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How Egypt is Becoming the Creative Hub of the Arab World

Ahead of the massive two-day Creative Industry summit we speak to some of the most high-profile and highly-anticipated speakers at the unique event.

From isolated professionals to a budding eco-system firmly breaking through in Egypt’s economy: the Creative Industry summit kicks off this Friday, crystallising an industry that is rapidly gaining recognition as an important foundation for economic development.

Since the 25 January revolution shook Egypt’s ground, the country has witnessed a refreshing emergence of independent artists, filmmakers, and marketeers rooting out of the monopoly mainstream industry to create their own ventures. Young fashion designers, graphic artists, photographers, filmmakers, and creative entrepreneurs who are dismissing preconceived boundaries and redefining the country’s media landscape.   

The fact that the event was planned, promoted and executed by three young men in their 20s paints an eloquent outline of the industry’s panorama. “This year it is way bigger in terms of conferences and attendees,” says Hamza Sarawy, one of the organizers, who also runs Idea Bakers along with his partners Amr Ashraf and Mohanad El-Menoufy. Scheduled to begin at 11.00, the summit will host 590 attendees to showcasing inspiring panel discussions, talks and workshops and a promising Creative Pavillion, an exhibition lounge where creative entrepreneurs will exhibit their work and companies will host hiring booths.

“I’m glad that this is all coming together and I hope it becomes an ongoing event; we need to develop a network,” says Aisha Al Shabrawy, who will be leading a talk on fashion photography at the event. “I have a lot of faith in the potential of the creative industry, because it has always been there but it was never organised. Egyptian art directors and creative professionals have been winning prizes at an international level, but here it has been chaotic,” she says.

Reem Gamil, editor-in-chief at What Women Want magazine, agrees: “We need to work hard on becoming a regional hub, because even though we have plenty of professionals, we still lack facilities in media, photography and journalism to become leaders in the Middle East. As Egypt has traditionally led filmmaking and UAE leads in media and PR, we need to work on developing the ecosystem.”  

Female entrepreneurs, at the top of the game

As Reem and Aisha, plenty of women stand out at helm of an industry that was once dominated by male talent. “I am excited about sharing my experience as a woman entrepreneur with a startup in Egypt, says María S. Muñoz, founder of the fashion social network that has been taking Egypt by storm, Slickr. “The more we share our failures and successes, the more points of view we get to know, the more we can enrich others and ourselves,” she adds.

Leading the way in sectors such as fashion design, editorial content and PR, women entrepreneurs are rapidly gaining ground. From designer Sara Hegazy to co-founders of Okhtein, Aya and Mounaz Abdel Raouf, to art therapist Kiki Haddad and online host Khadiga Rehab, the gems of innovation at the summit this year are mostly female.

Gamil, who will be heading a panel on the evolution of media to online outlets, thinks fashion and editorial content are optimal tools to strive for women empowerment. “It is challenging in Egypt, as everyone thinks women only want ´fashion and make up’, but we proved them wrong,” she says. Overseeing the magazine What Women Want, Reem began showcasing stories of resilience and female entrepreneurship, “and they were a success,” she explains.

Trading models for professional women, entrepreneurs, and marketeers, the magazine offered fashion editorials with real bodies, pushing forward a healthier body image that women can identify with. “We create campaigns to highlight the real beauty, without make up. A few years ago, we weren´t able to convince writers to do a fashion shoot with real women, but now it goes viral”.

An opportunity to inspire youth

What is perhaps the Creative Industry summit’s highest potential is to bring the new generation of role models to the frontline, and inspire the next to come. “There is a flourishing creative scene in Egypt that is taking over the upcoming generation at a very fast pace. This kind of events encourage more young people to join this movement that is, without any doubts the best trend for the future of Egypt,” thinks María S. Muñoz.

“As a panelist myself, I´m very interested to attend other talks. There is a very selective list of young people and entrepreneurs, media people and publishers encouraging other people to work really hard,” adds Gamil.

Photographer El Shabrawy says she is looking forward to meet her amateur counterparts. “I expect it to be helpful for young students who are starting their career, and a nice experience for everyone working in the creative industry. People know each other but they are not really connected, and it is important to facilitate and give young people the does and don’ts of the industry. In the end, we are all learning.”

Among Sarawy’s most expected panelists, Daliah Galal, a media legend and “one of the most professional entrepreneurs I have met throughout my life,” the organiser says. 

Find out more about the Creative Industry summit and how to attend here.