A scene from Tarek Mounib's documentary 'Free Trip to Egypt'

A scene from Tarek Mounib's documentary 'Free Trip to Egypt'

If someone on the street offered you an all-expense paid trip to Egypt would you take them up on the offer? Entrepreneur Tarek Mounib, a Canadian Egyptian and practicing Muslim, had an epiphany one day while riding the rails in Switzerland.

The year was 2016, hate crimes in the United States were on the rise. Locally, our city entered the national news when a local man burned down the Victoria Islamic Center months later in January 2017. Tarek wanted to build a bridge between Muslims and Americans with a gesture of kindness that would bring seven people together on an eye-opening journey.

Tarek and racial activist Adam Saleh, a New York rapper and YouTube celebrity, traveled around the country looking for individuals who either feared or hated Muslims to see if they would be willing to go to Egypt and open a dialogue with real Muslim individuals and families. Of course, they would get to do all the touristy things like ride a camel and see the pyramids plus airfare, hotel, and expenses would be covered. Not surprisingly, the duo didn’t receive any takers until they encountered ex-Marine Brian Kopilec at a Trump rally in his hometown of Louisville. As seen in the doc, most of the Trump supporters had preconceived notions about Muslims, one lady sporting a MAGA hat exclaims “We gotta shut ‘em down and take back our oil!” When Tarek asks another lady “Do you think there is a way for us to maybe go to Egypt and understand what’s happening there?” she replies “No! No! No!”

Brian decided to take Tarek up on the offer and soon other offers started coming in once Tarek discussed his project on a Sirius XM talk show. 70-year-old Ellen Decker, a retired schoolteacher who protested the Vietnam War during the 60s, sent in a video where she speaks about how 9/11 turned her into a racist. Together with husband Terry, a retired quality control manager for General Motors, the couple and Brian were joined on the trip by police officer Marc, former atheist now born again Christian Jason who brought along his religious friend Jenna, a former Miss Kentucky, and Katie a former Marine and single mom of two boys who was warned by her relatives that she would either get beheaded or sold into a sex slavery ring. Neither happened.

Each of the Americans was hosted by a different Egyptian, from freelance photojournalist Asmaa to cinematographer Ahmed, motorcycle bar-owner Salma, an orthodox Muslim family, and an independent journalist who loves Donald Trump.

The interesting documentary is filled with genuine moments of compassion as the two cultures learn from each other but as police officer Marc points out, the experiment almost feels like a reality game show filled with fake people who aren’t being their true selves, and to an extent he’s right. Can Americans get along with Muslims? Yes. Now getting along with each other, well that’s a different story and fodder for another documentary.

“Free Trip to Egypt” will be screened in more than 450 theaters tonight as a Fathom premiere event. For a list of theaters screening the documentary go to www.fathomevents.com/events/free-trip-to-egypt To take the pledge to listen go to the website www.FreeTripToEgypt.com

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society.  He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.