The 2006 film Yacoubian Building is based on the 2002 novel of the same name. It covers the overlapping lives of residents of the real-life Yacoubian Building in downtown Cairo in the year 1990. The film serves as a critique of democracy in modern Egypt since the 1952 revolution through the portrayal of the characters’ lives. Contradiction and irony are recurring themes and invoking God is often juxtaposed with sin, corruption and abuse of power.
Adel Imam epitomizes old, aristocratic Cairo through his portrayal as Zaki, a rich engineer with an office in the Yacoubian Building. He speaks French and is knowledgeable of worldy affairs while at the same not time particularly religious. He often indulges in alcohol and women.
Taha is the son of the building caretaker who dreams of entering the police academy and achieves high secondary school marks. The police academy refuses him, however on the pretext that his father occupies a lowly position in the social class. He initially enrolls in University but then joins a fundamentalist Islamic group, eventually leaving the University and turning to a life of crime.
Busayna is the childhood love of Taha who father has died and her mother forces her to go to work to support their family. She finds sexual exploitation at her job and is faced with the decision to leave. She seems to realize the potential of her looks in helping her to get ahead in life and she ends up falling in love with Zaki.
Hatim, a homosexual newspaper editor looks for love from a young police officer from Upper Egypt. The young man originally refuses Hatim’s advances, citing that he is married and that type of behavior is considered haram and a shame within Egyptian society and religion. However, he does end up indulging in alcohol and relations with Hatim, which he later deeply regrets as a black shadow is cast across his life.
Hajj is a millionaire who has made his money through drug dealing under the guise of being very pious man. He takes a second wife because he is no longer satisfied with his first, at the same time he tries to cover it up as it would make him look bad to society. While trying to run for Parliament and manage his business deals he encounters the debilitating corruption and bribery that are present in Egyptian politics.
The film ultimately serves as a critique on Egyptian society, a supposed democracy, but with so many contradictions about what that actually means. The film was controversial when it was released, specifically for its portrayal of homosexual relationships, terrorism, and corruption. The film is ultimately contradicting because it questions the validity of a democratic Egypt but at the same time the question in the viewer’s mind is that if Egypt was truly not democratic at all, would such a film actually been possible? Of course the film was controversial in 2006, before the fall of the Mubarak government, but would it be as controversial had it been released in 2011?