Our hero is imperfect. He is not one of those idols whose footsteps we will be advised to follow in our everyday lives. In cultural terms, he is unclean. He does not look after the shape of his hair and beard. He shows us, and has once said, that he does not like to shave or to take showers.
In religious, theological terms, his life is full of sin. He curses, drinks, smokes hash, and visits brothels everyday. Socially, he is a former revolutionary student who later accepted bribes while working in the judicial system during his early career phase. Now, he is a corrupt lawyer. He defends criminals while knowing that they are guilty. He only looks for money, even if it means protecting a rapist whose victim is a teenager. So, what is heroic about our Mustapha Khalaf, played by Ahmed Zaki?
Mustapha is very clever in what he does. He tells us from the opening scenes that being “successful” in one’s profession does not necessarily mean that one can consequently fit into the “moral good” society. And this is simply because such society is eventually an absent one that falsely exists through unfair legal and political systems.
Consequently, Mustapha is fine with his environment. Moreover, society accepts him because his “imperfection” was just so “perfect” for the concealment of the “true” picture. He is left to be whatever he likes because his “righteousness” or “wrongness” is unimportant to the government, to the rulers. As long as he is far from criticising the authorities, Mustapha is not only in a safe position. He will also be a “perfect” member of a group of other “good” lawyers who will seek to file a “humanitarian” case.
To begin, the story in a nutshell, tells about a school bus whose drugged driver did not pay attention that he was crossing railway tracks amid the passage of a train. Consequently, Mustapha and his colleagues begin to urge the families of the dead and the injured victims to ask for financial compensation from insurance companies. And it goes without saying that Mustapha wants to shape this victimhood in a way that can benefit him.
To be sure, this is not the first time Mustapha works on such cases, but it is the first time for our “hero” to create a personal relationship with one of “his legally made” victims. In a plot that is somehow similar to novelist Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Mustapha discovers that his son, whom he did not know about before, has been paralysed due to the school bus accident.
Here, the constructed victims are no longer faceless or voiceless, as many critical social researchers attempt to challenge the phenomenon of victimhood and uncover the real intentions and actors behind its construction. The victims are not those who are usually too weak and subjugated to defend their rights and the reasons of their sufferings.
In contradistinction, the victims within this context are made visible; they became better represented not only when Mustapha closely met his son, but also when he starts to think about the “morality” of himself and of his society.
In doing so, Mustapha disrupts the usual chain that normally reproduces the very same ideas about victims and victimhood. Unlike similar previous accidents, Mustapha decides to courageously accuse the ministers of education and transportation, together with the head of the Egyptian railways. By pointing to the actual perpetrators, he moves the narratives about victimhood to a new arena, where he also accepts paying the price. That is, to be openly confronted with all his past “sins” and “corruption.”
By the end, Mustapha realises that becoming a “hero”—a real good one this time—is a process that cannot begin without getting radical and revolutionary as he used to be while completing his university degree. It is true that the final scenes of the film do not show us whether or not the ministers would be imprisoned. Moreover, we do not know what kind of “morality” or state of religiousity Mustapha would follow afterwards. What we obviously see, however, is a warm hug between Mustapha and his son who finally knows about the real relation with his brave lawyer. Closing on this note, we get the feeling that forming intimate human interactions together with the questioning and the disruption of one’s “wrong” position in society can be made possible when going “Against the Government.”