The Costa Crew: Challenging Salafi Stereotypes

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From the short films

By: Mohammed Kheir

Published Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Costa Coffee shop Salafis are bent on challenging common stereotypes about Egyptian Salafis. The group’s short films are filled with heavy doses of humor that cast the religiously conservative group as ordinary Egyptians.

A bottom-up shot captures a scary bearded face of a man banging two knives together producing a terrifying sound. The man greets the audience of the “daily special” show with the Islamic greeting and presents the recipe of “a potato dish garnished with liberals.”

The scene is rather funny, and can be loosely described as a short film. Where is my Shop? ( Ayna Mahaly?) is less than 12 minutes long. However, it has received more than 120,000 hits on YouTube in less than three days. Its success comes in spite of the film’s budget, which according to the producers did not exceed 148 Egyptian pounds (approximately US$30). The financiers of the movie are presented as none other than “Saudi Arabia, the Israeli Mossad, Freedom House in the United States, and the Embassy of Swan Lake.”

Despite the joke, the movie was in fact made on less than US$30. The group used an ordinary camera, and the film was shot in-front of and inside an empty shop in the shanty town of Ezbet El-Haggana in Cairo. The actors are the producers and members of the Costa Salafis (Salafyo Costa), who usually introduce themselves with the phrase “we always pay for the drinks.” They used this slogan in Tahrir Square during the demonstrations, in reference to the media, the government, and the opposition blaming the Salafis for all the wrongs of Egyptian society. The Costa in their name refers to the famous coffee chain, which was the meeting place of the group’s founding members.

The group is trying to show that Salafis are normal Egyptian citizens: they belong to the middle class, with a centrist ideology that preaches openness and tolerance. The movement organized a number of sports competitions and cultural events for both Salafis and Copts. They also participated in the Tahrir demonstrations, which were boycotted by the majority of the larger Salafi movement. A few months ago, Salafiyyu Costa produced a short film called Where is my Ear? ( Ayna Wedny?), which drew public interest in the group. However, it was not really a film made from an artistic point of view but more like a dialogic sketch. The new film, Where is my Shop?, has a more cinematic feeling, but still has a political focus. The film involves a group of people who lose their shop for many years, having been taken by a man and his son. The group eventually receives a court decision to reclaim the shop. Each group member has a copy of the judicial ruling and presumes sole ownership of the shop. They compete through their different ideological models: liberal, Muslim Brotherhood, Christian, Salafi, and the ‘normal citizen.’ The liberal model is represented by a person who raised his case on January 25 (in reference to the start of the Egyptian Revolution), while the Muslim Brotherhood model is represented by another who raised his case on the 30th. The Christian (played by Coptic actor Hany Antonious, who is clearly not a Salafi himself) also joined their calls, while the Salafi arrived late, and instantly allied with the claimant from the Brotherhood. But the ‘normal citizen’ is more skeptical and concerned that the court ruling will have the opposite effect, so he loses his car instead of receiving shop ownership.

After they open the shop gates, they realize that the man and his son who initially took the shop have already destroyed it. The ideologically divergent group are forced to cooperate to repair the shop, but they are haunted by their own obsessions and doubts about the others’ intentions. Their tragicomedy is riddled with nightmares of “potato dishes garnished with liberals” and the “police of religious books.”

There are no women in the movie and no music, except Sayed Darwish’s song “Aho Da Elly Sar” (“This Is What It Has Become”) sung by Walid Mustafa. As for the performance, the actors are mostly amateurs, except for Ezzat Amin, who plays the film’s liberal character and also wrote and directed the film. Amin was a rising actor before the revolution and before the Costa Salafis became a YouTube sensation.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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