CAIRO — Egypt’s path to building a new future has always had its obstacles, and so it wasn’t much of a surprise for participants to the opening of the country’s first entrepreneurship summit, RiseUp Egypt, when they learned that all of the streets entering the event were blocked.
The participants trying to make their way to the summit last month represented a who's who of this country’s nascent tech start-up sector and they were set to gather at the "Greek Campus,” formerly the American University of Cairo, right off Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo. To the event organizers, Tahrir Square, which was the epicenter of the historic protests in 2011 that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of autocratic rule, seemed an appropriate place to host the summit and link the country’s economic future with its still-unfolding revolution.
What they didn’t know was that major protests had been planned in Tahrir Square for the same day. Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi were set to gather in large numbers and police had erected concrete barricades on all nearby roads and alleys to prevent the demonstration.
No vehicles could pass; there was no access to the summit. Steve Haley, who runs the Egypt-based operation for Mercy Corps, an international development organization that is working to facilitate the growth of the entrepreneurship sector in Egypt and played a central role in organizing the summit, and his team got out of their car and started walking the several blocks to the Greek campus, trying different alleyways looking for one without a 20-foot concrete and barbed wire barrier spanning the street.
As they rounded one corner, they saw colleagues from an angel investment group who joined them. Around another corner they were joined by friends from a tech accelerator. Soon in every direction they met up with people on foot all walking to the Summit. To Haley, this was a perfect metaphor, he thought, for the entrepreneurship sector in Egypt. There are innumerable large obstacles to progress but nothing was going to stop these young entrepreneurs from finding creative and successful ways around them.