Beirut closed its doors in Cairo in 2015.

We hope to see you here and elsewhere soon!


Imaginary School Program

What is the ISP?

The Imaginary School Program is an eight-month cross-disciplinary practice-based theory program designed for twelve participants. It runs from 19 October 2014—30 May 2015 and is comprised of a series of workshops, lectures, fieldtrips, reading groups, and other hybrid activities. The curriculum focuses on institutions and forms of organizing (including collectives, non-movements, informal groups, etc.), with an emphasis on the landscape that Cairo offers. The program intends to create a space for reflection and critical thinking on radical institution-building and examine how we understand institutions and their political potential. It will analyze and discuss the legal and economical frameworks in which institutions exist, looking into matters of legality and legitimacy, economy and ownership, infrastructure and language, both pragmatically and philosophically. In this way, ISP will function as a kind of institutional clinic by closely scrutinizing a select number of existing organizations, placing emphasis on different ways of learning, organizing and sharing knowledge.

During the program, we will engage with theory, trying to locate these institutions within a broader spectrum of history, geography, politics and other contextual viewpoints. The aim is to learn by doing, by analysing and engaging more closely with organizations, so as to gain access to the practical and invisible knowledge that is rarely present in books (think: from fundraising to work ethics). The program’s experience will be constantly translated visually and discursively, via different activities for a broader audience, thereby documenting and archiving the knowledge institutions are producing. We will collectively conceive and execute a final project, with total freedom of expression. This all will be done through engaging with a variety of different disciplines, methods and thoughts, ranging from the more activist to the purely imaginative approaches to learning.

Why the ISP?

Following the course of the uprisings since 2011 in Cairo, a surge of new initiatives, collectives and institutions have emerged, some out of emergency, and immediate urgency, with others empowered by the new space that the political shift seems to have facilitated.

All of these institutions constitute a resilient front and an alternative infrastructure that works toward social justice and civic responsibility, freedom of expression and research across different fields, including arts and culture, education, journalism, activism, ecology, human rights and new media. This alternative infrastructure, however, is extremely fragile, informal and in constant change, with motivations ranging from economic, legal and political issues to more vocational and ideological ones.

At present, the unique and impromptu knowledge offered by these independent organizations is isolated within their specific fields of practice, and, thus, only reaches a relatively marginal community. Their collective role for knowledge production remains largely absent from most of the traditional and official learning environments, such as public and private universities, for instance. Hence, what this landscape has to offer is not fully brought to fruition, whereas in its potential, it could benefit a much larger community of users, in imagining and implementing novel forms of political socialization and strategic planning, as well as in reflecting on and acting within a broader consciousness.

What does the ISP want?

The ISP wants to incite political imagination that resists the reproducibility of institutional work, and reflect and encourage novel forms of political socialization and self-organization. It wants to pursue a critical reflection embedded in the reality we are experiencing here and now. It wants to imagine a future collectively, politically, ethically, responsibly and pragmatically. It wants to achieve propositions for alternative institutions that can finally exceed the status quo.

How will the ISP work?

The program’s approach will merge the theoretical, the pragmatic and the experiential. It will engage a number of professionals, researchers and existing organizations from various disciplines, some of whom will be consistent throughout the year, while others will appear more sporadically and/or upon demand. It will include workshops, lectures, fieldtrips, as well as group and public activities. Participants will also be encouraged to select their own mentor, from a pool of proposed professionals and researchers.

The ISP’s premise is to create a space for intellectual and pragmatic negotiation and, thus, it values all forms of participation as part of this flexible environment. Each participant will be required to contribute to the wider, collective notions of the program, being co-responsible for the shaping and maintenance of their research space, as well as for coordinating activities, curating some parts of the program and translations. The program will be bilingual, with a stronger emphasis on Arabic.

It will be articulated via three key areas of emphasis, curated by different individuals or organizations, including Amr Abdelrhaman (The Political Theorist), Jasmina Metwaly (The Artist and Activist) and Beirut (The Institution).

By the end of the program participants will gain more direct agency by collectively conceiving and implementing a final project of any nature. For the project, participants will curate encounters and activities, while being supported by mentors and tutors.

How much of your time will the ISP take?

The program lasts for eight months, split up into two trimesters, with the last two months dedicated to the final project. It will be part-time and have a flexible schedule, with mandatory activities as well as optional ones. Activities will be held on an irregular basis, with each month having 9 full days of mandatory participation, which will be decided on. Other activities will be brought forward remotely and via individual or group research.

Who is the ISP for?

The program is designed for young adults, ranging from recent graduates to practitioners in existing organizations to freelancers. It is for individuals with an interest in learning more about the incredibly rich landscape of independent organizations, who want to critically reflect on notions of socialization, citizenship, infrastructure building and institutionalism in the fields of art and culture, history, journalism, literature, law, political sciences, design, architecture, sociology, education, among others. The program has been created with Cairo-based candidates in mind. There are no educational or age restrictions, but we are looking for individuals with a sincere interest and commitment to the program and what it offers. Command of Arabic is required, and a basic level of English.

Where will the ISP be?

Activities will take place within Greater Cairo. Beirut will dedicate a space for activities, meeting, research and reading that will be available throughout the course.


The team of the ISP consists of three tutors, a board of advisors and mentors, and a pool of local and international guest contributors. Tutors consist of Amr Abdelrahman (The Political Theorist), Jasmina Metwaly (The Artist and Activist) and Beirut (The Institution). The Board of Advisors and Mentors are people including Lina Attalah (The Chief Editor), Mohammed Abdallah (The Institution Builder), Farida Makar (The Pedagogue), Sherene Seikaly (The Editor and Professor), and more to be announced.


Ahmed Refaat

I was born in Alexandria in 1987. I went to a Catholic French school (never do that to your kids) for 13 years. I studied economics in English and then went to "Serve my country" in the middle of nowhere for 14 months in what's called mandatory military service. During college years, I worked in tourism and in a call center. I came to Cairo about 2 years ago. Worked in as an English editor for a year and then moved to CIC as a media officer. Lots of details happened, but I think it's a fair chronology to my existence.

Alia Ayman

I'm a filmmaker, graduate student at the Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo, and film curator at Zawya.

Catherine Ermakova

The first ten years of my life I spent in Mordovia surrounded by my grandparents’ research library and leading the life of a cowgirl at their farm. All of that provided the perfect environment for self-teaching and space for imagination. I started secondary school in Siberia where - thanks to the library again - I had the reputation of a prodigy child. Participation in scientific conferences, victories in musical contests, academic Olympics and the gold award gave me the chance to get a state-subsidized higher education. And that was the end of a happy period of my life, when a chapter of barnburner issues began. Moscow turned out to be a metropolis with all that this implies - racism, consumerism and social injustice. A cultural shock has affected not only me. Politicization and militarization have captured many of my classmates, too. Probably this is the reason why even now, after the revolution, I see Egypt as a flourishing and peaceful country – as strange as it might sound.

Ebshoy Magdy

I was born in 1990 in Cairo and I have studied economics at Cairo University. I worked as a human rights researcher at the Middle East freedom forum, as an economic researcher at the embassy of Japan in Cairo, and today I am working as a researcher in the field of social and economic rights at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. One of my prior research interests is in the absence of transparency in Egyptian State Institutions and in the inequalities between social classes in Egypt. I like writing and reading poetry, I like watching non-commercial movies, I like listening to underground music and songs, I like reading about economics, political economy, politics, history and religious minorities.

Habiba Effat

I am a copyeditor and occasional writer with Mada Masr, with a B.A. in English and Comparative Literature from the American University in Cairo.

Mariz Kelada

I graduated from the faculty of Arts, English Language and Literature, at Cairo University in 2011. I was executive and fundraising assistant for El Nahda Association - Jesuit Culture Centre in Cairo and I am currently the managing coordinator of its Independent Cinema School. I was also a researcher for the "Imagining the Political" Research Project - IDRC. I received my M.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology in 2014 and my thesis was entitled “Makings of Imagination in Alternative Cultural Spaces in Cairo”. I am the co-founder of meshabbek an online platform for creative collaboration in Egypt and a member of the Choir Project of Cairo.

Nada Riyadh

I started working as a film editor since 2008. My CV includes working as a director, director of photography and production designer in several independent fiction and documentary films. In my work the main focus is exploring the depth and complexity of the human psyche and its relationships through the visual medium. In 2013, I directed and edited my first short fiction film entitled “Virtual”. I am now working on my first feature documentary under the title of “(Happily Ever After)”. I work in the cultural management field since 2011 managing several art programs targeting the MENA region.

Nada El Shazly

I am a singer and producer currently living and working in Cairo. In 2012, I founded SHORBA with contemporary dancer and producer Mohamed Shafik, a musical project based on experimenting with heavy drones and lyrics. I am also currently working on my solo music project, which I have been performing since 2013, in Egypt and abroad. I am also a performer in two theatrical productions "The Donkey Farm" and "Happiness of a Little Family", the latter being part of the "Stamba" project in Baghdad, Marseille and Beirut. I graduated in 2012 from the American University in Cairo, with a B.A. (Hons) in Psychology and Theater and I am currently doing my Master's Degree in Community Psychology at the same university.

Sama Waly

I am an Egyptian visual artist and researcher living and working in Cairo. Currently I work as a research assistant in the field of Modern Egyptian Art History. I am also undergoing my personal research in Egyptian cultural history, and contributing to the bilingual publication for the Tarek Waly Center for Architecture and Heritage. In parallel to my exhibition career as a visual artist, I have worked on a number of projects in the fields of education, social development, graphic design and cinema production. I have also been involved as a researcher on a number of historical and artistic productions and have published various articles in those fields. I received my B.A. (Hons) in Visual Arts with a minor in Arab and Islamic Civilizations from the American University in Cairo in 2012.

Soad Abo Ghazey

I graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Department of Media from Helwan University in 2008, and I joined the School of Economics and Political Science for one semester to receive a diploma in management of non-governmental organizations. Currently, I am working as a researcher at the Monitoring Unit of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. In addition, I work as a media correspondent for the network of international journalists. Moreover, I am a trainer in the field of service journalism, which is the main focus of my blog, "I am free" since 4 years. I have various ideas for creating media platforms that combine service journalism together with the local press. I am looking forward to learn how to implement these ideas through attending tISP.

Soheir Abaza

I have an extensive experience in writing, creating characters and stories. I worked as a journalist for 5 years, produced documentaries and wrote 5 cartoons and several stories. I won two awards for two short films I wrote. I have a plan to develop a career in writing and in creative industries. I also established an NGO “The Imagination School” that focuses on developing children’s imagination, through creative programs of self- expression. I just finished my M.A. in Creative writing and Teaching at Goldsmiths, University of London. I just moved back to Cairo and I want to reopen my family old bookstore, which my family has since the 40s but that has been closed since the 80s. The bookstore was focused on children literature and students books. I intend to open it and work on making a creative space in it for children and adults. I hope I will be able to achieve this through the program.

Youssef Ramez

I am a researcher and journalist working as executive coordinator for El Nahda Association - Jesuit Culture Centre in Cairo. I am currently working on my M.A. thesis in sexuality and the dynamics of constructing the “male-body” in Cairo, at the Sociology/Anthropology department of the American University in Cairo. I graduated from the faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University in 2004. After my graduation I specialized in minorities issues at several journals and research centers such as AL-Ahram strategic center, Al-Shourouk, Youme-7, and Al-Ahaly journals. I published many articles on the anthropology of religion. I took part in a number of field researches in many Egyptian governorates. I established three training centers for young journalists in Cairo, Alexandria, and El-Menya. I worked also as media advisor for Human Rights Watch. I have edited many books such as “Al- Ibdaa Horia” (Creativity is freedom), and “Al-Faggala” (oral memory and history).

Thank you

The Imaginary School Program is made possible with the generous support of Arts Collaboratory.