A stranger with a middle-eastern look about him comes up and offers you a free trip to Egypt. What would you be concerned about? Would you take them up on it? Tarek Mounib, born in Canada of Egyptian parents, now living in Switzerland, went to Trump rallies, stood in Grand Central Station, and went on the radio looking for people to take him up on his offer. Free Trip to Egypt, directed by Ingrid Serban, is the results of his efforts.
Mounib came up with the idea on a bus one day in Switzerland, with the idea of finding a way to allow people to find a new way to encounter people they don’t know other than through the vitriol that seems to fill the world today. For Mounib, the Islamophobia is especially significant. We see him speaking with people at a Trump rally in Kentucky, many of those responded with anger towards all Muslims—often saying they wanted them dead. But he did find some who were open to the possibility that this would help.
He collected a small group of people, all of whom had some misgivings or prejudices: an African-American police officer who feared being taken hostage in Egypt; two unconnected former Marines; a Jewish school teacher how had become fearful and conservative since 9/11 and her xenophobic husband; an evangelical minister; and a former Miss Kentucky. We get to meet them all before they set off on the journey. Each talks about their fears or hopes in the project.
When they arrive, each is paired up with a local host, also a diverse group of people, who will show them things that are important to them in their homeland. They visit families. They go to the pyramids. They go to mosque. They spend time and discover that even with the real differences, they have much in common with their counterparts. In fact the minor conflicts that arise are more within the American group than between American and Egyptians.
This is not the first film I’ve seen with the concept of bringing people together (although it seems most have dealt with Israelis and Palestinians). This one works as well as it does because the Americans we meet have real misgivings about the project, but also because they sense that it may bring something new and helpful into their lives.
Personally, I found the minister and the beauty queen (who are connected by friendship) to be the least interesting, in no small part, I’m sure, because they reflect an understanding of Christianity that does not really fit with mine. But even they find ways of connecting to the orthodox Muslim family that hosts them. (Consider the difference of the wife who wears a burqa and the beauty queen!)
The most touching story involves the school teacher and her husband. She was quite liberal in the 60s, but has changed since 9/11 and is looking for a better view of the world and life. They worry about their son who is teaching in Saudi Arabia. This trip, for them, becomes truly life changing.
The film is an encouragement for people to step beyond our preconceptions—and especially the portrayals of other we see in the media, on the internet, and from those who encourage fear and hatred. This film asks us to meet and listen to people different from us. It seeks to foster within us an attitude of openness.
The film has as a foundation that people are essentially the same across religious and cultural lines. Those things make us see things differently, but when we manage to see the person underlying the differences we see someone like ourselves. We find those who are, like us, God’s children.
Photos courtesy of Kindness Films