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In 1938 Justine, an enigmatic Jew in Alexandria, and her husband, Nessim Hosnani, a Coptic Christian millionaire, conspire to send arms to Palestine. Among Justine's numerous friends and lovers are Pursewarden, a British official incestuously obsessed with his blind sister, Liza; Darley, a young Irish schoolmaster; Narouz, Justine's fanatic brother-in-law; and Toto, a homosexual. Arriving in Alexandria, Darley befriends Melissa, a tubercular Greek belly dancer and the mistress of wealthy Jewish furrier Cohen, an intimate of Justine. Fearing that Melissa has revealed the conspiracy to Darley, Justine takes the Irishman as her lover. Enraged by Darley's liaison with Justine, Melissa consoles herself with Pursewarden, to whom she reveals the Hosnanis' scheme. Shocked that Justine has provided munitions for use against British forces, Darley informs his superior, Mountolive, and then commits suicide. Although the Hosnanis are placed under house arrest, Justine quickly charms her captor, the Moslem Minister of Security.