The glow of possibility has shone in the collective mind of Egypt post-revolution, nowhere more brightly than at TEDxCairo this past May 21st. The event, held at Bassily Hall at The American University of Cairo's New Cairo campus, brought together some of Egypt's greatest technologists, artists, and scholars to discuss how to revive past glory and develop Egypt socially and economically.
The 1300+ crowd, a mixture of young and old, geeks and fashionistas, the conservative and the unconventional, brought back memories of Tahrir Square during its occupation by protestors in the early days of the revolution. Reviving a “Republic of Tahrir” spirit, where women and men contributed equally, divisions were forgotten, and inhabitants felt a sense of ownership and pride in their community, was the event's theme, officially dubbed a "Resurrection."
The post-Tahrir moniker"Egypt 2.0" seemed fitting as Egypt's technological prowess came to the forefront. Nano-technologist Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb explained how seemingly insignificant events influence our perceived realities, while twenty-three year old entrepreneur Haytham Fadeel wowed with his semantic search engine www.kngine.com, which has been termed a "direct assault on Google" by TechCrunch. Egyptian Fahd Albinali, founder of MIT-incubated startup EveryFit, demonstrated the power of technology for social good with an invention designed to combat obesity in society by cataloguing an individual's movements.
Yet Egypt's narrative of revolution cannot be reduced to technology. Egyptologist Gihane Zaki illustrated Tahrir's roots by describing an Egyptian revolution in 2011 B.C. Shereef Abd El-Azeem of Egyptian charity Resala recounted the story of a soldier who said he would happily die for his country knowing that Resala’s volunteers would carry out their work. Singer Fatma Said moved the crowd with an operatic piece named "The Day the People Changed," echoing the sentiment evoked when activist Tarek Shalaby, who was arrested during the protests, entered to a roar of applause, crystallizing Egypt's newfound image as a hotbed of individual resistance.
The talks at TEDxCairo also acknowledged the nature of the long, hard fight involved in building a new society. Leukemia survivor Nada Chatila broke taboos speaking about her fight with the disease, while biologist Yasmeen Said spoke passionately about Egypt's need for a neuroscience center to work on solving the Alzheimer’s disease crisis. Author Essam Youssef depicted the depths of Egypt’s drug problem, while Muslim scholar Fadel Soliman urged that Muslims and Christians should protect each other despite the apparent rise of religious intolerance in Egypt.
And yet, as executive coach Hesham El-Gamal expounded on the importance of chasing your dreams and rapper Ahmed ‘Zap’ Tharwat concluded with a poem about happiness, it was clear that optimism prevailed at TEDxCairo. Whether stories of positive change will effect transformation in a public consciousness still gripped by fear is unknown. But if the spirit shown at TEDxCairo is any indication, Egypt is well on its way to resurrection.