CAIRO: TEDxCairo marked the spot on Saturday, the place to be for a vibrant display of innovative ideas from an eclectic range of speakers and performers.
Based on the format of TED (technology, entertainment and design) talks – conferences that take place globally to disseminate "ideas worth spreading" – the independently organized Cairo event featured talks about science, drug use, the economy, technology, censorship as well as music and comedy.
Bassem El-Hady, one of the organizers, told Daily News Egypt that the “audience and feedback so far have been amazing.”
Testament to that was the audience’s reaction to the speakers and performers, but even more so, the rapidly flowing Twitter updates from those in AUC’s Bassily Hall and others watching the live stream online.
“You can feel the excitement and passion,” El-Hady said, obviously pleased with the work done by a team of 30 volunteers who operate on a non-profit basis. The event is funded solely by sponsors.
“We’ve been working on this for five months, our third event so far, and five months from now we will host another TEDxCairo,” he said.
Essential to the success of TEDxCairo is the variety of the lineup, with some invited speakers while others were chosen from nearly 100 submissions.
Titled “Resurrection: Laughter, Tears and Hopes” – and with television presenter Reem Maged as MC – many of the presentations centered around or were inspired by Egypt’s January 25 Revolution, and as the title suggests, aim at capturing reawakened dreams.
Gihane Zaki, an Egyptologist, spoke of a ruler who reigned Egypt for 49 years – joking that ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power waned in comparison. Another tidbit about this ruler’s wife being behind his thirst for power received many knowing laughs.
“We are in this eternal circle of life, though we may not feel it,” she said, adding that the revolution is part of this cycle, and that Egyptians’ optimism is hereditary.
Ali Faramawy, vice president of Microsoft International, made a lot of points that hit home with the audience, declaring as soon as he got on stage that he will neither use technology nor “apples” during his talk.
He went on to decipher the emotions that accompanied the revolution. Top three emotions during the revolution: amnesia (forgetting fears and divisions), uncertainty (of how it would all unfold) and fear (from the security vacuum and not knowing what to expect).
Immediately after Mubarak stepped down, these were replaced by: pride, hope and a renewed sense of “Egyptianness.”
Now, however, we’re back to feeling amnesia (forgetting what united people), uncertainty (over power and the future), and fear (also of the future, of past “ghosts,” and again of lax security).
He stressed the importance of connecting and a flow of communication between Egyptians at home and abroad. Top five things we know about Egyptians abroad are: they are a lot, they are intellectual, good-intentioned, some got lost along the way, and Egypt doesn’t know what to do with them. As for Egyptians at home? They suffer the same issues, he said.
“We have the right to dream of tomorrow and not fear yesterday,” Faramawy said at the end of his talk.
Speaking to DNE afterward, he said, “It’s energizing to see a great job done by young volunteers. …It’s about people who are open-minded and curious who want to contribute and learn.”
Events like TEDxCairo are essential in “leveraging the power, diversity and number of Egyptians, to do good things without orchestration and beyond bottlenecks,” he said, adding that there must be more of an effort to reach out to other governorates.
On the business side, Faramawy is optimistic: “Anything good for the people is good for business…and IT can help modernize education, governance and support SMEs.”
On a musical note, young singer Fatma Said got a standing ovation at the end of her operaesque performance of “The Day When The People Changed,” a heartfelt revolution song that was upbeat at times then poignantly melancholy at others.
Wael Said, hailing from Alexandria, also moved the audience with his sassy accordion tunes.
Bassem Youssef, one of the highlights of the day, made the audience laugh as soon as he stepped on stage, taking not so subtle jabs at the schizophrenic state of media during the revolution and declaring that we are all “martyrs of the media.”
He announced that he is working on a television show that will be weekly or semi-weekly, created via a collaborative effort between the writers and the audience, bloggers, activists and journalists.
A brief appearance by Tarek Shalaby, an activist and blogger who was detained and tried in a military court (but given a suspended sentence) after the Israeli embassy protest, was a pleasant surprise for the audience, who greeted him with a roar of applause.
Fadel Soliman, an international speaker and presenter of Islam as well as director of the Bridges Foundation, spoke of the factors that bring Muslim and Christian Egyptians together. With a practical pie chart, he showed that sharing 5 percent of religion, 20 percent of language, 20 percent traditions, 20 percent loyalties and 15 percent of our heritage means we have 80 percent in common.
“Coptic does not mean Christian, Coptic means Egyptian,” he said.
Ahmad Abdalla, film director (“Microphone”), touched on the topic of censorship, saying that Egyptians must decide first what kind of country they want to live in. After that, society’s relationship with press freedom, interfaith marriage, authority and gender equality can be decided.
“Censorship now has to do with our relationship with each other…our opinions and views. …We are all in the same circle, both sender and recipient at once,” he said.
Promoting volunteerism, Sherif Abdel Azim of Resala asked: “What have you done to prove your love to your country? Cheering for your favorite football team is not enough.”
He shunned the attitude of “wana maleya” (which roughly translates into none of my business), and said that true loyalty is acting based on a sense of social responsibility.
For a country brimming with “talent and goodness, even before January 25,” he urged people to give back, even with a drop of blood.
Other talks included one by a young Haytham Fadeel, who created an impressive search engine that can think called Kngine.com; Yasmine Said who educated the audience about Alzheimer’s, the most significant crisis of the 21st century; and Rania Siam’s scattered discussion of genomics, which fell flat and tested the audience’s attention span.
Marwa Sharafeddin, on the other hand, gave an enlightened and witty talk about gender equality and women’s role in Egypt during and after the revolution.
Ahmed Ghoneim, economics professor, urged Egyptians not to blame the economy, saying that it was a lack of institutions that created a system closely resembling Egypt’s chaotic and dangerous traffic conditions.
Mostafa Hegazy, founder of ACME Corp Global, reiterated the importance of building sound institutions that efficiently meet society’s needs as opposed to the “theatrical reality” we’ve accepted for years.
Essam Youssef, author of “’1/4 Gram,” said that Egyptians spent LE 23 billion on drugs in 2010, and 45,000 drug dealers were arrested, which means there are twice as many still on the streets.
“Egypt only has 350 beds for drug rehabilitation when around 1 million need to be treated,” he said, and lacking the proper facilities, judges resort to handing down prison sentences that do not help addicts.
Toward the end, the audience was treated to a heartwarming and tear-jerking story of a leukemia survivor. Nada Chatila described her fall into despair when diagnosed with leukemia 10 years earlier and all the tragedies that marked her life. Only when she decided to reconcile with God and life, and to count her other blessings, did she began to lead a happier life.
Just this past Jan. 7, the tenth anniversary of her diagnosis, she celebrated being 95 percent cancer-free after she took the risk of trying an untested drug.
The long applause that followed paved the way for a motivational presentation by Hesham El-Gamal on dreams and the importance of the journey taken in realizing them. The day long conference ended with a musical poem on happiness by Zap Tharwat. –Additional reporting by Sarah El Sirgany