The CairoScene Impact List 2022
This is our annual list of the Egyptian leaders, athletes, artists, and creatives who made groundbreaking strides in 2022.
2022. A year of post-pandemic rubble navigation and a true test of patience and diligence. As the world resurfaces from beneath the ashes of ongoing emotional turmoil, global heads turn towards those whose resilience managed to outweigh the strife. In true Egyptian fashion, struggles - whether minuscule or detrimental - transformed into white noise in the greater soundscape of their lives. They proved that hurdles can funnel in an open source of inspiration as they movingly etch their names into history books to come.
Our annual impact list serves to document those moments. It’s an exhibition of inspirational Egyptians (and this year one honorary Egyptian!) who have managed to make a name for themselves within our borders as well as transnationally capture the attention and admiration of the world through their ingenious innovations.
From monumental events such as the 27th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the athletes, artists, filmmakers and musicians who’ve torn down barricades in pursuit of personal and nationwide progress, it is apparent that the story of our country has reached a turning point. We no longer need to look outside of our borders for inspiration as change is already taking place within us.
However, it is important to acknowledge that the most impactful change often occurs beyond the limelight; it lies in the underlying principles of love and perseverance. As always we strive to spotlight the stories of the country's heroic leaders - from the man whose initiative worked towards democratising education to the woman who brought the stories of marginalised women to screens.
As the charge against climate change continues to gain momentum, it is truly inspiring to see Egypt at the forefront of global environmental negotiations. With the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) having taken place in Sharm El-Sheikh this year, the world huddled beneath Egypt’s glistening sun rays to witness our leaders fervently push for equitable means to combat the effects of climate change. Eco Egypt’s Mohamed Elewa has spent the last year nature reserve-hopping, leading a team of young environmentalists to spotlight Egypt’s most hidden gems and platforming their indigenous communities, effectively putting Egypt on the world eco-tourism map.
While the country's leaders sought to bring about global change, Egypt's creative forces pushed forward ambitious initiatives in their respective industries. Hisham Mahdy, a visionary entrepreneur, launched the nation's first design festival, bridging the gap between Egypt's most prolific designers and their various specialties. Meanwhile, the sounds of Arab pop sensation Ahmed Saad filled regional arenas, and Egyptian athletics champion Bassant Hemida made history by claiming two gold medals at the 2022 Mediterranean Games.
As we state every year, this list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a small sampling of the extraordinary Egyptians who together represent a new type of transformational creative energy needed, to continue propelling our future.
RIHAM ABDEL GHAFOUR [Actress] | For Spotlighting the Stories of Marginalised Egyptian WomenIt takes a certain amount of fortitude, grit, compassion and social awareness to step into the limelight and portray the narratives of Egyptian women’s societal displacement. To highlight the stories so honestly, regardless of the overarching implications, and to reject the stigma that has silenced those most marginalised by the patriarchy. Egyptian actress Riham Abdel Ghafour has looked beyond the limelight and the mannequin-like appeal of motion pictures to catalyse conversations on issues pertaining to women’s rights, bringing nuanced - and often authentically messy - female characters onto the screen.
For years, she has unabashedly showcased the strife that looms over our everyday lives, unravelled the struggles endured behind closed doors, and addressed the knotted barricades that inform the lives of young Egyptian women through her acting. 2022 was no different. Amidst the plethora of shows Abdel Ghafour starred in, her roles in ‘Wesh Wi Dahr’, ‘Ghorfa 207’ and ‘Mon’ataf Khatar’ managed to powerfully interrogate the realities least addressed.
From an open examination of the determinants of maternal love to captivating portrayals of the horror of female docility, these series have managed to incite deep emotional responses amongst viewers. Serving as a fictitious bridge into the lives of many, Ghafour’s stellar interpretations were integral to an emerging wave of cinematic activism that speaks to individuals from all walks of life.
As someone who had to pursue her passion in secret - away from the gaze of her famous family members - Abdel Ghafour ploughed through various ‘girl-next-door’ roles in order to forge a path for herself and for generations of young Egyptian actresses to come.
AHMED SAAD [Singer] | For Dominating the Arabic Pop SceneLast March, following the release of now-cult Marvel series ‘Moon Knight’ (directed by Egypt’s own Mohamed Diab), the world’s wonderment for the magic of ancient Egypt reignited, and by the end credits of episode two a cultural staple of modern Egypt sparked the imagination of viewers everywhere. The infectious clatter of ‘mahraganat’ music blasted through screens via Ahmed Saad’s growling chorus on ‘El Melouk’, which also featured young Egyptian stars 3enba & Double Zuksh. The track became the darling of Twitter and Shazam for curious fans across the world whilst it racked up almost 100 million views on YouTube to date.
It’s been a ground-breaking year for Egyptian pop-star Ahmed Saad. His ability to blend genres into a self-contained pop sound has led to a massive body of work. In 2022 alone, he consistently topped music streaming charts with tracks like ‘Aleky Eyoun’, ‘El Youm El Helw Dah’ and of course ‘El Melouk (feat 3enba & Double Zuksh), establishing his status as one of the most-watched artists in the region, and capturing the attention of music fans in Egypt, the Arab world and beyond.
BASSANT HEMIDA [Athletics Champion] | For Making Egyptian Athletics HistoryFailure is at times akin to a bright blue badge that certifies one’s innermost deprecating thoughts. In an age of prevalent positively toxic ideologies, it is rare that we witness brave storylines that authentically showcase those who’ve lost battles they didn’t know they were bound to face.
In sprints Egyptian athletics champion Bassant Hemida. Known to most as the 26-year-old whose closet brims with gold medals, Hemida’s personal story is testimony to the power of resilience. Despite the difficulties that preceded it, 2022 was the year when she made history at the 2022 Mediterranean Games in Oran, Algeria as the first Egyptian to win a gold medal in the 100 metres sprint, and became a youth ambassador of the UN-sponsored ‘Shabab Balad’ initiative, her journey quickly turned from linear to tumultuous.
Her path to success had not been so simple. Years before, Hemida honed in on the rigorous preparations required to partake in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; a life-long dream that soon perished beneath the weighted pain of a physical injury. As everything came to a standstill, Hemida was left to tend to a wound much deeper than broken bones and ripped tendons.
As late nights turned into early mornings, Hemida’s echo chamber of thoughts actualised in a series of notes-app reflections. For years, her encouraging notes to herself were stowed away within the cold embrace of her mobile phone and ultimately forgotten amidst the haze of recovery rituals. Until 2022. Preparing to get back on her feet, the athlete unsheathed her reflections and found comfort in the self-prophetic text she had then inscribed.
She knew the pain wouldn’t last, that failure is an inevitable consequence of great success, and that 2022 would be the year her dreams would come true. And, evidently, it was.
ABO EL ANWAR [Rapper] | For Giving a Voice to a New Generation of RappersIn an explosive local scene riddled with braggadocio, hostile lyrics and thug aesthetics, Abo El Anwar is a breath of fresh air, charismatically treading an uncharted line in Egyptian rap between light-hearted spitfire witticisms and deeply emotional verses. He has a palpable positivity but with all the street cred, which is perhaps best personified in recent hit ‘Baby Blue’ with long-time collaborator Lil Baba. In 2022, his music was featured for the second time on hit Hulu series ‘Ramy’, reaching a newly-found audience abroad that has since resonated with the rapper’s carefree approach to music.
Part of the ever-present ‘Mexico’ rap collective, Abo El Anwar has had a relentlessly productive year with the release of three EPs pushing the boundaries of his own sound - the latest of which, ‘Law Makonash 7awelna’, expanded on some of the sonic trends emerging in the region with drill, trap and shaabi, and included timely hit ‘Messi’, cementing him as this year’s rap GOAT.
Achieving yet another monumental milestone, the rapper also appeared in several prominent commercials in 2022, such as McVities' ‘Estabena’, which has amassed over 16 million views on YouTube. The numbers, frankly, speak for themselves, serving as an affirmation that Abo El Anwar and his contemporaries in the regional rap scene have become emblematic figures in today’s media landscape, and in regional youth-culture at large.
AHMED RAYAN [Nesr El Scene] | For Popularising Mockumentaries in EgyptIt didn’t matter if you were a hardcore rap enthusiast or someone who just casually scrolled through Egyptian YouTube, over the course of 2022 it was almost impossible to miss the viral mockumentary series ‘Nesr El Scene’, which satirised the local music scene with such spot-on takes that even the artists who were caricatured turned into fans. After formulating the idea for the improvised show alongside his fellow creators, emerging actor Ahmed Rayan hastily donned a randomly-placed wig to play the part of Timo, a quirky music producer with an inflated ego. Almost immediately, he became a meme sensation.
Along with fellow actors Mohamed Omda, Ahmed Hani, Ahmed Ehab (Hobz), Ahmed Badran, Mohamed Ayman (Maddah) and Reem Amer, the cast of ‘Nesr El Scene’ drew on their improv skills to poke fun at Egypt’s rap scene, bringing humour and a stark critique of masculinity that was both authentic and commercially feasible without falling into the trap of delegitimizing or shunning a genre still struggling to carve out its own space artistically. Produced by Schema Studios, the five-episode series drew praise from established rappers like Abyusif and Marwan Pablo.
Virality aside, Nesr El Scene was both self-critical and experimental. The creators brought their passion project to fruition while inspiring a generation of young actors, producers, filmmakers, and comedians to chase after their seemingly niche stories, test out new mediums, and bet on their audience.
IBRAHIM SAFWAT [Cairo Runners] | For Introducing Running Culture to EgyptIn 2012, Safwat sent out a Facebook invitation for a run across Cairo, not expecting that pressing ‘send’ would change so many lives. Over the next decade, that first handful of joggers who responded to the invitation snowballed irrevocably, creating an active community that now includes thousands of Egyptians.
As a twenty-something engineer at the time, Safwat wanted to bring together people who shared a love for running. While the first invite only yielded 70 people, most of whom grumbled at being shaken awake at 6 AM on a Friday, the participants came back the following weekend, dragging their friends along.
Since then, Cairo Runners has organised ten marathons and half-marathons across Egypt and worked with over 80 companies and 20 NGOs and hospitals. Through these events - as well as their regular Friday walks, which they continue to hold across multiple neighbourhoods - Safwat has created a community where people, irrespective of their gender, age, religion, political ideology or class, could come together to enjoy the chaos and beauty of Egypt’s streets, and the stories they have to tell.
MOHAMED ELEWA [Eco Egypt] | For Putting Egypt on the World Eco-Tourism MapFor decades, only a select group of Egyptians have been vocal about the pressing need for environmental reform in the country, calling for a leader to step forward and take on the formidable task of creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly Egypt.
Enter Mohamed Elewa, a sustainable development expert, the Project Manager of the UNDP Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Egypt’s Tourism Development, project manager of the Ministry of Environment’s eco-tourism initiative, Eco Egypt, and an outspoken environmentalist. In 2022, Elewa showcased Eco Egypt at COP27, bringing the nation’s natural sights under the global spotlight.
Eco Egypt, the brainchild of Mohamed Elewa and current Minister of Environment, Dr. Yasmine Fouad, serves to promote lesser-known areas and natural reserves in Egypt. The initiative dives deep into Egypt’s richest reserves, highlighting their incredible landscapes, stunning lodges, gorgeous ecosystems, and most importantly, their people. Not only does Eco Egypt serve to draw the world’s gaze to Egypt’s hidden gems, but it also empowers and provides a platform for their indigenous and tribal communities; their history, traditions, culture, and most importantly how they’ve helped preserve their land for generations.
In doing so, Mohamed Elewa has irrevocably changed the narrative not only around indigenous peoples in Egypt by producing nuanced patchwork ethnographies, and effectively pinning Egypt on the global eco-tourism map.
GIOVANNI BOLANDRINI [Restaurateur] | For Bringing Fine Dining to Egyptian Cuisine at the Foot of the PyramidsAmidst Egypt’s saturated food and beverage industry lies an unwavering desire to set traditional offerings aside, and instead latch on to the global appeal of fresh sushi and oven-baked pizzas. What has once encapsulated cultural heritage, preserved familial connections and enabled new ones to come to fruition, grew to connote paper-packaged takeout and desolate drive-throughs.
Understanding the gravity of what that entails, Giovanni Bolandrini, an Italian restaurateur with decades of expertise under his belt, worked alongside renowned Egyptian chefs and industry experts to deliver a culinary love letter to Egyptian culture: Khufu’s Restaurant at the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Having already made a name for himself in Egypt’s F&B industry with renowned Italian dining destination Pier 88 - with branches in El Gouna on Egypt’s Red Sea and in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek and 6th of October neighbourhoods - Bolandrini worked with his lifelong friend famed businessman Naguib Sawiris, to actualise his dream of creating an Egyptian-fusion fine dining experience by the foot of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Khufu’s, born in 2022, is the first of its kind in the world - a unique concept that has changed the way in which visitors experience the pyramids. The historical site, and one of the last remaining ancient wonders of the world, is now a destination to be both savoured and appreciated.
HISHAM MAHDY [Cairo Design Week] | For Uniting & Spotlighting Designers in EgyptA mould that shapes our interactions with the world and a lens through which the beauty of the human condition is observed, design is an abstract concept that actively informs everyone’s lives. It is sewn within the very fabric of earthly machinations and encompasses even the most minuscule of notions.
Cognisant of the all-encompassing and emotionally-driven nature of design, Hisham Mahdy - Founder and CEO of regional design company, Mahdy’s Group - pioneered a platform that positions design, and all that it has grown to encompass, as its centrepiece of choice.
Cairo Design Week - a week-long event that highlights the region’s creative prowess, acclaimed architects and respective design aficionados - catalysed a movement within Egypt’s design industry. It propelled embryonic ideas, the ones that exist in the shape of torn up pieces of paper on desks and 3 AM notes app epiphanies, to come to fruition. It facilitated global discourse surrounding the architectural masterpieces that are Heliopolis’s Hippodrome and Baron Empain Palace and, in turn, placed Egypt on the global design map.
Glossy paperback achievements aside, what Cairo Design Week was able to subconsciously birth was a greater sense of community. It was able to unite creatives under the embroidered umbrella of a grandiose showcase and insight a sense of camaraderie, home and belonging. As designers gathered to watch sustainable fashion runways, play table tennis on hand-painted marble and decode art’s hidden meanings, they simultaneously built a bond reminiscent of life-long familial ties.
AMR NOURELDIN [Hindawi Foundation] | For Democratising & Preserving Arabic Literary ClassicsAs physical libraries continue to connote the proper circulation of knowledge, their digital counterparts have grown to signify make-shift fan-fiction and homemade love stories. Remedying the damages incurred through improper literary preservation, Hindawi Foundation - a non-profit organisation founded by Egyptian-British entrepreneur Ahmed Hindawi his wife, Nagwa Abdel Mottaleb, and led by Aquisition Officer Amr Noureldin - sheathed the fraying edges of classic Arabic texts in order to re-introduce them to contemporary audiences on their online platform.
An entrepreneur turned philanthropist, Hindawi honed in on his lifelong corporate expertise to pioneer an initiative that is currently leading an open-access - and completely free - online archive of classic Arabic literary works across a myriad of fields.
A democratising initiative, Hindawi Foundation’s digital archives hold the promise of dramatically increasing access to information otherwise lost on dusty shelves and in the memories of our late ancestors. The stories that actively shape Arab heritage, document decades of disarray, and capture triumphs are no longer confined to academic institutions; they’re mere seconds away, plastered on the screens we’re closely tethered to.
With a wealth of non-Western affiliated texts and academic journals, Hindawi’s initiative changed the narrative around literary consumption. It proved that the nights spent devouring Naguib Mahfouz’s speculative perceptions and Nagwa Abou Taleb’s versant diction can morph from an intimate experience to one inclusive of Egyptian communities everywhere. As the platform grew to encompass 17 million views it simultaneously paved paths for Arabic literature to thrive away from the tight-nit clasp of private publishing houses.
MARWA ABOU LEILA [Photopia] | For Creating a Global Platform for Local PhotographersMarwa Abou Leila and Karim El Khadim stood, two friends amongst millions, in Tahrir Square in January 2011, and decided to change their lives. Abou Leila left behind a legacy in the corporate banking world to launch Photopia with the help of her partner from a cramped garage studio in El Korba. To this day, it stands alone as Egypt’s leading school for image-based education and visual storytelling, including photography, design, styling, and filmmaking.
Over the past decade, Abou Leila has not only made Photopia a global platform for local and regional photographers and creatives, but has created multiple renowned photo festivals in the heart of Egypt. In 2018, she launched Cairo Photo Week, Egypt’s first photo festival where hundreds of people from around the world, including a delegation from the prestigious World Press Photo, gather every other year in Downtown Cairo for a week of incredible workshops, talks, and exhibitions. In 2022, Abou Leila marked the inauguration of Photopia’s second festival, El Gouna Photo Week, which provided a platform for Upper Egyptian talents.
Many of today’s celebrated local scene artists, commercial and underground, have emerged from beneath Photopia’s tutelage and through their resources. Staying true to her decade-long vision, Abou Leila has kept Photopia accessible to people from all walks of life, whether their interest in visual production and storytelling was passing or permanent.
HATEM ESSAWI & AHMED TAREK [Studio Five] | For Enriching Event Experiences Across the RegionWorking on one major event is a challenge. When you’re tasked to handle the venue design for the anniversary of a renowned magazine while simultaneously tackling the largest global conference of the year, it’s another matter entirely. This is exactly what Egyptian design firm Studio Five went through in 2022, rising to the challenge of multitasking multiple events while designing the venues for COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.
Studio Five was established in 2012 by co-founders Ahmed Tarek, Hatem Essawi, Khalifa Ahmed, Mohsen Rizk and Mohamed Galal, who rapidly grew their global footprint by expanding their work to Houston with partner Adel Sadek, where they were able to create a signature design for the private lounge of NBA player James Harden. Their portfolio went on to include an insurmountable number of projects demonstrating that Egyptian design studios can make it on the global stage.
2022 was a year of many milestones for Studio Five. They worked on the architectural design of the new headquarters of global TV station, Al Arabiya, in Riyadh, and were recognised at the 2022 Egypt’s Entrepreneur Awards (EEA) in the Interior Architecture category. Perhaps most significantly, they became the design consultants for COP27, where they provided a visually engaging backdrop for world leaders and policy makers in the Blue and Red Zones, and were responsible for the art direction of the Green Zone, where local displays of sustainability and culture were highlighted.
In a pure display of stamina, Studio Five took on the venue design of the 30th anniversary of renowned Arabic women’s magazine, Hia, in Saudi Arabia, while handling operations in Sharm El Sheikh. Poised to carry on their inexhaustible momentum, 2023 is looking bright for Studio Five, with the unveiling of their public areas design at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.
Interviewed by: Nancy Fares, Heba Radi, Ahmed Shiha, Farida El Shafie, Karim Abdullatif, Fadila Khaled
Written by: Farida El Shafie, Farah Desouky, Karim Abdullatif, John Bishara, Fadila Khaled