Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part II

This is the second part of my four-part review of TEDxCairo 2011 talks. If you haven’t read part 1, read it here.

Ahmed Abdalla: Half a Kiss:

The first talk of the second session was by movie writer and director Ahmed Abdalla, famous for his two award-winning independent movies Heliopolis and Microphone. Ahmed talked about censorship and how the Egyptian society reacts towards (the lack of?) it. He mentioned that getting a clear identity of who we are as a nation will help in deciding on the society’s relationship with press freedom, interfaith marriage, authority and gender equality.

It was a very good talk; Ahmed was very captivating and touched on very important issues. The thing I did not like was him ending the talk with “See you on the 27th”; clearly encouraging the audience to attend the May 27th demonstrations. Here is one of the main rules of organizing a TEDx event:

TEDx events may not be used to promote spiritual or religious beliefs, commercial products or political agendas.

Ahmed and all of the other speakers should have been informed with this rule; or else the TEDxCairo team could get their license revoked.

Verdict: Half a Kiss: Good.

Sherif Abdelazeem: Volunteerism:

Next was founder and chairman of Resala NGO Dr. Sherif Abdelazeem. He began by criticizing what he called the “wana maalyah” (it’s not my business) attitude whenever we (Egyptians) see something wrong but not personally affecting us. His talk was focused on promoting volunteerism in Egypt, mentioning that it is the habit of highly developed nations to dedicate part of their time to voluntary work, and that showing your love for your country should not be done only in football stadiums.

“Volunteerism” was another great talk at TEDxCairo. The stories Dr. Sherif mentioned of their activities at Resala were both touching and inspiring. The only thing wrong about it was that it was difficult to keep up with the talk as Dr. Sherif was talking too fast at some points of the talk.

Verdict: Volunteerism: Good.

Haytham ElFadeel: What If Machines Think?

Haytham, founder and CEO of the amazing semantic search engine Kngine, raised the issue of computers’ (lack of) intelligence, and how, unlike any other science, advances in computer science cause advances in other sciences. He then went on to express his love for artificial intelligence and how his belief that “smarter” machines will improve our quality of life lead him to create Kngine, a search engine described by TechCrunch as a “direct assault on Google“, one that has achieved great success despite its relatively small budget, and a project that is 100% Egyptian!

Haytham’s talk was one I was really looking for. He wowed the audience with the demonstration of Kngine’s semantic searching capabilities. He spoke easily, confidently, and enthusiastically. Haytham should have mentioned though the differences between Kngine and Wolfram Alpha, as I overheard some people in attendance saying that it does the same that Wolfram Alpha does. Haytham also kept going back and forth between the middle of the stage and the laptop to change the slides of his presentation instead of using the clicker, which was a bit distracting- maybe the clicker was malfunctioning, but if so he should not have held it during his talk!

Verdict: What If Machines Think? : Good.

Fatma Said: The Day When the People Changed:

The first performance of the day was by the award winning (and relatively young) opera singer Fatma Said. She performed her operatic Jan 25 revolution song “Youm Mal Sha3b Et3’ayar” (The Day When the People Changed). Words cannot really describe the song or her voice. Her performance was the only one that got a standing ovation.

If you haven’t heard this song before, do it now! This is definitely one artist that I would love to hear more of.

Verdict: The Day When the People Changed: Outstanding!

Yasmine Said: Forgetful and Forgotten:

Yasmine Said is a Biology scientist from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, USA. She worked at an elderly psychiatric disease unit at a hospital in Kansas where she developed an interest in Alzheimer disease. Yasmine’s talk was a thorough description of Alzheimer’s symptoms, mentioning that it is dubbed “The Disease of the Century”, and that because of the difficulty of handling an Alzheimer patient, such patients are often neglected and “forgotten” by their close ones.

The talk was very informative AND touching, very close to what you expect from a TEDTalk. However, the talk lacked a crisp clear message; Yasmine did not explicitly say something like “Don’t forget your Alzheimer patients” or made the talk relevant by mentioning stats about the state of Alzheimer patients in Egypt, and personally Yasmine came out a bit too cold to me. Nevertheless, the talk shed a much needed light on a dangerous disease that people barely know anything about.

Verdict: Forgetful and Forgotten: Good.

Essam Youssef: “1/4 Gram” Message:

The last talk of the second session was by Essam Youssef; author of the bestseller “1/4 Gram”, a book described as “an honest insider’s account on Egypt’s drug world”. Essam is also conducting a drugs awareness campaign in which he had visited over 30 schools and universities and met over 2000 students. He talked about the stages of drug addiction as well as some stats related to drugs in Egypt.

This talk could have been outstanding, but it was NOT. Essam’s attempt at breaking the ice at the beginning- “jokingly” saying that he will not abide by the topic he agreed on with the organizers nor the 18-minute time limit- his attitude during the talk, and his final remark “If I made it to heaven, I would ask God for 2 cms (a drug shot)” felt unprofessional and put me off the whole thing. This talk will NOT be featured on the TEDTalks web page, even though its content could have got it there.

Verdict: “1/4 Gram” Message: Bad.

The star of the second session was definitely Fatma Said, her outstanding performance got everyone talking. Kngine’s impressive search results also got people very interested in it.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for part 3!

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part I

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a global set of conferences held to promote “Ideas Worth Spreading” by bringing the most interesting thought leaders to give an inspiring talk in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program designed to give communities, organizations, and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at a locally organized, planned, and coordinated event.

I was privileged to receive an invitation to attend TEDxCairo 2011 on May 21st. In this four-part post, I will be reviewing the talks of the event from a TED Talks (big) fan point of view. In my opinion, a TED talk should be evaluated according to how successful it was in fulfilling the following criteria:

  1. The talk is about Technology, Entertainment, and/or Design
  2. The audience WILL be touched, moved, and/or inspired

That, and how the talk compares to/how likely it is to be added to the talks featured on the TEDTalks web page.

The theme of TEDxCairo 2011 was “Resurrection: Laughs, Tears and Hopes”. As a whole, the speakers and the talks were extremely successful in conveying the laughs, tears and hopes feelings. However, if you dissect and rate them individually, the talks and performances would be ranging between outstanding, good, bad, and plain ugly.

MC:

Upon hearing that Reem Maged- the recently-famous TV presenter- would be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) of the event, I became skeptic. I was not completely sure that she would be able to pull off good intros/outros, especially that when she hosted the TEDxCairo co-founders on her TV show, it seemed that she did not know much about the TED/TEDx concepts.

Unfortunately I was right. She was NOT a good MC. She did not introduce TED and TEDx good enough, her introduction of the speakers did not seem well-prepared, and her after-talk jokes and remarks were just off. The only thing she did well was keeping the “overly excited” Tarek Shalaby on a leash during the interview that should not have happened in the first place. But I will get to that later.

Verdict: Reem Maged Hosting: Bad.

Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb: What Newton Didn’t See Coming:

The first talk was by the founder and director of the Nano Materials Masters Program at Nile University and the forefront figure of Nanotechnology in the Middle East Asst. Prof. Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb. His talk revolved around Nanotechnology; its effects on other fields of science and the endless possibilities provided by embracing it.

Needless to say, the talk was full of information; too much information, to the extent that it became very difficult to follow him, leading to the whole thing becoming incoherent. Now, the talk itself was really good, what I have a problem with is selecting it to be the first talk. In my opinion, you need something light and catchy to start a TEDx event with, and then work your way up to the heavily-informative talks. If this talk was scheduled to be at mid-day for example, it would have caught much more attention than it did.

Verdict: What Newton Didn’t See Coming: Good.

Gihane Zaki: Primeval Ocean:

The second talk was by Egyptology professor Gihane Zaki. She captured the audience attention by mentioning a revolution in Egypt around the year 2011 BC when a king ruled ancient Egypt for 94 years and his son succeeded him but reigned only one for year before getting murdered. She also spoke of the ancient Egyptian belief in the circle of life and how our revolution in 2011 was part of that cycle.

The talk was very interesting and informative. The thing is, though, according to Wikipedia, the information she presented was not very accurate. But some experts say that the information on Wikipedia is generally not very accurate. So I am giving Prof. Gihane the benefit of the doubt!

Verdict: Primeval Ocean: Good.

Ali Faramawy: Top Ten “Belmasry”:

Next was Ali Faramawy; VP of Microsoft International. Upon getting on the stage, Ali declared that he does not have a “PowerPoint” (Microsoft ad anyone? :D) or use any “Tofa7” (apples)- referring to the Apple Mac on the stage! His talk covered the feelings of Egyptians before, during, and after the Jan 25 revolution, and how the feelings before the revolution (amnesia, uncertainty, and fear) are the same now, but for different reasons. He also stressed on the importance of communicating with the Egyptians abroad and benefit from what they can give to their country.

I really liked that talk. It was light, funny, informative, and inspiring without being overly “touchy-feely”. In my opinion, this should have been the first talk on the agenda. The only thing that I did not like was that he was mostly reading from papers. Not a nice thing to do when giving a TED talk..

Verdict: Top Ten “Belamsry”: Good.

Fadel Soliamn: Bread and Salt:

Fadel Soliman is an international Islam speaker and evangelist (why are we hearing about these people for the first time?) He is also the director of the Bridges Foundation; specialized in presenting and training speakers on how to present Islam. Fadel’s talk was mainly about the commonalities between Egyptian Muslims and Christians, and how the unity in Tahrir square during the Jan 25 revolution “The Republic of Tahrir” was an integral part of its success. He also stressed on the fact that the word “Copt” does NOT mean Christian, but rather an Egyptian.

This was definitely one of the best talks on the event. Fadel had a charm to him that it was really difficult not to give him your full attention. The talk itself was interesting, insightful, inspiring, and had a strong message all while being light and witty. An excellent example of how a TED talk should be like.

Verdict: Bread and Salt: Outstanding!

Mena Shenoda: An Egyptian Tale:

The last talk of the first session was by Mena Shenoda, co-author of the bestseller “Astigmatism in the Brain”; a book that collects a set of tales about the sectarian disputes in Egypt. His talk (apparently) was a narration of one of the tales mentioned in the book.

In my opinion, this was not only the worst talk at the event; it was the worst TED talk I have ever seen. The story was supposed to be touching, but the overly-theatrical, overacting style of Mena that was closer to a Lady Gaga performance than a touching narration of an inspiring story diverted everyone’s attention from the story and did not leave the best of impressions about the speaker. A massive fail.

Verdict: An Egyptian Tale: Plain ugly.

The first session ended with Fadel Soliman as its star, Ali Faramawy leaving a great impression, and the people splitting in their opinion on the talks of Gihane and Abdel-Mottaleb.

Thanks for reading so far, part 2 coming very soon.

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part II

This is the last part of my extensive two-part review of Startup Weekend Cairo. You can read part one here.

So day two started, almost all ideas that people voted for the night before had their teams formed, with stress on almost, as it seems that there were ideas that their owners did not find people that would join their teams, which I find odd since voting for an idea should indicate that people liked it, and liking it should indicate that people would want to work on it, so yeah. Anyway, most of the teams were formed and people started getting to work.

Now, I have to really hand it down to National Net Ventures (N2V)– one of the event sponsors- for the great work they did throughout the event. Not only did they have the coolest thing I have ever seen in an event/workshop called the N2V Car, which is a small cart filled with candy that… moves around campus for people to get candy!

But also the N2V people were walking around giving away juice to people while they were working. I cannot really say anything but R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The second day went on- fast, may I add- and it was time for two quick speeches by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex, and Bo Burlingham, Inc. magazine editor-at-large. Now, I have to be honest here, Bo’s speech was very good, but in my personal opinion, it was done injustice by making it come after that of Fadi Ghandour’s speech. Fadi’s speech was so interesting and he himself was so lively that Bo’s speech felt “pale” in comparison. Again, I am not saying that Bo’s speech was bad, I am just saying that Fadi’s left too big of an impact more than that of Bo, I mean, I have not been a big supporter of entrepreneurship before the event, but Fadi’s speech DEFINITELY made a believer out of me! To know what I am talking about, watch it:


Also, here is the speech of Bo Burlingham:

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One of the things I was wondering about before the event was how the mentoring system would work- one mentor per team? All mentors working with all teams? To answer my question, on the second day, each team was handed a piece of paper with the line “Mentor needed here” written on it. If the team needed a mentor, they would put the paper on their desk with the text side up; if not then the blank side should be up. I thought that was a great idea as the mentors- who were making rounds at the teams working places- would help the teams that needed help but not interrupt the ones that did not, except that it did not go that way. Things went very smooth on the second day, the mentors provided VALUABLE help when people needed and left them alone when they did not. On the third day though, it was not so smooth. Almost all of the mentors along with Omar Christidis– one of the judges- made rounds and asked each team to tell them about the idea they were working on. I am pretty sure that each team leader talked about their idea at least ten times on the third day. The interruptions sometimes were annoying and teams could not object because they had to be nice to the mentors and of course the famous judge, which makes me wonder; what was Omar Christidis doing?! The judges should make their decisions based ONLY on the final presentation, in my personal opinion; the judges should not interact with the teams before the presentations, as doing so would give some teams an unfair advantage. For example, assume that during his round, Omar liked the work/idea of some team, but during their presentation, the team did not successfully present their work and eventually did not “sell it” to the other judges. In the judges room, Omar would try to convince the other judges to vote for it because he knows there is more to it than what was shown in the four-minute presentation. To me, this translates to unfair advantage. As I believe the reason for having only four minutes to present you work is those four minutes are actually the period that an investor needs to decide whether or not to invest in your startup.

Busy? No? Good! Get up and tell me watcha doin'!

Another interruption, but one that was actually good, was when were told to head outside for group pictures, the results were AMAZING as can be seen here:

Now, I have to take a shot at my friend Abdelrahman Magdy, CEO of Egypreneur regarding something (and hope he forgives me!). As a media sponsor of Startup Weekend Cairo, Egypreneur people were responsible for things like tweeting and taking pictures and videos, those videos included quick interviews with some of the mentors and team leaders. That is good, I have nothing against that. My take on it though is that those interviews sometimes took place at the rooms where the teams were working. Obviously the rooms were noisy because PEOPLE WERE WORKING, so instead of taking the interviews outside- where practically no one was making any noise, Abdelrahman was actually asking people to be quiet! I know that Egypreneur is a sponsor and everything- and we are thankful for the exposure it was giving to the teams- but you just cannot ask people working their butts off to be quiet! It is just not… cool!

The third day went by- too quickly!- and it was time for the final presentations. A nice touch by the organizers was making the order of presentations random so that everyone gets a fair chance. Again, it was obvious that the specified time (4 minutes) was not enough for the presentation that the judges sometimes asked the presenters to use their 1 Q&A minute to continue their presentations.

Since I’m new to this entrepreneurship world, I will not talk about the ideas, presentations content, or my opinion regarding the judges’ choices of winners here (you can see a complete list of projects and winners here). What I will say, however, is congratulations for all the winning teams- specially the Inkezny team, my favourite idea :D- and for everyone who worked hard for the weekend to turn out the great way it did. It was definitely an amazing experience, one that surely got me and everyone that participated very excited about entrepreneurship.

Some photos from days 2 and 3:

The great view at the AUC campus

Fadi Ghandour

Bo Burlingham

Judges: Hanan Abdel Meguid and Omar Christidis

Inkezny team, moment of announcing the result

Inkezny team, the winners of Startup Weekend Cairo 2011

And finally, a BIG group picture:

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon at the next Egyptian Startup Weekend :)

Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part I

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization that organizes 54-hour weekend events in various cities around the world. During the event, groups of developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a functioning prototype, demo, and/or presentation by the end of the weekend. The event judges pick the winning startups, which receive various awards. The event also attracts speakers and panellists, as well as mentors that help the teams on their startups during the weekend, who are usually highly-respected members of the local startup community or notable names in the tech industry.

On the April 28th, 29th, 30th weekend, Startup Weekend came to
Egypt for the very first time, held at the new campus of the America University in Cairo in New Cairo. I was lucky enough to attend the three days of the event work with a team on developing a startup. In this two-part review I shall talk about the highlights of my GREAT experience at Startup Weekend Cairo.

First, I really liked the choice of the AUC new campus for the event venue. It provided a great working atmosphere with the very neat working rooms and outstanding outdoor scenery far away from Cairo’s downtown madness. It was a very well-thought decision by the event organizers, which brings me to my second point; the organizers. In my opinion, the event organizers and volunteers were the heroes of this event. Startup Weekend Cairo was the best-organized event I have attended so far. It was almost perfect. The only thing that I did not like was the fact that not all event ID cards were printed even though confirmation e-mails were sent a whole week before the event. Also, something that really puzzled me was that it was mentioned on the event’s website is that attendance costs 100 EGP (75 EGP for students), yet neither me nor anyone I knew there paid anything! Other than that, everything was just in place and the organizers and volunteers made sure that we had everything we needed. Chapeau to them!

The Heroes of Startup Weekend Cairo

After registration, the event kicked off with a couple of speeches, one of them was really boring that I cannot even remember who gave it or what it was about. Something worth mentioning though is that ALL the speeches, even the ones delivered by Arab speakers, were almost completely in English, which I found particularly annoying. One tried to recap the speeches in Arabic, but apparently someone gave him a “look” because he abruptly stopped midway and continued in English. Way to preserve and take pride in our Arabic identity.

Next were the pitches; individuals and teams had 60 seconds to pitch an idea and attempt to convince the audience to vote for it and join their team. When I first heard about this 60-second time limit, I thought it was unfair; the first ideas pitched will be forgettable, the last ones will stay fresh in the audience minds. However, that was not the case, it was even worse. Having to sit there and listen to about 50 ideas in a 60-second rapid succession was a chaotic nightmare; no one was able to keep up with the ideas or properly evaluate and compare them to decide which to vote for, not to mention that the ideas themselves were a bit disappointing, not what you expect after a GOING THROUGH A REVOLUTION. The ideas themselves were not bad, just… ordinary.

Your time is up, kid! NEXT!

After everyone pitched their ideas, it was time to give our votes, the old school way. Knowing practically nothing from the 60-second pitches, people had to cram up the voting space to talk to pitchers and know what they were talking about. The most-voted 32 ideas were chosen to continue and the pitchers had to build their development teams. A really weird phenomenon was the shortage of designers at the event; people were literally fighting over designers and eventually had to call for help from their own designers outside the event. In my opinion, this can be interpreted in only one way; designers are NOT interested in entrepreneurship, which I believe is an issue that should be addressed by the event organizers.

The first day ended with great dinner under the lovely night sky of New Cairo, it provided opportunity to chat with people that we do not usually see in our everyday lives. Startup Weekend Cairo was actually a huge Cairo Tweetup with an entrepreneurial theme!

Some Photos from Day 1:

Registration

Geeks love sugar, specially when in the form of cupcakes!

... or ice cream!

Event Sponsors

 In part two I will be talking about the second and third days of the weekend as well as my experience in working with the “Ma3Ba3d” team. Stay tuned!

Update: part two is now available, read it here.

On the New Vodafone Egypt Ad: Why I Am Not Offended

A few  days ago, Vodafone Egypt started a new ad campaign for its new unlimited streaming internet bundle. The campaign primarily relies on the use of celebrities- similar to Mobinil and Etisalat Egypt- by using the young actors of “Samir, Shahir, and Bahir” movie as the campaign stars. Vodafone also aimed at giving the campaign a humorous flavour by re-narrating some historic events. One of the ads mocks the failed attempt of Abbas Ibn Firnas to fly:

Personally, I did not find anything wrong with the ad, I even thought it was a very creative way to capture the audience’s attention. However, I was surprised to find that many people did not like it as much. Their main point is that Abbas Ibn Firnas is a great scientist with great contributions to the history of the science- which I personally knew none of, did you?- to be made fun of like that, and that “Vodafone Egypt owes an apology to the educated who knew that that man was truly a scientist and to the uneducated viewers who need to know who that man was”.

I respectfully disagree. Let’s look at things from an “abstract” point of view. First, Vodafone Egypt is a privately owned company that its first and most important goal is and should be maximizing its profits; it is not- and should not be- its role or duty to educate the public with the “great” achievements of past scientists.

Second and most important; advertising 101: when you start an ad campaign to sell/promote something, the campaign must appeal to the targeted audience. In this case, Vodafone is promoting internet; something for its young customers- hence the use of young actors and the attempt to make it funny. So, do the young customers of Vodafone Egypt know about Ibn Firnas’ water clock or glass planispheres? No. Do you they care? NO! Ask any young male/female walking in the street- or any age really- what they know about Abbas Ibn Firnas, and you are guaranteed to get the failed flying attempt answer- that is if you got an answer at all. It is unfortunate but it is true.

Vodafone Egypt was smart enough to capitalize on the little knowledge its targeted audience have and turn it into something relevant, something they can relate to. That IS smart advertising. Also, come to think of it, Vodafone did not claim anything Ibn Firnas did not do. The guy did cover his body with feathers, he did get on top of a hill and jumped to attempt flying, and he did fall. Maybe that was not the only thing he did, but that is the most known among the public; the public that Vodafone Egypt is targeting with its ad campaign.

Looking forward to your comments on this one.

 

Update 1: apparently Vodafone Egypt has removed the video from its Youtube channel. Could this be the first step towards admitting they made a mistake?

Update 2: the video is back online only an hour after it was removed. Still no official word from the company on its Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Update 3 (16/11/2010): the video is deleted again from YouTube, but it can still be viewed on TV.

Update 4 (17/11/2010): Vodafone Egypt released an official statement on their Facebook page, implicitly apologizing for offending people with the Abbas ad, vowing to gradually remove the ad from TV channels. The statement can be read here.

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Smoke-Free Alexandria: The Worst Business Decision Ever?

A man sat in the smoking room of one airport to have a cigarette before boarding his plane, on his way out, another man approaches him:

  • Man: How many cigarettes do you smoke a day?
  • Smoker: Do you smoke?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Do you own this plane?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Then why do you ask?
  • Man: Well, if you had saved all the money you spent on smoking, that plane on the runway could have been yours.
  • Man: Thanks for the advice. I smoke and I OWN this plane. My name is Richard Branson (owner of the Virgin brand).

Those who know me know that I rarely criticize the decisions of our decision makers. However, when a decision maker comes up with something that would hurt our already unstable economy, I’m more than willing to make an exception.

A little over a month ago, Adel Labib, the governor of Alexandria, started some sort of a campaign to free Alexandria from the ill effects of smoking. To achieve that goal, two major decisions were made:

  1. Banning smoking in closed public places, including but limited to public transportation, restaurants, and coffee shops.
  2. Banning “Shisha” from ALL coffee shops in Alexandria.

Now in theory, that may sound like a good thing. I mean, smoking, with all its shapes and forms, is deadly harmful for health, not only for the smoker but also for everyone around him/her– the second-hand smokers. Europe understood that and banned smoking in public places long ago. Us catching up now cannot be a bad thing, right?

Before answering let’s take some facts into consideration; in Egypt, cigarettes are not a luxury, but rather a primary commodity– for reasons we all know. I don’t have the exact numbers but a huge percentage of Egyptians, probably even more than half, are smokers, and most of them fall in the 18-40 years age group. Such group tends to meet outdoors and usually end up sitting on some sort of a coffee shops, where they will eventually have a smoke, either shisha or cigarettes, with their drinks.

This guy, along with thousands just like him, is or will be out of work

Let’s be realistic here, most of the coffee shops regulars go there for the smokes. I mean let’s face it; you can drink almost anything at home except shisha. So if you ban the shisha from every coffee shop in Alexandria, and force people to sit outside if they smoke cigarettes, the number of customers will inevitably decrease, especially in winter, where the Alexandria’s weather will make it impossible for smokers to sit outside. That decrease will cause significant losses for the coffee shops owners, eventually leading most of them to close their businesses, which will have two devastating effects. First, a massive damage will be done to the Alexandrian economy, as its primary source of income is the tourists, who consider having that perfect shisha in front of the amazing night sea a main part of their yearly visit. Second, closing those coffee shops will force the release of their workers, who are usually either young newly graduated guys who couldn’t find a decent job, or older ones that work there as a second job to get by.

Now, let’s assume that public ban of shisha from Alexandria is the first step towards its public use ban in all of Egypt. If that happen, many of the factories manufacturing the shisha- yes, they are manufactured in factories, did you think they grow on trees?- will be closed, also leading to the release of their workers, and this time we are not talking about a dozen of guys, but hundreds of workers living below poverty line and mostly supporting big families. Putting them out of work is just not right.

Do not get me wrong, it is not like I am supporting or encouraging smoking in any way. I just believe that there are smarter, less damaging ways to reduce the ill effects of smoking in Egypt. I was actually delighted when the tax rate on smokes’ sales was increased. That was a smart way to reduce the number of smokers– as not everyone, especially the light smokers, was willing to pay the extra money. In addition to that, the government can enforce strict laws to prevent the sale of smokes to kids younger than 18 years, make clever ad campaigns, ban smoking in the media, and so on.

Yes, smoking is bad for both our health and for the environment. But, unemployment and starving to death is much, much worse.

So, what do you think? Is the Alexandria smoking ban- and eventually moving on to every major city of Egypt- harms more than it helps, or is it a necessary evil?

Your comments are much appreciated.

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MUFIC Batch #6 Graduation Ceremony: A Mediocre End to an Epic Era

  • Date: Thursday October 14th, 2010.
  • Time: 10:00 AM.
  • Location: Menoufia University Ceremonies Hall, the one where President Hosni Mubarak announced the amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2005 itself!
  • Event: Faculty of Computers and Information batch #6 graduation ceremony.

You would know it a mile away, the guys were overdressed, the girls were overusing and abusing makeup to the point that it becomes a hard task not to throw up whatever you had for breakfast, and everyone was seen wearing ugly red and blue coats similar to the uniform of the French Campaign army that invaded Egypt in 1798. It was THE annual graduation ceremony of the Menoufia University’s Faculty of Computers and Information students.

Now that's what I DON'T call fashion!

Now, our faculty is famous for two things regarding its graduation ceremonies: first, it is the only faculty in Menoufia University that organizes a separate ceremony for its alumni. Second, these ceremonies are guaranteed to be the worst 2-3 hours of your life! They almost always suffer from chaotic floor organization, feeble speeches, and horrendous acts performed by our so-called theatrical team. That year was no exception, although I have to admit that it was slightly better than last year’s nightmare.

The organizers spent over an hour queuing us (graduates) outside the hall so that we can be seated in order, which didn’t happen! I can almost assure you that none other than the people in the first two or three rows where they were supposed to!

The ceremony started with the presence of the faculty dean and vice dean, I could not help but notice a big sign in the background saying that the ceremony is sponsored by the Menoufia University president, who was NOT present, nor any official representative of him or the university administration!

Things kicked off with a speech by our ranked-1 student Ibrahim Abdullah, which felt more like hearing someone read the phonebook rather than a speech. I have absolutely nothing against Ibrahim, he is one of the politest, kindest people you will ever meet, but he was reading his speech with absolutely no heart or enthusiasm, making it so obvious that he was given that speech to read, and maybe even given it an hour or so before the ceremony!

Next were the speeches of the dean and vice dean, which were, least to say, forgettable. At an event like this, you expect the speeches of the big guys to be… big! You know, to give you a sense of achievement, make you feel how well you did, and inspire you to take your next step. And that simply did not happen.

The speeches were followed by honouring the top ranked students and then calling out everyone else to get their certificates. At that moment I was confused; you see, the reason any graduate of Menoufia’s Faculty of Computer and Information sits through the 2-3 hours of hell, also known as the graduation ceremony, is getting their certificate and taking a picture with the honourable dean so that they may print, enlarge, frame, and hang it out on the wall so that they may tease the neighbours coming to say congratulations whose kids are majoring in Arabic at the Faculty of Arts or something. So if they get them their moment then, what would make them sit through the not-so-jolly rest of the ceremony? Then I realized it, a four-letter word; FOOD! The “benefits” we get in exchange for the ceremony fees- yes, we pay to attend our own graduation ceremony- included a lunch meal, and sure as hell no one would go home without having their lunch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are a nation motivated by our lust for food, not scientific degrees or even the desire to brag about them!

The ceremony resumed, and as soon as I saw the faculty’s own theatrical team on stage, I knew that the nightmare would truly begin; unfunny people trying- so hard- to be funny by doing acts that are NOT funny. This year though, it was not that bad, as matter of fact, the three acts they gave were surprisingly really good, funny, and well performed. The reason behind that was the fact that the acts were COPIED from a great but not so famous play called Qahwa Sada (Black Coffee). I had absolutely no problem with re-doing parts of good plays, what I had a problem with, however, is exploiting the obscurity of the play and take credit for the acts by NOT mentioning that they were from another play.

Other segments of the ceremony included a forgettable poem, some religious song, and a song by a kid who can play the violin well, but trying to be the next Tamer Hosny, enough said!

What really caught my attention was a poem given by one of our students called Hagar, who is famous for being one of the faculty’s political activists and a fierce attacker of our government. As expected, the poem contained implicit and explicit attacks directed at the government. I could not believe that someone gave her the green light to read such a poem in the biggest faculty event of the year. Someone must have definitely been on crack, and a good kind as well.

All in all, it was not horrible. I actually quite enjoyed it. It was not great, but definitely better than last year’s chaos. It was nice having all the students of batch #6 under one roof for the last time.

And, to my dear fellow graduates, congratulation on the big achievement. It has been an epic four-year era, but we are finally done. The rest of our lives begin now, make sure you make the best of it.

Cheers.

Why Our Football Fans Are More Patriotic Than Our Bloggers

In the past few days, the atmosphere in the Egyptian street and the mood of people has been great. This is due to the victory of our national football team of the Africa Cup of Nations championship for the seventh time and the third time on the row. Celebrations took place in every street of every Egyptian town, people spent all night out cheering and singing patriotic songs with the Egyptian flag in the hands of every man, woman, and child, not because their football team won a competition, but because in that specific moment, they were truly proud to be Egyptians. It was indeed a patriotic utopia, even if it lasted for a few days.

With that image in mind, let’s move into another.

For years now, whenever we hear the two words “Egyptian” and “blogger” in the same sentence, the first things that comes into our minds is someone who writes about politics, more specifically, someone who uses their blog as a launching pad for vicious attacks against every decision of the Egyptian government. Surprisingly, this is not so far off the truth. Do some search online and you will find that for every one non-Egyptian-politics blog, there are at least ten blogs that are criticising the Egyptian government. I absolutely do not have a problem with that. I have always been an advocate of the freedom of speech and have always attacked media censorship. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to express their own opinion freely.

However, the problem is, those bloggers do not do that. Most of the blogs out there, which I am not mentioning as I am not giving them advertising via my blog, are not just an honest expression of opinion; they provide nothing but a clear, blind attack on every decision of the Egyptian government and most of the times on the people in charge themselves. Those bloggers claim that the sole purpose of their blogs is attempting to improve life in their homeland by making the people aware of what their government’s plots against them. They claim that their love and passion of Egypt is the motivation behind their words, and that they do not care if they were imprisoned for it.

If you ask me, they do not deserve to be imprisoned, they deserve to be executed. These blogs do not aim at improving life in Egypt, I once read a post in one of those famous blogs giving tips on how to deceive your boss into believing that you are a hard worker while you actually do not work at all, neither are they all that patriotic. How can one be so patriotic and filled with love for their country when the benefits of “other” countries are far up their priority list than the security of their homeland?

Those bloggers do not care about the Egyptian people or aim at improving the Egyptian life. They have some specific agenda that will only be achieved by poisoning the minds of the simple people into rebelling against the government. So much that smiles on the Egyptian faces and few moments of patriotism send them into a frenzy of anger.

While most of the Egyptians were celebrating their teams victory and living a moment of happiness and patriotism that does not come so often, those people where all over the internet attacking this moment, calling scenes of celebrations aired on the TV words as “disgrace” and calling the great mood their fellow Egyptians were in a “coma”.

So we have two images, one containing people who are proud of every victory belonging to their country, even if little or not so significant, and another containing ones who not only do their best to undermine those victories but also do their best to disrupt order in their country. Which image do you believe contains the ones that truly love their country?

I rest my case.

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A Letter To The FIFA

Okay, I know that I am going completely off-topic here. I just could not help to see what happened to the national Egyptian team supporters at El- Khartoum, Sudan after the Algeria vs. Egypt 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ playoff match yesterday and not act upon it. So I decided to send a letter to the FIFA, here is what it says:

To whom it may concern,

To say that I am shocked with your negative attitude regarding the aftermath of the Algerian victory against Egypt in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ playoff held on Wednesday, November 19th at Omdurman – Al Merreikh stadium in El- Khartoum, Sudan would be an understatement. On 2003, you declared “My Game is Fair Play” to be the code associated with your organization and football for the years to come. The events that occurred at El- Khartoum on that day were not remotely close to fair play in any way, shape, or form.

Apart from the terrorization that happened to the players of the national team of Egypt in Sudan before and during the course of the game, and referee Eddy Maillet not being able to cope with the pressure as he is rumoured to travel to Algeria in 10 days for a match there, the Egyptian supporters whom sole fault was that they travelled to El- Khartoum to support their national team were harmed and abused by the hands of the Algerian team supporters, even though the Egyptian national team did not even win the match. The coaches that carried the Egyptian supporters to the airport were brutally attacked and many of the supporters were severely injured. So I am asking you, is this what football about?

Respect opponents, team-mates, referees, officials and spectators.

– Reject corruption, drugs, racism, violence, gambling and other dangers to our sport.

Those are the fourth and seventh principles of the Fair-Play code, respectively. Do you believe that those principles were applied during the course of the playoff match? Were the Egyptian players and spectators really respected, and was violence rejected? You do not have to take my words for that; see the images on the news channels and the videos on YouTube. And I ask you again, was that, really, fair play?

You may believe that the national team of Algeria won fair and square and fully deserve the last African place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. However, what kind of message will you be delivering to the football world with that? The team with the most aggressive supporters qualifies? The team that breaks the greatest number of the Fair-Play Code principles wins?

I urge the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ organizing committee to take quick action regarding the unfortunate events that occurred at El- Khartoum, Sudan prior to, during the course of, and posterior to the Algeria vs. Egypt playoff match. The Fédération Algérienne de Football has to be penalized and be made an example of in order to prevent such events from ever occurring again in the name of sports. Please, save the spirit of football and act upon your code: “My Game Is Fair Play”.

Yours Sincerely,

Ahmed El- Sadek

If you support my cause, please share this everywhere you can. Maybe we can make an impact.

Thank you.

I Am Not Unintelligent Sir, I Just Have A Life

After a long summer, we finally returned to school last Saturday. I was confident that it will be a great source of inspiration for my humble blog, and I wasn’t wrong. On my very second class, “Knowledge-Based Systems”, I was faced with something that I knew I should address here- despite having previously prepared a post for this week, which is now put on the shelf for some other time.

While explaining some principles of Artificial Intelligence, our professor wandered a little off topic- which happens often- to talk about human intelligence, more specifically our intelligence as Computer Science students. He wondered why some of us achieve below average grades while clearly we cannot be unintelligent, as we got high grades at high school to get into this faculty. He concluded that those- the ones with low grades- either do not work hard enough, which makes them unintelligent for neglecting their study, or are indeed, unintelligent (not smart enough)- I believe the word he used was “stupid”.

Now, with all due respect to my dear professor, I have to say that I completely disagree with his point of view. First off, and everyone knows that, in Egypt, achieving a high grade at high school does not have any significance on whether or not you are intelligent or smart. I will not go through the reasons for that as I would really rather not get into a debate about the status of the educational system in Egypt. Just thought I should give a quick reminder.

Second, let’s take a look at ourselves for a moment; we start going to university at the age of 18 or 19. I am going to go out on a limb here and say, after 18 or 19 years of submissions to the wills of our schools’ teachers, parents, and societies’ customs and traditions that are most of the times meaningless and absurd, we take off to a brand new world where all the previous restrictions seem to dissolve by the power of the word “university”; your professors and instructors do not care whether you listen to them or not, your parents suddenly decide that you are old enough to handle yourself, and the society… well, the society remains the same, except the rules are more lenient this time and can be easily bent, if not broken, with little or no punishment. In other words, when you are in Egypt, university years are the best years of your life.

With that being said, would you rather spend the best years of your life stuck to a desk or staring into a computer monitor the same way you did in the previous 14 or 15 years of your life instead of going out and exploring this new world called university life? Some people make that decision in order to become college professors in the future. I have to admit it, it is not a bad thing at all, being a professor has a certain “prestige” to it, and the pay is not bad either. However, to be a professor, you have to go through years of humiliation by the real professors, who will make your life a living hell until you get that PhD, not to mention that upon graduation, you will have to see your previous colleagues working in the private sector with monthly salaries that exceed what you make a year as a college instructor. I obviously know what I am talking about as my father is a professor and my sister is an assistant professor at the same university I go to. So, after all, is the prospect of being a professor, with all its bitter and sweet, worth wasting the best years of your life? Some would still say yes, I say no.

For three years now, I have been achieving slightly above average grades at school, and it is NOT because I am unintelligent, it is because I purposely do not work hard enough. My parents have always complained that I am “too smart” to get such low grades. Maybe I am, but I am also too smart not to waste the best years of my life and regret it later. I am definitely not trying to encourage you, my fellow students, to simply forget about studies and spend your time wandering about. I am asking you to work hard and play hard. I am asking you to try and find a balance between your work life and your equally important social life. It may seem difficult and sometimes impossible, but you have to try your best, so that you do not wake up someday in the future finding yourself old and unsuccessful, or even worse, unhappy.