Three weeks ago when I heard that a big protest was being planned to take place in Cairo on January 25, I was far from excited. I had just moved my Cairo office to a new location in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. I recently finished a month of job interviews to hire more staffers for my creative consulting company MADEO. Life was comfortable and going quite well. I didn't want anything to mess with that.
I was in New York on January 25 preparing to fly to Cairo as I watched the scenes of the protests grow, the clashes with the police escalate and then the shock of seeing the police just vanish. My flight got cancelled, Cairo was under curfew for the first time in my life and everything drastically changed after that.
Every friend, family member and colleague participated in safeguarding their homes and offices as the police disappeared. The curfew put the country at a halt and the economy deteriorated day by day. Egypt witnessed a wakening and a real test. It was business as usual for the past 30 years and in just one week, everyone was expected to volunteer in the street around the clock, create a neighborhood watch, pick sides in politics and rethink their whole life in Egypt. What was unique and exceptional in these events was seeing the value in participation. The protests were initiated by Facebook pages, tweets and viral emails. They didn't have a political leader and there were no real parties involved. It was baffling to everyone, especially the government. They simply could not understand it. Wael Ghonim, the young Egyptian who created one of the most influential Facebook pages that led to the mass protests got arrested after the first day. He was detained for 12 days of questioning. The police genuinely could not believe that there were no organized groups behind this. They simply did not get how platforms like Facebook and blogs got everyone to participate to such a scale. What was particularly inspiring was seeing how innovation stemmed out so quickly out of need. Neighbors met for the first time in years and came up with ideas for protecting their neighborhood and making it survive this crisis. The protesters had to come up with ideas for surviving for that long in the square, from figuring out electricity sources to creating make-shift hospitals, nurseries and other outlets.
The thousands of young Egyptians that committed themselves to making Mubarak step down are now committing themselves to creating a genuine democracy. People are not cynical about taking chances anymore. There are a lot of young Egyptians coming out with new solutions for voting systems, digital apps that help people connect to clean the city, websites to improve traffic and so many more beta and startup projects coming out with the country's best intention in mind.
There are so many projects in development right now that are innovative and driven by social impact. Starting this morning at MADEO, we are working on a new business model to make it possible for us to support social entrepreneurship projects and the startups that will come out of this new era. We want to be there to help these small projects grow and make it affordable to young entrepreneurs to take chances, experiment and innovate. We want to help them in designing their brand identity and their communication and business strategy. We want to make sure these projects flourish and become sustainable. We are not alone in any of this. The conversations in Egypt are now about building the country, investing in innovation and challenging the status quo.
I might have been happy to move into a new office in a nice neighborhood last month, but today it seems really trivial compared to how thrilled I am for the real change that is taking place in Egypt, with all the real challenges that come with it. There are many questions unanswered about the future of Egypt, but that to me seems a lot better than how predictable things were in the past. This is what real change is about, and I am lucky to witness and participate in what is clearly Egypt's new era.
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