The Cairo skyline is covered in a chilling black shroud.

The capital is transformed into a ghost city, its besieged inhabitants are tortured in Abu Ghraib-like prisons and the women are raped and humiliated.

Or so the story goes in Laylat Soqoot Baghdad (The Night Baghdad Fell), the first Arab film production on the invasion of Iraq released in Egyptian theatres in late December.

In reality, when US forces began their push into Iraq on 20 March 2003, Cairo witnessed the biggest popular street demonstrations in 30 years.

They lasted for two days and occupied downtown's central square until security forces brutally dispersed the demonstrators and conducted mass arrests.

Self-criticism
 
On the surface, life did not seem to change much.

"This is definitely an anti-American movie and it makes a point of illustrating Egyptian hatred for the US. But I'm actually mocking us, Egyptians, not them"

Mohamed Amin, 
director-scriptwriter

But the 3.5 million Egyptian pound ($610,000) film probes deeper by using the political fantasy/black comedy genres to explore American imperialism and Arab acquiescence.
 
It focuses on the reaction of a Cairene upper middle class family to the Iraq invasion and takes a stab at unemployment and drug addiction in Egypt.
 
Throughout, it employs sex and wit to deliver a jolting message. 
 
Mohamed Amin, the film's director-scriptwriter, tells Aljazeera.net: "This is definitely an anti-American movie and it makes a point of illustrating Egyptian hatred for the US. But I'm actually mocking us, Egyptians, not them."
 
He also points out that there is a clear "distinction [between the] American people and culture - which I respect - and devious, arrogant US policies."
 
Deterrence weapon

In the film, school headmaster Shaker (Hassan Hosni), after watching the fall of Baghdad on TV, is convinced danger is imminent despite reassurances from his friends that Egypt "must have a deterrence weapon to defend itself".

The hashish-addicted scientist
Tarek, played by Ahmed Eid 

When he discovers no such weapons exist - thanks to compromises in national security by "subservient" regimes - Shaker asks scientist Tarek (Ahmed Eid), to build a weapon.

Self-ridicule reaches its peak when Shaker gives Tarek a "morale boosting" video tape of Egypt's achievement since its 1973 war with Israel.

When Tarek plays the video later on, it shows Egypt's national football team scoring goals.

Explicit messages

Scenes where hashish-addicted Tarek fantasises about having sex with a belly dancing Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, pushed censors to slap a "for adults only" rating on the film.

They also triggered debate on the wisdom of employing sex to deliver political messages in a movie tackling the serious issue of occupation.

"These aren't sexual scenes," explains Amin. "They're sexual meanings. It's a universal language that everyone understands: The active partner - in this case Tarek - in a sexual act is always in the dominant, more powerful position. Tarek hates US officials so he defeats them in bed in the form of Rice."

His first movie and box office hit in 2000, Film Thaqafi (Cultural Film), was a rare and daring attempt to bring attention to sexual repression in Egyptian society.

Abu Ghraib

Amin started writing the script for Laylat Soqoot Baghdad the day the Iraqi capital was captured.

Director Mohamed Amin sees the
film as revenge for Abu Ghraib

When graphic photos of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal were leaked to the world media a year later, his script took a different direction.

"Why were these photos and images leaked? They wanted to humiliate us. That's their message and [my] film is a counter message."

Is his film then an act of vengeance for Abu Ghraib?

"Absolutely," says Amin.

He said he chose a political fantasy to shock the audience and give it catharsis.

In a scene where Tarek's deterrence weapon falters, Shaker's hopes fade and are replaced by a nightmare that his daughter is raped in Abu Ghraib.

Anti-Americanism

Unlike the majority of political Arab movies which focus the anger of the Arab street on Israel, Laylat Soqoot Baghdad focuses its contempt on the US.

Its director argues that the US "is the main catalyst" of wars and coups in most parts of the world. "Israel is only its extension."

Laylat Soqoot Baghdad focuses
its contempt on the US

He says: "I wish this movie would be screened in the US so that the American people see what their government is doing."

Anti-American sentiment in the Arab world is hardly surprising, says Gamil Mattar, a prominent political analyst.

He tells Aljazeera.net: "American policy is the most brilliant at creating hatred for its own people - the Americans. And this policy always seems to be devised to humiliate Arabs and Muslims. It has been ugly, arrogant, impulsive and stupid."

As the audience left a Heliopolis theatre after screening the film recently, a teenager was overheard telling his companion: "I really want to go and protest at the US embassy right now."