18 of 2018: The Egyptians Who Made Waves This Year
Each year, we curate a list of some of the most inspirational Egyptians who have innovated in their industries or impacted their communities in meaningful ways. These are the 18 of 2018...
Since 2015, CairoScene has closed each year by scouring not just the country, but the world, for extraordinary Egyptians. The ones breaking new ground, challenging the status quo and shaping the future. The ones solving, innovating, redefining and revolutionising their industries. This year, our search has taken us far and wide, with the list bringing together pioneering figures from the worlds of business, media, fashion and the arts, as well as one or two who defy classification altogether. These are the game-changers, the ones daring to think differently. These are 18 of the most impactful and inspiring Egyptians of 2018.
ABYUSIF // RAPPER
April 6th 2018, Youssef Altay, aka Abyusif, walks out to a crowd at El Horreya Park for Etisalat's Battle of the Bands competition. The enigmatic rapper/producer is supposed to be a sideshow; he's supposed to be a supporting act. This is Egypt, after all, and massive corporates aren't supposed to associate themselves with Arabic hip-hop. Rappers can't get on the radio let alone sell out concerts and yet a large pocket of the 3,000 person crowd had their arms raised in cross formation, a signature move of Abyusif, before rapping along to almost every lyric.
"El ra3y el resmy / bhot ala kolo bandat," ("Everyone knows / I'm better than any band out there"), Abyusif spits in his latest release, Thanos. Much like most of his lyrics, it's a smug goading call, but this time he's not just prodding at the rap scene. If someone's going to topple the commercial stranglehold on the musical bandwidth of the country's youth, it may just be him. "To be honest, at first I believed that in order to have rap become a bigger genre in Egypt, I had to bring people together and talk them into it," he tells us. "But I realised that you first work on yourself as an individual and by doing so, other rappers within the industry will push to do even better, eventually come up together and bring the genre with them."
The noise from millions of listens online, from hundreds of thousands of fanboys amplifying his persona, has simply become too loud for the music industry to ignore. "I really can’t believe it when someone stops me in the street and asks for a picture. Those are the people who actually changed my life. I work six times harder than I used to knowing that people are tuning in for it."
This year saw Altay quit his day job in advertising, release two hard-hitting albums, Wahed Wahed and Daddy, along with three incredibly visually witty music videos (one of which, Azrael, was a Vimeo Global Staff Pick) which raised the bar for the kind of output possible for Egyptian rappers. In December, Red Bull came knocking and put him in the studio with otherworldly, piano-smacking, electro-shaabi dynamo, Islam Chipsy, and legendary shaabi vocalist, Shaaban Abdel Rehim. The outcome was a trippy, genre-defying, rap-shaabi mash-up track and video, Mish Ha2dar. It garnered more than two million online views in the space of just three days. A week later, there's 3000 people in the crowd waiting for him to take to the stage at the Red Bull Logharetm concert at The Greek Campus in Downtown Cairo; if the space could take 10,000 people, they'd be there too. 2018 is the year Egyptian rap rose from the underground and this lyrical genius is to thank.
ALI ALI // COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR
Egypt may be the only country in the world with such a collective passion for adverts. Whether it's the millions of comments online, or families glued to the TV in-between mosalsalat, we analyse, we compare, we throw shade and we share. “The good adverts are really good and the bad adverts are really bad,” says globally acclaimed commercial director, Ali Ali. “However, advertising in Egypt is much better than its cinema.”
You may not know his name, but there's no doubt you remember the ads he's directed. 2010's Never Say No to Panda ads became some of the most watched TV spots of all time globally. It preluded almost a decade of award-winning work and the birth of his company / creative collective 'Good People' - the first agency in Egypt to create global ad spots, with Ali sitting in the director's chair on campaigns for Budweiser, McDonald’s, Amazon, Google, and a recent spot for Lavazza that was aired across 80 countries.
Being a creator in this industry, however, is a double-edged sword. "Very few people know who does the ad and who doesn’t. If you’re not Tarek Nour, then people don’t give a fuck. Your logo isn’t on the ad. It’s an unsung hero kind-of-job."
In 2018, Ali took things to another level, directing the incredible Effie award-winning Life Imitates Art ad for Badya, one of Palm Hills Developments’ high-end residential projects. The ad seamlessly blends scenes of home living with themes from iconic artists such as David Hockney and Henri Rousseau, all set to the tone of The Cranberries' Dreams, becoming a stunning work of art in its own right. Ali then casually hopped on a flight to Liverpool, UK to film with a certain afro-donning Egyptian footballer you may have heard of for Vodafone’s We're All Salah ad. And let’s not forget the hilarious EG Bank series.
However, 2018 may just be Ali's swansong in the world of advertising. "In the old days, we used to have so much fun. Budgets were bigger, flights were business class and you lived like a rock star if you were a creative in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Today, there are so many people within that industry and it’s very challenging; everything has been done! What’s not been done these days?" The impact of social media doesn't help the cause either. "When someone comes to me today and tells me they want a vertical format for Instagram, I tell them to get the fuck out of here. We’re considered the old guard and we’re the champions of the 60 second spot. That’s what I’m used to. I’d rather just change industries completely." And so it seems like Ali Ali is destined for the big screen. "I want to do cinema now – the sooner the better. I’m waiting for the right script." And if his career is anything to go by, it might just put Egypt's cinema industry on the same footing as its advertising one.
NADINE ABDEL GHAFFAR // ART D’EGYPTE
“We are a country with 7,000 years of history. But people know the past, they don’t know the present. And we still have stories to tell.” An urge to fuse our country’s storied past with a vibrant but often overlooked present is what drove Nadine Abdel Ghaffar, the founder of Art D’Egypte, to curate an annual pop-up exhibition - this year in its second incarnation - that displays contemporary art inside historic spaces, transcending time and creating a connection between the old and the new.
Last year, they took over the Egyptian Museum, placing modern art alongside centuries-old artefacts in a truly first-of-its-kind exhibition for the country, and this year, 28 contemporary artists created a slew of stunning, site-specific works sprinkled throughout the magnificent Manial Palace, where the country’s royal family once lived.
The exhibit, titled ‘Nothing Vanishes, Everything Transforms’, saw artists, professors, curators, ministers, patrons, collectors, students and just all-around art lovers, not only from Egypt but from across the world, descend upon the palace for the month-long exhibit to witness the immersive experience. Hundreds of glass butterflies floating over ancient scrolls; glowing words projected on royal beds; an oversized hanger dangling from the ceiling in a great hall; every artist drew inspiration from the space, amalgamating nostalgia and innovation. “What we’re trying to do is to provoke questions and to create this dialogue with the space,” explains Abdel Ghaffar. “And it does not have to be narrating the space you’re in, but you can question the space, or hope for something.”
And in a country where modern art is often marginalised, where access to it can often be esoteric, limited to the privileged few, part of the primary goal – and power – of the exhibit was to widen the scope of access to ‘elusive’ art. It wasn't a private, cloistered affair; it imposed no taxing fees, it did not restrict its audience to high society circles and private schools. “It was open to the public - to everybody. We had school trips from public schools and universities. These students got the chance to see something that they would see in Berlin or in Paris, but we got it here. They saw it here in Egypt. Made by Egyptians.”
KHALED BICHARA // CHAIRMAN OF A15 AND CEO OF ORASCOM
Khaled Bichara has had a big year on two fronts. As chairman of tech-focused venture capital fund, A15, he had a big hand in the Middle East’s first Dragon exit with fintech startup, TPAY. In layman’s terms, it’s the first startup in the region to return an entire fund – which, in no uncertain terms, is a big deal.
“It was a big exit for us,” Bichara explains of the 76% stake sale of TPAY to Africa’s leading private investment firm, Helios Investment Partner. “I think it was a big moment for the IT industry in Egypt as well.” The Dragon exit isn’t just validation for A15 as a group which prides itself on honing in on the most innovative startups and entrepreneurs, but in being a remarkable success story, it has the potential to attract more investors to Egypt.
For the last three years, he has balanced his position at A15 with another equally demanding role as CEO of Orascom Development. There, he has used his understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to lay out big plans for the company’s most celebrated project in Egypt, El Gouna, by making it a sustainable, self-sufficient live-in-city. Some of the steps include improving the Red Sea town’s educational infrastructure and working towards making it an entrepreneur-friendly space, the latter of which has already paid dividends with projects ranging from El Gouna’s first solar power plant, to the rollout of electric tuk-tuks, all of which are in the hands of young Egyptians.
ABU BAKR SHAWKY // FILM DIRECTOR
A leper, a donkey, and an orphan. The next words are not ‘walk into a bar'. A leper, a donkey, and an orphan are the leads in an independent Egyptian road trip film that quickly becomes a global phenomenon.
The 2018 movie, Yomeddine, is Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky’s first feature film and it made international headlines for its endearing and honest portrayal of the struggles of the leper community in Egypt. “I’m always trying to do things that haven't been done before, that I have conviction in. I felt this was a subject no one had ever made a movie about,” says the director. “People want to see different stories; they want to feel like their voices are heard, that their stories matter.”
Once released it became a runaway hit and a critically acclaimed piece of work, premiering at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palm d’Or. It made the rounds on the international festival circuit and was announced as Egypt’s official submission for the 2019 Oscars in the Foreign Language category. Actually getting it made however was no easy feat.
The movie was almost ten years in the making. Shawky and producer Dina Emam were two relative unknowns in a very cliquey industry, making an undeniably eccentric film with anaemic funding and a cast as unorthodox as the plot line. None of the main characters are actors; in fact, Rady Gamal, who plays the lead role, actually grew up as a leper in a colony and is unable to read or write. “For five years there were no tangible milestones being reached for the movie. It didn’t seem like I was heading anywhere,” says Shawky, who actually considered quitting the field shortly after they wrapped the film. “This was me at a low point and I was desperate. But rejection should never faze you; work through it.” Work through it they did. They ended up making arguably the biggest Egyptian film of the year.
But the accolades and the avalanche of media attention pale in comparison to what Shawky pinpoints as his proudest moment. “People would mock the lead actor of the movie [who has leprosy]. So for him to go back to his hometown in Upper Egypt as a movie star truly made me proud.”
HEBAH FISHER // KERNING CULTURES
“What I love about podcasts is that there’s so much room to experiment, because it’s not a traditional media,” Hebah Fisher, co-founder of Middle Eastern podcast network, Kerning Cultures, says with an immeasurably enthusiastic grin. “There are no rules.”
Having launched the network some three years ago, Fisher and co have made it their mission to tell the stories of the Middle East from the perspective of its often marginalised population and diaspora. On the surface, it’s no easy feat, particularly on a medium that has yet to reach mass audiences in the region. But Fisher argues that podcasts fall much more into Arab storytelling traditions. “Storytelling is in our blood, this oral tradition, the way we pass down stories from generation to generation.”
Still trying to raise their first round of funding, Kerning Cultures has got as far as it has with a revolving team of volunteers, select senior personnel in both full and part-time positions and a wholesome serving of enthusiasm – and it’s paid off. Reaching into the far corners of Arab populaces, shows on Kerning Cultures have touched on everything from the American-Arabs supporting Trump, to Yemeni coffee production, to Egypt's first qualification for the World Cup in 28 years. There are still bigger ambitions rumbling in their Dubai offices, though. “We’re building the premier Middle East podcast network,” Fisher explains, suddenly switching to a steely determination. “The vision is to have a dozen original Arabic and English podcast shows. We have a fiction series, we have startup series; the whole intention behind all of our shows is to tell stories from across the Middle East that we care about.”
BASSAM ALLAM // PHOTOGRAPHER
Some photographers – arguably the most renowned ones – develop a distinct aesthetic. It’s a feel, a vibe, a recurring subject, something that makes their work almost instantaneously recognisable as their own. The Ansel Adamses and Dorothea Langes, the Annie Leibovitzes and Terry Richardsons of the world; they carve out an identity for themselves, they put an individual stamp on their work. And that’s exactly what Egyptian photographer, Bassam Allam, has managed to do before even turning 30, creating surreal, captivating images that are always full of depth, intensity, dark whimsy and shadow play.
What he has also managed to do is be featured in Vogue multiple times (Italia and Arabia), shoot some of the biggest stars in the Arab world (Nelly Karim, Tara Emad) and have two of his photos, ‘Portrait of Adima’ and ‘Through the Glass’, commended in the portrait category of the open competition at the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, which receives over 300,000 submissions every year. He also nabbed the Egyptian National Award at the same competition. No big deal.
“I want people to feel something. That’s the most important thing,” says the photographer, who bounces between Berlin and Cairo. “For me, it’s all about the storytelling. I don’t want my pictures to just be something you scroll past; I want people to stop and look, to question what is happening there.” And since his foray into the field of photography in 2011, he has certainly made that happen.
Of course with the rise of the digital age, the advent of phone photography and the ease with which you can not only create but promote your work, it means everyone can call themselves a photographer. “If you’re comparing to a 100 years ago, 50 years ago, the amount of pictures being produced in a day is more than the amount of pictures a photographer would produce in a year, you know?”
But it also means it’s that much harder to stand out among the cavalcade of content; but Allam has managed to do that with undeniable aplomb. “Every smartphone has a camera and everyone wants to be famous on social media, so everyone is taking pictures. But I think that’s a positive thing because it means so many more people are getting in contact with photography and maybe one of them is going to be the next master,” he says. Allam, perhaps?
OUSSO LOTFY // EWSAL BEL3ARABY
Ousso Lotfy is perhaps the most in-demand guitarist in the Middle East, having played with the biggest pop stars in the region. He's also co-founder of Nagham Masry, a member of Eftekasat and one third of rock supergroup, HOH, alongside Hany Adel from Wust El Balad and Hani el Dakkak from Massar Egbari.
His legendary status as a musician aside, Lotfy was the orchestrator of breakthrough underground festival, Save Our Sound (SOS), which gave hundreds of upcoming artists from all across the country a platform to perform in front of audiences of thousands. He has always had his heart set on creating a foundation for the Egyptian music scene to flourish and, this year, he has made even more headway.
How many talented young Egyptian musicians have been forced to put down their instruments because of pressure from their parents to 'get a real job', or because there was simply nowhere to perform? How many Egyptian kids could be the next ‘big thing’, but never get the opportunity to learn an instrument at all?
"There are a lot of contradictions,” he says. “If a regular person wants to be a musician, their ambition is ignored and belittled. But with a famous musician, there's no judgement of the ambitions that led to their success," he continues. "This society and culture do not give importance to the arts. They do not regard teaching music as a priority."
And so Lotfy went about creating Ewsal Bel3araby, a first-of its-kind online educational platform that now has an archive of thousands of Arabic tutorial videos featuring himself and famous master musician friends providing a huge variety of lessons and jamming videos. "A lot of kids I meet approach me and are very thankful. They tell me that, without the platform, it would’ve been really hard to learn a particular instrument or particular song. That’s the goal: to help people find their dream, their calling."
ASHRAF KABONGA // EGYPTIAN WRESTLING FEDERATION (EWR)
Decades after WWE had us glued to our TV screens every week, enthralled, entertained and occasionally even terrified, Ashraf Mahrous, aka Ashraf Kabonga, has brought professional wrestling to Egypt. Establishing EWR – the first professional wrestling federation of its kind in Egypt, the Arab World and Africa – has been a long and winding road.
Originally from Ismailia, Kabonga came to Cairo to build his team of performers. “I’d spend the night in the street, in Tahrir and Ramses. People would often tell me to go home. I was told not to keep going, so many times.” But his persistence in building and training a team, including 13 female wrestlers, kept him going. “A lot of trainers I know told me that the girls would fail, that they don’t have the same strength as guys to perform the moves. But I fought against that concept from the start.”
EWR’s shows are theatrical affairs that include characters such as ‘The Bat’, echoing all our WWE favourites and taking them further. Kabonga’s proudest moment of 2018 was performing at the 57357 Cancer Hospital, where he fulfilled his dream of making children happy and spreading a positive message for them to pursue their passions, no matter the circumstance.
What makes EWR all the more impressive is that Kabonga has been funding every show and boot-camp out of his own pocket. He has sold his store, his microbus and even household necessities to support himself and the team, who join him every week at his house in a village near Ismailia for an all-expense paid weekend boot-camp. “Egypt hasn’t experienced something like this before. So I have to convince people that wrestling shows can happen. I need to spread the word first and then I can think of money.”
YAHIA AND ASEEL KARALI // S0LD
Vintage wear and thrift shopping have always found a way into cosmopolitan cities. In Egypt, if you're young and affluent, then of course your clothes should always reflect that; wearing 'second-hand clothes' is looked down upon; vintage is garbage. However, a currency floatation clearly does well to shift a zeitgeist and if you've been to any party in the last year, you're more than likely to have be surrounded by a cacophony of outlandish colours and patterns; DJs have retired their all black everything for flamboyant silk shirts and crowds are donning oversized denim jackets, vintage couture raincoats and kitschy tracksuit tops. More often than not, they’ve come from S0ld. The humble vintage store founded in 2017 by British-born Egyptian siblings, Yahia and Aseel Karali, as a proverbial fuck you to poor-quality, generic high street collections and ridiculously overpriced local designer brands. Individuality, Yahia says, is the key; people need to feel like they're wearing a one-of-a-kind item.
This isn't just a case of a quick in-and-out at Wakelat El Balah; the Karalis travel across the country, from Port Said and Safaga, to bomb-stricken Areesh, to build their impressive collections from incoming shipments. "We pick the best things out of thousands and thousands of items. Each item is handpicked and we end up with like 70. We’ve built an eye for the good products."
Once they've got their batch, each piece is scrutinised for any defects, dry-cleaned and made available for viewing by appointment in the living room of the siblings' home. They've built personal relationships with their client base and when a new shipment comes in, they're always eager to pick out special pieces that suit loyal customers. "The genuineness aspect is what makes us very organic. We come from a business background, but I basically did everything opposite to what they teach you in the business market. We made it friendly."
There are no big ad campaigns, no elaborate photo-shoots, no influencer advocacy, no social media boosting; and yet it's grown to become one of the most loved brands in the country and it's not just the nightlife scene that's taken a shining to S0ld's incredible wardrobe of finds. In the last year, we've seen S0ld rocked by pop princess Lara Scandar for Coca-Cola, actress Jamila Awad at New York Fashion Week, and actors Asser Yassin in a Wust El Balad music video and Ahmed Malek at Toronto Film Festival as well as countless more celebrities. “There’s no ceiling because it’s not a trend. It’s always been there”.
LAMIA KAMEL // NARRATIVE SUMMIT
“Egypt has such an expansive history and such a huge population and every single street has a story,” says Lamia Kamel, founder of the Narrative Summit. “And if you don’t own your story, someone else will. If you keep that void and that silence, somebody will jump in and narrate a story on your behalf and it won’t be right. So the idea is to get Egyptians to tell their own story.”
Two years ago, Narrative Summit debuted as a leadership and entrepreneurship forum to not just celebrate our past, but also to look to the future. Investment, tourism, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology – every industry under the sun has a place in this goliath of a storytelling project. The 2018 edition included such moguls and leaders as Dr. Rania El Mashat, Minister of Tourism; Dr. Ghada Wali, Minister for Social Solidarity; Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President of World Bank Group, and Hatem Dowidar, CEO International of Etisalat Group. What really took the summit to another level this year was finally receiving government attention and support, with this year’s edition held under the auspices of the Prime Minister. “This is a social initiative,” Kamel says. “We’re just a group of people trying to do something right. And after three years, they listened. It shows something worthwhile can come out of this.”
While there was once a time when the vision we wanted to portray of Egypt meant picture-perfect Pharaonic sculptures and seaside snapshots, Kamel doesn’t shy away from also addressing the challenges we face. “The whole point of leadership here is to understand the challenges and not hide away from them. To face them, straight on.”
SHADY ABDALLAH // VERYNILE
Behind the viral photos of tens of Cairenes, including actors Arwa Gouda and Amr Saad, leaning out of boats with garbage bags and strainers in hand is VeryNile; a project by upcycling initiative, Greenish, philanthropic clickfunding innovators, Bassita, and Nile Taxi. “At the beginning, the idea was insane,” says Greenish co-founder, Shady Abdallah. “Oh, we’re just going to clean the Nile.” But with the help of the Sea Scouts of Cairo and Giza, the Ministry of Irrigation and a slew of supporters and volunteers, the initiative is following through with their motto of ‘Clean the Nile, One Kilo at a Time’. Within two hours of their first clean-up session, they had collected 1.5 tons of garbage, including plastic debris, a ring enclosed with a love letter and more empty (and full) alcohol bottles than you could count.
Slowly but surely, initiatives like VeryNile are going further than raising awareness; they're taking action. From the increased use of recyclable shopping bags, to practices of reducing and reusing already scarce materials in rural Egypt, Abdallah sees the potential to change how we see and interact with our environment. “People will tell you that it’s silly and unimportant, but together, all of us can make a big difference. And we won’t be the weird ones, we’ll be the norm.”
Moving into 2019, Abdallah and co are hoping to partner with fishermen on the Nile to collect the plastic, as well workers in Hayy El Zabaleen who can recycle it. “The revenue goes back to the fishermen. So there’s a more sustainable system to the clean-up process. It’s not an event that just happens.”
MOUNIR NAKHLA, DINA GHABBOUR AND AHMED MOHSEN // HALAN
When they first came up with the simple but brilliant idea to create a ride-hailing app that uses tuktuks and motorcycles, the founders of Halan, CEO Mounir Nakhla, CMO Dina Ghabbour, CTO Ahmed Mohsen, and CCO Mohamed Aboulnaga, were faced with a myriad of challenges that started with figuring out how to make their technology-averse target segment embrace their product.
With a clear vision in mind and an unshaken commitment to delivering high quality service to the underserved communities of Egypt, Halan quickly gained huge momentum and amassed a loyal customer base, reaching 10K requested rides daily and surpassing 1 million rides within its first year. Since its 2017 launch, the app has overseen three million rides, giving millions of Egyptian customers a level of mobility previously unheard of for such affordable prices. This hyper-growth quickly allowed it to attract huge investment, which in turn allowed it to expand beyond Cairo and even to Khartoum, Sudan.
"We provide safe, reliable and economical means of transportation for underserved communities. We’ve seen examples of mothers who were struggling to find safe and affordable means of transportation to send their kids to school. Halan provides them with exactly that."
KAREEM RAHMA // NAMELESS NETWORK AND THE MUSEUM OF PIZZA
“We make educational content disguised as entertainment,” Kareem Rahma says of his New York-based, venture-backed video startup, Nameless Network, which in his own words takes the best elements of traditional media and new media in aiming to create smart content for the smartphone generation. As CEO, Rahma has built something of a content-creating phenomenon; one that has amassed six million subscribers, a monthly reach of 300 million and a remarkable 10 billion video views. Nameless produces several shows, taking on everything from film, to science, to the kind of fuzzy, feel-good stories you can’t help but click on when browsing through your social media feed.
This year, however, the highlight of Nameless Network’s creative endeavours has been its very first fully-immersive, real-world entertainment experience – The Museum of Pizza in NYC. “In 2017, I became obsessed with creating a physical manifestation of Nameless Network,” he explains of a project that has caught the attention of the world. Compared somewhat fittingly to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the pop-up museum offered a unique ride into a food item enjoyed the world over through special exhibitions and installations, feeding into Nameless Network’s special brand of edutainment. And there are rumours of Rahma and co bringing this kind of interactive experience in other forms to other cities.
When asked about the success and profitability of his bold ventures, Rahma gave an equally bold response. “Do what’s right, right now. This mantra is one of the main catalysts of our continued success.” At the heart of this almost gung-ho approach, however, is one key ingredient. “The main consistent factor that runs through all of these decisions is to create smart content with high nutritional value; so as long as we continue to keep our standards high, I think we'll continue to be profitable.”
ABDEL-RAHMAN MEKKAWI AND FARAH AKRAM // I-DIVE TRIBE
It seems as though the world is finally, truly waking up to the horrifying fact that plastic is destroying marine life everywhere and subsequently our entire ecosystem and the planet. Egypt, on the other hand, hasn’t seemed nearly as interested in the topic. Polluting our surrounding waters, from the Nile to the Mediterranean and Red Sea, almost always goes unnoticed and unpunished, contributing to unprecedented damage to our underwater ecosystem. One group that refuses to sit idly by and watch is i-Dive Tribe, an environmental initiative launched by Abdel-Rahman Mekkawi and Farah Akram, an assistant teacher at the faculty of dentistry and an architectural engineer, respectively. The group is out to save Egypt's marine life from imminent destruction.
In 2018 they intensified their efforts to save endangered sea turtles from local markets, re-releasing them into the sea. "We have five species of sea turtle in Egypt, all threatened with extinction and only three of them are often seen. Turtles like the loggerhead, for instance, feed on jellyfish, which in turn feed on small fish and phytoplankton. What if we have less turtles? Well, if jellyfish proliferate we won’t have a new generation of fish and phytoplankton, whose role is exactly like plants on dry land; to generate oxygen. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the sea and not from the trees."
Yet more impressively they have built a stunning underwater museum in Dahab which serves a much bigger purpose than just a fun diving experience. "One of our problems is the prediction that all coral reefs around the world will die within the next 100 years; the only ones expected to survive will be in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. Yet even here the load on coral reefs is increasing and the loss is huge. We came up with an idea to build an underwater museum in a deserted spot to gather fish and harbour coral reef, thus starting a new ecosystem that decreases the load on existing reefs so they can have room to regenerate."
RAMY GABALY // MISSING CHILDREN PROJECT
In a strange twist of fate, Ramy Gabaly initially set out to prove that many of those posting on social media about their missing children have ulterior motives and are simply not being truthful. As he began to get in touch with some of the families he had implicitly accused, he was horrified to discover the extent of the issue of missing children in Egypt – a realisation that led him to starting Facebook page, Atfal Mafqoda (Missing Children), four years ago.
"No government can solve every issue on their own. Society, citizens, should also try and help. Every person can have a day job, but also perhaps another one where they give back to the community."
Harnessing the power of social media, Gabaly, with help of his page's 1.3 million followers, have helped thousands of traumatised families reunite with their missing children over the years. In 2018, Facebook finally took note of his outstanding work and he was named as one of the most impactful people on the social media network, ahead of nominees from 46 countries.
Despite the recognition and reunions, his self-appointed mission still has its share of heartbreak, given the fact that he doesn’t always succeed. “It’s always a terrible moment when we have to inform a family that their child has passed away. Sadly, in 2018, we’ve had a many of those moments.”
AHMED HEFNAWY, OMAR ABDEL-LATIF AND NELLY EL-SHARKAWY // CAIROPOLITAN
Cairo is a work of art unto itself. Beyond the legacies of our Pharaonic forefathers and the heritage of subsequent eras, the capital’s contemporary culture is a goldmine of inspiration – something that Ahmed Hefnawy and his childhood friend Mohamed Shenawy have been trying to hone in on and celebrate since 2006, ever since conceiving the idea for Cairopolitan - an art space and boutique that uses our maniacal metropolis to create unique, artsy merchandise. Think yellow taxi sign pencil cases, Qasr El Nil Bridge lion lamps and 25 piaster coin-shaped coasters.
Cairopolitan took nearly twelve years to fully develop. From 2007, Hefnawy started putting a team together, but in 2017 he decided to quit his job in advertising and fully dedicate to the launch of Cairopolitan. This was when Nelly El Sharkawy joined the team and proved to be a catalyst in bringing the project to life. The missing piece of the puzzle was Omar Abdel-Latif, who joined as a business partner to handle the business and marketing side of the project.
Theirs is a unique point-of-view; they see creativity in the mundane and opportunity in the routine. But what do they see that the more cynical Cairene can't? "In all honesty, we’re the same,” Hefnawy says unapologetically. “Sometimes loving something stems from not knowing whether you should love or hate it. It’s the same as when you’ve always wanted to travel abroad. When you do, you find yourself missing home and all the bad things it comes with. You always tend to have a love/hate relationship with the place you were born and raised, but it would be very difficult for us to belong to any other place.
DOAA GAWISH // HAIR ADDICT
The same girls who were taunted for their frizzy hair as children also spent years with their hair pasted back into the archetypal, alopecia-inducing, Egyptian-schoolgirl-ponytail, burned their follicles to a crisp with weekly trips to the hairdresser and chemically straightened their hair the second they hit puberty. Our beauty standards are still staunchly in favour of features that aren’t ours: light skin, delicate curves, small frames and soft hair. This is changing, however, thanks to initiatives such as Doaa Gawish’s Hair Addict.
Two years ago, Gawish started a small Facebook group to share her own journey of getting to know and love her natural curly hair. Her profoundly personal project has since grown to a mass community of over 130,000 members, all in various stages of accepting, caring for and learning to love their natural hair. The group is awash with tips from the community, siren calls for help with hiccups in the journey of going heat-free and even Hair Addict’s own natural products. The group reached its zenith this September when they organised their Natural Hair Fest, an event in Zamalek that brought over 4000 people together.
“Hair Addict is a social movement,” says Gawish. “It’s not a business.” Though building it into a thriving business was integral to Hair Addict’s growth and survival, its impetus still lies in the radical self-love the community is encouraging together. Gawish, who spent her adolescence taunted for her ‘frizzy’ hair, proudly talks about how mothers on the group post about their children’s natural hair journey and make an effort to find what’s best for their hair type, while even sometimes asking the group to show their kid some love because they’re getting bullied at school. Hopefully, this all leads to more confident women and fewer girls having to suffer the headache of that ponytail-from-hell.
Video and photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions, shot at @MO4Network Studio.