For a Westerner, traveling to Egypt is dominated by the fame of the ancient Egyptian makers. The pyramids! The hero of Saqqara, royal architect Imohep and his stepped pyramid (the first pyramid ever) date back to 2650BC. The incredible sculptors behind the carved tributes, like the breathtaking giant Ramses II at Memphis, all thousands of years old. The art of mummy-making, with decode-able bodies and personalities, thousands of years dead. This is durable work, and people have traveled for years across the globe to experience these treasures of human history.
Now, though, Westerners meandering Egypt aren’t so common. Since the uprising of 2011, tourism in Egypt plummeted and the ongoing economic hose of tourism has twisted into a stubborn kink. Over just the last year, Egypt’s currency devalued 100% against the dollar. So to be frank, it’s hard times in Egypt. Add that economic and political context to frequent-enough terrorist acts by radical Islamist militant factions, and well, a growing West/Middle East divide is not a surprise.
So amidst all that, from these Californian eyes, Maker Faire Cairo 2017 shined so bright. So bright. Over 11,000 mostly college-age people showed and attended the day-long affair on April 8 at Smart City, at an international tech office campus 45 minutes outside of central Cairo. With backing from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the show organizing team created a platform for the healthy and diverse maker community, and pulled together a brilliant program with world-class and varied maker headliners.
I have to mention up front one of my exhibitor faves, this robotics club BigHero6. Apparently they have won a ton of academic robotic competitions, but to have fun at Maker Faire they had a crazy-strong desire to make a cooking robot. This first short video is a WAIT-FOR-IT gem; the second is a bit of conversation with these quick and sweet young makers:
An awesome element at Maker Faire Cairo was a whole tent devoted to the Geek Fictions Convention — a Cosplay gathering and competition. The MFCairo team brought in YouTube cosplay “stars” from the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the U.S. to be celebrity judges. This all made for super fun mobile content all over the place, and apparently the name of the game is SELFIES with your fave character.
The Maker Faire Cairo organizing team is unusual for a larger Maker Faire: it’s comprised primarily of college students involved with the Cairo makerspace, FabLab Egypt. Their energy and edge is palpable, and their collaborative curatorial process resulted in a superlative range of imported talent.
One such brilliant choice was bringing in up-and-coming Egyptian DJ duo Disco Misr to close the show. They were Maker Faire-perfect, mashing up old, familiar Egyptian pop tunes (=mainstream appeal) with big beats and irresistible drops (=making). The dance party that erupted was the best ending to any Maker Faire I’ve ever attended (and that’s saying something!).
Maybe because of the huge draw of Disco Misr, and also because of the venue’s distance from Cairo, most of the audience seemed to be happy with a full-day plan to be at Maker Faire Cairo. The show was almost completely outdoors, on a big water-feature-front lawn in the middle of a new campus of multi-national tech company offices. Attendees registered in advance for a seat on one of the many shuttles coming in from points all over Cairo. Families were definitely present, but Maker Faire Cairo might be the only Maker Faire I’ve attended that was dominated by college students. The vibe was festival/picnic and very social. Everyone wanted to be there and nowhere else.
Booth-cruising was rewarding, per Maker Faire norm. The coolest tech project might have been a working hyperloop prototype—but I never found it! (If David Rosen sends me his video clip, I promise to add it here.)
In terms of range, makers ran the gamut: old and young and in-between; classic through cutting-edge maker technologies; male and female. Almost all of them spoke very good English. Young women at the Faire were overall less conservatively dressed than elsewhere I saw in Egypt, but most young women still wore a headscarf. The young maker/artist at the top of this post in full black veil — called a niqāb in Egypt — was the only #LadyMaker I saw in niqāb. She spoke great English and responded cheerfully when I asked if I could take her picture. (I was so nervous that I forgot to take her and her booth-mate’s names!)
Many many thanks to the incredible team behind Maker Faire Cairo 2017. A whole lot of these “kids” were taking mid-terms amidst the sleepless pre-show days. (We’ll save the story of last-minute venue changes for another post on the rigors of Maker Faire production!)
Considerable and very public appreciation needs to be showered upon Dina El-Zanfaly, co-founder of both FabLab Egypt and Maker Faire Cairo. And to Omar Elsafty, tireless Producer of Maker Faire Cairo. Also to Hisham Khodeir and Nahla Darwish for their founding and continuing support, and for their faith in the importance of the Maker Movement reaching and inspiring the young people — the future — of Egypt. Hope to see you all there next year for Maker Faire Cairo 2018!