Laila for example? He could have hired a small child to stand out of sight and move it around. It would have saved him an acting fee and made no perceptible difference to the film, such is the absolute mediocrity of the acting of the individual who played Nour. She is too young to have had botox, so why doesn’t her face move?

Her role is just to be pretty and delightful, only one of which duties she fulfils, spending the rest of the time trailing round after the men inconsequentially and uselessly in her heels.

Luckily for Ahmed, she declares her love for him quite literally about five minutes after meeting him. While we in the cinema audience guffawed and choked on our popcorn, Nour acknowledges our scepticism by producing the words “I know I’ve only just met you Ahmed, but I love you” with levels of passion which leave us even less convinced.

Ahmed’s convinced though! “I love you too” he tells Nour, his voice so high that it is almost only audible to whales.

Nour is very very rich, and Ahmed is very, very poor (could this explain why all the vests stretched over his rippling torso are ripped down to the naval? Can he not afford to replace them?) but still wants to marry her so off he pops to have a word with her dad, in his country retreat.

Nour’s dad, ‘Rousdy bey’, is played by Ezzat Abo Ouf and his cigar, in a role which is quite literally copy-pasted from his incarnation as the rich father fending off poor suitors for his daughter in ‘Hassan Tayara.’

Ahmed puts his case to Roshdy, explaining that he dreams of one day becoming champion of the world, while Roshdy shoots pigeons.

This leads to a cull of pigeons of massacre-like proportions, Roshdy shooting a pigeon each time he provides Ahmed with a reason why he can’t marry Nour: Roshdy is shooting down Ahmed’s dreams is the message which we are forced to ingest again and again and again.

In fact nature took a series of heavy blows during the film, including Ahmed’s petulant hurling of a goldfish bowl through a window and Nour being knocked down and killed by an enraged Akram in his jeep who realises that she still loves Ahmed despite Roshdy bey forcing her to marry him.

The film ends exactly as you have already predicted: Akram gets his comeuppance, Roshy bey repents and laments and Ahmed becomes boxing champion of the world. We might have cared about this events if we were given the chance to care about the two-dimensional, forgettable characters who carry them out.

But El-Sobky makes up for that with a healthy dose of jingoism. The final scene is an inevitable frenzy of flag-waving, Egypt-chanting nationalism as Ahmed wins a close fight with an individual who we given to understand is American but speaks in a heavy German accent, confirming the general rule in Egyptian cinema that white foreigners are indistinguishable and interchangeable - which funnily enough, is the general attitude of the US cinema industry to brown-skinned people from Asia and the Middle East. Fancy that!

Originally published in Daily News Egypt

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bread & butter III

Here I become irate about the travesty which is Sex and the Shitty.

And here I present civil society reactions to the draft law on audio-visual transmission.

Yesterday I watched cuddly Moatez, presenter of 90 de2ee2a, become irate as he attempted to extract sense out of an unpleasant slithery government stooge about this bloody draft law. Arabic readers can access it here.

The government stooge was a professor of civil law at Cairo University. He was a smug, conceited sort whose heavy eyelids seemed constantly on the brink of sliding shut. Perhaps he stores The Truth in his eyes, and it’s that which is weighing down his eyelids. No truth came out of his mouth.

He would have us believe that this draft law is in the interests of the media and Egyptian society generally, despite the fact that its article 41 imposes a minimum one month prison sentence for anyone who divulges information about the Ministry of Truth National Authority for the Regulation of Audio-Visual transmission.

The law also leaves it to the National Authority itself to determine the criteria which will decide who is awarded broadcasting licences. The National Authority’s Board of Executives include five government representatives, one of whom is from the Interior Ministry.

But then this bloke did wear a red tie and a pinstripe suit and quote Quranic scripture and call himself doctor, so he must be well informed and sincere.

Lawyer Gamal Eid and Al Jazeera’s Hussein Abdel Ghany refuted his bullshit, eloquently and convincingly, and so he adopted a new tactic: interrupting them whenever they tried to speak, which I realised is a disease/tactic of politicians/government cronies everywhere.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"I felt like I had died" - Mohamed Maree's account of his detainment and torture

CAIRO: Mohamed Salah Maree is a 23 year-old, 4th year student of veterinary science at Mansoura University who doesn’t really want to be a vet.

“I wanted to study political science, but my father was determined that there should be at least one person in the family able to call himself doctor.”

Maree will be repeating the last university year in the coming academic year: in June, when he should have been doing his exams, he was being held in political detention in Alexandria’s Borg El-Arab Prison.

His crime was to interpret for American journalist James Buck, in Mahalla, last April.

On April 6th and 7th violent clashes broke out between demonstrators protesting increasing food prices and security bodies, who rights groups accuse of using heavy-handed policing methods.

Hundreds of people were arrested over the course of the two days and held in Mahalla’s police stations.

Relatives of the detainees had gathered outside the 1st Mahalla police station in the square in front of it to enquire about their missing loved ones on Thursday 10th April. Buck was photographing and interviewing them, with Maree’s help.

“I was on one side of the square interviewing people and James was on the other taking photos and recording what people were saying,” Maree told Daily News Egypt.

“Suddenly I saw James run and people trying to protect him from [state security officers]. I stopped a taxi and told James to get in and told the driver, ‘go, go!’”

They were pursued by the state security officers, who eventually cut off the taxi.

“I was so calm, James was so frightened and angry,

“I told him ‘don’t worry, we didn’t do anything wrong, we’ll go in and get out right away’ – I really did believe that this would happen,

“The officers told the taxi driver to go to the police station. One of the officers sat beside us on the way there,”

In his tireless campaigning for his release, Buck has frequently paid tribute to Maree’s strength and equanimity during the ordeal.

“[Maree] is a kind man with a quiet, gentle voice who held my hand as we ran through the streets under police siege. When we got hit with tear gas, Mohammed negotiated safe houses for us to go in and wash our eyes...When a passing train a few feet away was hit with rocks and I cowered in fear, he covered my body with his,” Buck wrote in an op ed published in the Harvard Crimson in June.
Maree and Buck were held inside the Mahalla no.1 police station where they were searched and interrogated before being charged.

“They made a report saying that we’re against the government and that we encouraged the people in Mahalla to destroy things, and other charges,” Maree told Daily News Egypt.

A district attorney in the Mahalla public prosecution office threw out the charges – “when he read the report he called another prosecutor and they laughed” Maree said – and the two men were released.

“When we approached the main door of the building there were a lot of people from state security waiting for us,

“They said ‘James can go but we need you, Mohamed, we need to finish the release procedures’,

“We tried to escape, to go back inside, but they took us back to the police station.”

Nine hours after they were originally arrested the pair were again detained at 3 a.m. – illegally, in violation of the public prosecution office’s release order.

During his detention Buck had managed to notify his network of contacts of his arrest using the Twitter messaging service, and a lawyer sent by his university arrived at 9 a.m. the next day.

The lawyer told Buck he could take him, but not Maree. Buck refused to leave without Maree and stayed with him until the two were separated and Buck was released in the early evening.

Unknown to Buck – and to anyone – Maree was taken from the police station to the Mahalla State Security office, where his nightmare began.

“Just as I went in through the door of the state security building someone behind me lifted me by my belt very hard. He then blindfolded me, and tied my hands behind my back, took my wallet and my mobile and insulted me repeatedly.

“They took me to the 2nd floor of the building and this time I was very afraid. They told me to sit on the ground. I heard a lot of people screaming, they were being electrocuted - I could hear the sound of the machine,

“A voice near my ear said ‘put him in the oven’ and after that ‘put him on the pole’ [a reference to sodomy]. I felt like I had died. Someone kicked me while I was on the ground,

“I spent an hour in the room before they took me to an officer. I could hardly walk because I was so scared,

“Before I went in [his office] voices said ‘there is electricity on the ground, jump you son of a…or you’ll be electrocuted’ I jumped, but there was nothing. “They insulted me again, ‘You traitor, you work with foreigners…You’re going to die from electric shocks,’”

Maree was interrogated about his political views, which television programmes he watches, and about his relationship with Buck.

He was also questioned about all the contacts stored in his mobile phone and forced to repeat the same answers again, after forty hours without sleep.

“I was taken back outside and started coughing and couldn’t breathe,

“I took off my blindfold and someone kicked my leg. Then he handcuffed my hand really tight, so tight that I lost feeling in it. They took me to a cell downstairs.

“I begged him to loosen the handcuff slightly, and he did. I didn’t have a blanket. I was on my own. The floor was rough and I was still handcuffed behind my back. I couldn’t sleep.”

Maree says that he was kept in solitary confinement, blindfolded and handcuffed, for 19 days, permitted to use a toilet once a day for three minutes.

With obvious embarrassment, whispering, and barely able to form the words, he told Daily News Egypt that guards burst into his cell one night while he was asleep. He was so frightened that he urinated on himself. He was not given a change of clothes.

During this time his family – who had gone to the state security office in search of their missing son – were told that he was not being held there.

“They told me that ‘you’re going to die here and we’ll bury you in this cell’. I believed them,”

Maree was issued with a detention order – an administrative decree issued under the Emergency Law which critics say is abused in order to detain political opponents and others – and taken to Borg El-Arab Prison.

He launched various hunger strikes inside the prison: in protest at his being held in the criminals’ rather than political detainees’ section; at being denied the right to sit his university exams (he was eventually transferred to Mansoura Prison to sit the exams but some time after exams had already started, as a result of which he failed the university year) and in protest at his being held without charge.

Ninety days after his arrest, Maree was released on 8th July, with a warning not to blog – he has a blog on which he has posted only two posts – and to stay away from political activity.

Forty-two detainees arrested during the Mahalla events are not so ‘lucky’. Part of a group of 49 (six are on the run) these are ordinary, poor and forgotten people from Mahalla who face prison sentences of between 7 and 10 years.

Lawyers claim that many of them have been tortured, and that the group – abandoned by the media and almost all rights groups – are the scapegoats being used by the government to give credence to its claims that the events of Mahalla were an outbreak of mob-led criminal violence, rather than an expression of social and economic despair.

Originally published in Daily News Egypt

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tosson evictees demonstrate in front of Ministry of Agriculture

Around 70 people forcibly evicted from their homes in Alexandria protested outside the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday demanding that they be given the right to buy the land they have been living on for between five and ten years.

On the morning of 1st May 2008 central security trucks surrounded Tosson, home to some 500 families, and proceeded to use teargas and police dogs to force some of the inhabitants out of their homes, before the houses were razed to the ground.

Protestors told Daily News Egypt that they were given no prior notice of the eviction.

“I told a policeman, ‘I have three children and no source of income – what do you expect me to do?’ He said, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to put you in the street,’” Samia Basheer told Daily News Egypt.

Central security troops then returned on 19th May 2008 and used the same techniques to remove other residents. Lawyer Mohamed Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that 48 security trucks were used during the operation.

A mobile phone video taken after the eviction shows residents sitting in front of piles of rubble and the possessions they managed to salvage from their destroyed homes.

A total of 52 people were arrested during the course of the evictions.

Nine people were charged with obstructing the implementation of the eviction order but were cleared of these charges by the public prosecution office.

Twenty-two others were accused of damage to, and theft of, public property, illegal assembly of more than five people, and chanting anti-police slogans. Ramadan claims that they were chanting ‘there is no god but Allah’.

On the 19th May nineteen people were arrested and charged with preventing a public official from carrying out his duties and illegal assembly of more than five people. Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that they were held for several days before being released.

Mohamed Ahmed, an engineer who lived in Tosson told Daily News Egypt that these are trumped up charges.

“The police lit fires on the ground and photographed them in order to substantiate the fabricated charges against us,” Ahmed said.

Residents of Towssoon made their homes there ten years ago.

Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that officially the land is categorised as Agricultural Reform land and belongs to the state.

He said however that under Law 148 (2006) inhabitants of such land have the right to buy it from the state – a right which the protestors outside the Ministry of Agriculture were invoking on Thursday.

Ahmed questioned why the state provided them with services if they were supposedly on the land illegally.

“The state provided electricity, water, telephone lines and installed a sewage system and now claims that this is Agricultural Reform land and that we have no right to be here – it’s illogical,” Ahmed said.

“We just want to enter into negotiations with the government in order to buy our land and live on it again,” Abdallah Abdel Razeq Abdallah told Daily News Egypt.

The case has been transferred by the State Security Prosecution Office to the State Negotiations Body hay2at mofawada el dawla. Ramadan says that residents object to this because it could take years for the body to issue a ruling and they desperately need a fast resolution.

Mohamed Zeitoun worked as a labourer in Kuwait for ten years before returning with his savings to Egypt.

“I put all my money in the house I built on this land, and now I have nothing. Am I meant to start again?”

Ahmed told Daily News Egypt that some 100 people remain in Tosson but that the authorities have cut off electricity and water in an attempt to drive them out.

Evicted residents say that they are prevented from entering the site of their destroyed homes by a private security firm, Care Services which patrols the area.

Ramadan alleges that a contract exists between the company and the governorate of Alexandria.

While it is unclear why residents of Tosson have been evicted, and why they have so far not been offered to opportunity to buy the land, Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reported Wednesday that the area will be used for the construction of housing forming part of the Mobarak Youth Housing Scheme.

Residents say that there is in fact housing forming part of this Scheme next to Towssoon, but that it is empty.

An activist from Alexandria who requested anonymity told Daily News Egypt that he suspects the land has been seized for business interests.

He explained that the area in which Tosson is located has undergone a process of gentrification and increased in value.

Forced, often violent, evictions are a routine occurrence in Egypt, in violation of its obligations under international law to consult with residents before evictions, to evict them without using violence and to provide them with alternative housing.

“How can the state use teargas against us? Are we their enemies? Am I not a citizen of this country?” Schoolteacher Nagwa Farouq said.

“We haven’t asked the state for anything except that they leave us be. If I want to buy a house in Egypt, what am I supposed to do? Adverse possession is widespread in Egypt,” she continued.

“One of my sons said ‘I want to be a police officer when I grow up’. My other son said to him, ‘what, so you can throw destroy people’s houses and throw them in the street?’ This is how he sees his country.”

Originally publised in Daily News Egypt

Friday, July 04, 2008

Craptain Hima

Egypt’s answer to Beyonce, the ubiquitous Tamer Hosny, is a spectacularly hardworking man. A man who does not allow his busy schedule of album releases, TV appearances, film releases and complicated hair maintenance to prevent him from updating his own Wikipedia entry (sample: “Favourite Place: Any Calm Place with light light [sic]”). The love of his fans, he says, is “the most valuable thing” given to him.

So conscientious is he of his duty towards his fans that not even a brief sojourn in prison following a mishap with a forged passport and a date with the army could stop our Tamer, and he released an album, “Eineyya Bethebbak”, “My Eyes Love You” while doing porridge.

I wonder if Tamer drew on his prison experiences whilst preparing for his latest role in Captain Hima, written and directed by his long-time associate, producer and pop star manufacturer, Nasr Mahrous.

The film - essentially a 90 minute music video inconvenienced by a dull script and poor acting thrust in between Tamer’s costume changes – is the story of Ibrahim, aka Hima, a loveable, cheeky school bus driver who, we are to understand, is mad keen on football - from whence the captain.

The purpose of the frustrated footballer theme is to tell us that economic circumstances following the death of his parents in a car accident have conspired against this talented, honest, hard-working young man and shattered his dreams - but not, apparently, his ability to buy an extensive and expensive-looking wardrobe of outfits.

Hima looks exactly like Tamer Hosny - not only because he is Tamer Hosny - but because Tamer Hosny’s idea of getting into character is changing the angle of his hair. But then he needn’t trouble himself with acting skills, because Captain Himo is after all a Tamer Hosny vehicle. This is made clear from one of the very first scenes, when Tamer is cleaning his bus and a teaching assistant bursts on in a groupie manner and excitedly expounds on how beautiful Hima is, or Tamer is, while the huge elephant of TAMER HOSNY’S CELEBRITY looks on from the back of the bus.

The film’s obligatory love interest comes in the form of Zeina, who plays a standoffish but highly attractive teacher who cheeky Hima immediately falls for.

Guess what! Zeina is from a wealthy family, and as has already been established, Hima isn’t For the 984,000th time in the history of cinema the love across the class divide theme is rehashed with absolutely nothing new added, in what is little more than a reprise of Hassan Tayara, released earlier this year.

Like Razan in Hassan Tayara, Zeina is being bothered by a suitor, Hossam, who is wealthy and well-connected but otherwise odious. He wants to marry her, inundating her with gifts and unannounced appearances and free dinners as part of his seduction campaign, and generally makes a nuisance of himself. Zeina is all at sea, torn between him, and her steadily growing attraction to Hima/Tamer and his assorted collection of leather wristbands.

Meanwhile, Hima is continuing his own campaign of Proving What a Solid Guy He Is. We see him caring for his teenage sister, “Toota”, who was not killed in the car accident but suffers from an unidentified illness which makes her fragile and liable to expire at any moment but alas does not stop her from being intensely irritating.

The Muslim Hima is also best friends with his neighbour, who is Christian. We are constantly reminded of this fact both by, 1. the huge bishop-sized cross he wears around his neck 2. his eating in front of Hima during Ramadan while proclaiming that he has never eaten in front of anyone fasting before remembering that it is Ramadan (oh, how we laughed) and 3. the Christian iconography to which he prays each time Toota is rushed into hospital.

The clumsy thrusting of this Sesame Street-style, interfaith theme in our faces was entirely pointless and almost tokenistic.

But then none of the film’s themes are expanded on, apart from the insipid Tamer-Zeina love story. One of the charges on Tamer’s bus has an incontinence problem, and tells him that his nanny beats him, and is generally horrid to him. Tamer takes the little boy home and confronts the wicked nanny (allowing in the process the director to insert an ill-placed gag revolving around the unseen boy’s mother groaning, it turns out in pain. Boom boom). And then this particularly storyline stops dead.

And that’s because Hima and Zeina are going camping with her school charges! Both of them woke up each morning looking immaculate, despite being in the middle of the desert, Tamer’s cardboard hair unruffled by the desert winds and Zeina putting practicality first in a pair of moon boots.

Zeina discovers Tamer reading a book – GASP – in ENGLISH, allowing Tamer to bore us with a short lecture about why being a bus driver doesn’t mean you can’t be educated and intellectual and have good taste, though his collection of skin-tight disco t-shirts challenges this theory somewhat.

There then follows an action packed scene when, for a reason which is not clear, silly Zeina falls over in a perfectly still, moored boat. while looking through a pair of binoculars at nothing at all and manages to knock herself out in the process. Perhaps her moon boots had compromised her equilibrium?

Ever alert, Tamer bounds over and snatches her from the jaws of a slight headache.

All this is a lead up to song on the shores of a lake which would be merely tedious, if it were not for the drunk-man-harassing-a-woman-in-a-pub nature of the lyrics. “This is what draws me to you” Tamer declares, while clearly and unmistakably looking at Zeina’s bosoms. Rather than giving him a slap, Zeina skips along, smiling coyly. “I kiss my hand because it’s shaken your hand in greeting,” Tamer warbles – apparently taking a new, more oblique approach after the sexual harassment tactic didn’t bear fruit. So to speak.

And the worst thing is, we are subjected to all this nonsense and it didn’t actually happen: Tamer dreamt it. Well, Mahrous had to shoehorn in the singing-next-to-a great-expanse-of-water-scene somehow, I suppose. No contemporary mass-consumption Egyptian film involving a singer is complete without it.

Back in Cairo and Hossam the unctuous suitor pops up again until Zeina finally pulls her finger out and gives him his marching orders. Then everything goes berserk. First, a poorly-rendered Speed-like scene when the schoolbus’ brakes stop working but a huge pile of sand conveniently parked at the side of the road both saves the day and the need for any convincing special effects.

Then Toota is hospitalised and Tamer is arrested on murder charges concocted by evil Hossam and held for four days, allowing him to employ his method acting techniques and draw on his prison experience. (The result: he paces up and down his cell looking at the ceiling while we are forced to listen to him singing).

The film’s ends with the inevitable Zorro-like confrontation between Hima and Hossam, Hossam telling Hima “God made classes so that everyone knows their place.” “No,” Hima informs him sanctimoniously “God made classes to complement each other” before everything ends happily ever after and Tamer and Nasr Mahrous go off to the bank.

Originally published in Daily News Egypt.