The movie "Cousins" ("Welad Ela'am") has won huge popularity in Egypt. Even three weeks after its debut, it's nearly impossible to get tickets to the movie in Cairo and its surroundings. The spy thriller, which takes place in Tel Aviv and compares Israelis to Nazis, is a hot topic on talk shows and has its stars putting in many long hours of interviews with the Arab media.
Though the production studio is miffed that sales figures have been distorted in favor of the comedy "Amir the Sailor," the movie's main competitor on the charts. However, the company is proud of the record income of 14.4 million Egyptian liras (about $2.5 million) it raked in within just the first two weeks.
At the beginning of the movie, we see an Egyptian father taking his wife and two children sailing off the shores of Egypt. In the middle of the sailing trip, the true story comes forth. The father, Daniel (Sharif Munir), is a Mossad agent who decided to kidnap his wife Selwa (Mona Zaki) and two children to Israel. He injects his wife with sedatives and brings her and the children to Israel.
Poster promoting the film 'Cousins'
A short time later, the family wakes up in a luxurious home in the "Bat Yam neighborhood" of Tel Aviv and opens the window to see a huge Israeli flag. Selwa understands that she has awoken into a "nightmare" and has been duped all these years by her husband.
Daniel presents Selwa with a choice: return on her own to Egypt and leave her two small children behind or continue to live with him in Israel. Left with no choice, Selwa agrees to stay in Israel, but finds out she is unable "to live with the racist people." Religious issues are also raised in the movie, as Selwa feels religion forbids her to live with a Jew.
The plot is further complicated when Egyptian intelligence decides it is unwilling to turn a blind eye to the kidnapping. An Egyptian agent is sent to Israel to help Selwa and her children return to Egypt. Together, he and Selwa try to set up Daniel.
Hatred and analogy to Nazis
Despite the acclaim the film has received among Egyptian audiences, the film is saturated with venom and hatred towards Israel and its citizens. The movie's message is loud and clear – Israel is the enemy.
The movie addresses the Palestinian issue and flaunts "the atrocities" being committed by Israel. For instance, the Egyptian agent accompanies a group of Palestinian worker and is exposed to their harsh reality of their daily lives: fighter jets that regularly bomb Palestinian villages, convoys of refugees moving along the sides of the roads asking for asylum, Israeli bad guys shoving elderly Palestinian women, Israelis destroying Palestinian homes, and other images that look as though they were taken straight out of a Holocaust movie.
On the subject of the Holocaust, the movie makes an explicit comparison between Israel's actions and those committed by the Nazis. For instance, the Egyptian intelligence operative created a cover story for himself that he works in a pharmacy in Bat Yam. One day, he hears the memorial sirens blaring on Holocaust Remembrance Day. When his employer, an Egyptian-born Jew, explains to him the significance of the siren, the agent is dumbstruck that Israel commemorates the memory of the Holocaust while perpetrating "a holocaust" on the Palestinian people.
Israel is presented in the movie as Egypt's No. 1 enemy. Upon Daniel's return to Israel, he briefs his operators that many Israeli spy rings are active in Egypt despite the peace agreement between the two countries.
The movie demonizes the average Israeli. Throughout the movie, Israeli figures are typified as inhumane, not just towards Palestinians but also among themselves. Israeli society is portrayed as corrupt and violent, and hateful towards foreigners. The only positive Israeli character in the movie is the one of the Egyptian-born Jew, but even he declares that he "is not a Zionist."
'Script is weak, but Tel Aviv is glamorous'
The movie's script, according to reports in the Arab media, was authorized by Egypt's culture and information ministries (led, by the way, by Farouk Hosni, who ran for the position of UNESCO chief and lost). The Egyptian defense establishment and the Egyptian regulatory board for movies also gave the movie their blessing.
The movie, which was filmed in South Africa, presents viewers with a supposed view of what Tel Aviv looks like today. In addition, a number of sentences in Hebrew were woven throughout the text in order to give the movie an "authentic landscape."
Even those who didn't watch the movie could soak up its anti-Israel message via the interviews its headliners gave to the media.
"There is no call for normalization with Israel in the movie," said Mona Zaki in an interview with London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat. "Until now, the Jews are the ones call us their 'cousins.' However, there are people who combine the Jew and the Zionist when there is in fact a big difference between the two. I am not against Jews because the Jews belong to a monotheistic faith. But I am against Zionism. Even the real Jews themselves are against Zionism. There is no call for normalization in the movie, and whoever sees the film will realize this."
Despite the films popularity, not everyone is singing its praises. For example, a review in Dubai-based newspaper al-Bayan deemed the movie weak and unrealistic. "Despite the general weakness of the script, director Sharif Arafaa succeeded in a depicting quite a glamorous picture of life in Tel Aviv, where most of the movie's scenes take place," the review claimed.
One way or another, when it comes to Egyptian blockbusters, there is nothing like kicking Israel in order to make the charts and fill movie seats.