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egypt380If I were to describe a country where the Internet contributes as much as a percentage of GDP as its health services, education and oil industries, and is growing at nearly twice the rate as in Europe — driven in large part by growth in private and corporate-backed entrepreneurship — where would you guess?

Looking forward, if such a country has the largest population of Internet and mobile users in its region with one of the largest youth populations in the world; is a large consumer market in the early days of e-commerce; is a global tourist destination where roughly only five percent of all travel revenue is booked online — might this be an intriguing investment opportunity?

Am I describing Germany? China? Brazil?

Try Egypt.

Two years after the Arab uprisings and in the midst of wrestling significant economic and political change, the Internet is quietly and increasingly growing as a central platform of economic development around the country as it is around the globe. And according to a new Google-commissioned study by The Boston Consulting Group — Egypt at a Crossroads: How the Internet is Transforming Egypt’s Economy — policy makers, executives and investors alike are poised at a central moment of opportunity to embrace this platform for economic growth, job creation and returns.

David Dean, Senior Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group — and one of the authors of the study — told me that this is the latest of fifteen country-wide studies his company has done, and he was impressed by what he found. “I think the biggest positive surprise was that there are many entrepreneurial companies using the Internet to grow their businesses.” The report highlights a handful of among hundreds of recent Egyptian startups as diverse as the content portal Masrawy, which now reaches over eight million unique users per month; e-commerce destination Nefsak, which offers over 25,000 products; and Alexandria’s Vimov, whose paid weather app WeatherHD was the fourth-best seller in Apple’s App store after its recent release. It notes that Vodafone, among other global investors, is making serious commitments both to the infrastructure and to funding startups in the region. “The report makes clear that there is much uptapped potential for Egypt’s nascent Internet ecosystem,” Samir El Bahaie, Google’s Head of Policy in the Middle East and North Africa, said — adding that “there is also a great opportunity for investment, economic growth and job creation waiting to be seized.”

The study underscores that the opportunity is now. Egypt’s population of 31 million Internet users is the largest in the Middle East, and while mobile penetration exceeds 100 percent in many parts of the country, the big news is that smartphones — with real computing capabilities — are expected by some to reach 50 percent penetration in the next three to five years. Unmeasured in penetration and GDP figures are what the report calls “ripple effects” on the Egyptian economy and society: The ability to reach new markets, to have better informed consumers, to have greater work efficiencies in the knowledge economy, to have simplified access to government and social services for people to take more control of their lives. Egypt, with its mobile penetration, is especially poised to capture opportunities in mobile banking (as significant success has been seen in Africa) and to fully embrace all the opportunities offered for tourism. Dean notes, in fact, that travel and tourism is “possibly the largest short-term lever that the Internet can have in the country.”

If the opportunity is now, however, so is the potential for missed opportunities. While access to the Internet is growing, there is still a lack of Internet skills in the workforce, even as compared to other emerging markets. While business adoption of the Internet as an economic platform in Egypt is competitive among larger enterprises, small- and medium-sized businesses still rank lowest among emerging growth markets. More fundamentally, there remains significant question of the most appropriate, entrepreneurship-driving policies — areas such as rule of law, copyright protection, lessening bureaucracy in starting businesses. “Of course, these are clearly not just questions for Egypt,” Dean explained to me. “What would really be encouraging would be a commitment by the Government to the Internet as an economic factor — which would mean simplifying the process for opening businesses, encouraging investment, demonstrating the benefits of the Internet in the way the government operates, and using the Internet to address some of Egypt’s most pressing problems, such as youth unemployment.”

Google hopes to play a continued role in working with governments like Egypt’s. Studies like these are extremely useful as they provide factual economic data points around the value of the Internet, El Bahaie noted. “We hope to work with the government of Egypt to leverage these data points to unlock the potential of eCommerce and mCommerce and well-informedly create a more enabling business environment for Egyptian small- and medium-sized business, and to help the country reach its full economic potential.”

Christopher M. Schroeder is a leading U.S. Internet entrepreneur and venture investor, a member of the advisory boards of the American University of Cairo School of Business, the regional entrepreneurship portal Wamda.com and incubator Oasis500. He is the author of “Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution That’s Remaking the Middle East,” to be published September 2013 by Palgrave/MacMillan. He can be followed on Twitter @cmschroed.

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Viviane Sassen’s gorgeous, inscrutable fine art images from Africa have earned her acclaim and a place in the Museum of Modern Art. But recently, her surreal and equally beautiful fashion photography has been garnering attention, too: in 2011, Sassen won the prestigious International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Applied/Fashion/Advertising Photography, and more than 300 of her fashion images are on view at Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille Museum for Photography through mid-March 2013 in a show titled, Viviane Sassen / In and Out of Fashion.

Born in Amsterdam, Sassen lived in Kenya — where her father worked in a polio clinic — between the ages of 2 and 5. Because the continent looms so large in her work, I asked her to describe her earliest memories from Africa.

“I remember,” she told me, “how Rispa, our nanny, woke me up one early morning and took me to a deserted football field to pick small white mushrooms. I remember the taste of sugarcane and ugali [a dish similar to polenta], orange Fanta and the bloody goat heads in the market in Kisumu.”

Returning to the Netherlands was difficult for her: “I didn’t feel I belonged in Europe, yet I knew I was a foreigner in Africa.”

As a young woman, Sassen enrolled in a university fashion design program and also modeled. Recalling her modeling work, she says that she “can relate to how a girl might feel in front of a camera: sometimes bored, tired or simply stressed or insecure. And then the shoes … three sizes too small but with killer heels. It’s not always fun to be a model.”

Nevertheless, she says she “got to know a lot of photographers; they made me aware that they controlled the image. That’s what I wanted, too; I wanted to be in control of the image … to create it.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Sassen made the leap into photography. She recalls that “in the beginning, [photographers] like Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki [were] very important for my work because of their formal language, but also because they depicted their own lives in a way that appealed to me.”

A turning point in her own photography came in 2002 when she returned to Africa with her husband. The fine art photography she has made there in the past decade shines as some of the most original, unexpected work to emerge from the continent by a Western photographer. But one finds no victims of war or famine here; instead, the viewer confronts contemporary Africans engaged in sophisticated, if mysterious, dream performances.

“Working in Africa opens doors of my subconscious,” Sassen explains. “Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning after very vivid dreams or if I just suddenly have an idea, I sketch. My photographs are sometimes almost literal pictures of these sketches.” At other times, she says, “I might just find something on the street that excites me.”

Her images are somehow primal and hallucinatory at once: two youths embrace in the dark, a giant banana leaf sprouting between them; a figure lies nestled in the diaphanous green cloud of a fishing net; a boy lounges on the ground, his limbs painted bright turquoise. Critic Vince Aletti says that Sassen “tends to treat the body as a sculptural element—a malleable shape that combines with blocks of shadow and bright color in arrangements that sometimes read like cut-paper collages, bold and abstract but full of vibrant life.”

One key part of the body that is often missing or obscured is the human face, as models turn away from the camera or appear with their faces cloaked in shadow. As Aaron Schuman noted in Aperture, the images might thus “appear to ignore the individuals they portray and instead inherently possess—maybe even propagate—the problematic histories, legacies, and relationships between Africa and the West. But perhaps in Sassen’s case this is the point, at least in part, and where the power of her photographs lies.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Within these mirror-like voids, Sassen allows the viewer to reflect on the clichés and prejudices Westerners so often fall back on when engaging the vast continent and its inhabitants.

“I want to seduce the viewer with a beautiful formal approach,” says Sassen, “and at the same time, leave something disturbing.”

Sassen’s fashion work borrows much from her fine art—obscured faces, extraordinary color. The acute graphic sensibility of Sassen’s fine art, meanwhile, works wonders in magazine spreads. In an elemental way, though, the museum show and Sassen’s images (made for magazines like Wallpaper, Purple and Dazed & Confused, and for brands like Levi’s and Stella McCartney) don’t make sense at all.

As Sassen told the British Journal of Photography in its December 2012 issue, “I find exhibitions of fashion photography within the context of a museum rather problematic. Most fashion images aren’t art, they’re fashion photographs—which is fine, but if you put them in a museum, enlarged and in a frame, they become something else…. Art photography doesn’t have to serve any purpose, fashion photography does, and that makes a difference…. [Then] there are images which are really between art and fashion, which I hope I do myself.”

Sassen hit upon a solution to this conundrum: projecting fashion images on museum walls, so the work retains a “kind of disposable feel.” Furthermore, Sassen has said she doesn’t care much about clothes. “My interest is not the interest of the fashion industry. My interest is to make fascinating pictures…. It’s always about desire and fear, about making images that are both appealing and unsettling.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Nevertheless, Sassen says she loves the “swiftness of fashion” as opposed to the “contemplated process of making art.” I asked her about the difference between shooting for magazines and shooting for advertisements.

“What I like about fashion magazines is that they create a platform to experiment and to work closely with people who can be super inspiring. I call it my laboratory. [It] should be like an adventure; not knowing where your play will lead you. When you’re working on fashion campaigns for a commercial brand it’s often much less experimental, but still creative in the sense that you have to match the pieces of a puzzle.”

Sassen has used a computer to retouch some of her images, but mostly avoids it. “I think that something beautiful is even more charming when it’s not too perfect. You don’t want to feel the artificiality of the image, you want to believe in it. I feel related to reality, while slick images feel exchangeable.”

Sassen’s lifelong interest in Africa — and her ongoing explorations of her own subconscious — have contributed to some of the most riveting fashion photography being made today. For a photographer rooted in (or, as she puts it, “related to”) reality, her magazine work is a revelation.

See more of Sassen’s work at VivianeSassen.com.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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Too often the subjects of images of Africa seem to be reduced to symbols - viewers do not encounter them as fully rounded human beings, rarely seeing journalistic images of the middle class, artists or the cultural heritage of African countries. Peter DiCampo, with his iPhone, endeavors to address this.

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Nyani Quarmyne and Nii Obodai, Ghanaian photographers, have set out to document climate change, photograph West Africa and beyond, undo stereotypes and upend expectations, with a subtle eye and nuanced view.

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The last time TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev and I were in Libya together, we were covering the fall of Tripoli to Libyan rebel forces, near the end of an eight-month civil war. We had covered the revolution since February 2011, moving along desert frontlines, into war-ravaged homes, and finally, up to the gates of Muammar Gaddafi’s abandoned villas in Tripoli. Our coverage last Fall took us from intelligence headquarters to the scenes of massacres and on to new front lines. It was chaos—full of discovery and excitement for the rebels and newly liberated civilians—but chaos, nonetheless. No one knew when Gaddafi would be found, or what the future would bring when they found him.

And it wasn’t until four months after Gaddafi was captured and killed—four months after the official end of the war—that we returned to Libya. This time, we didn’t sneak across any borders, nor did we duck from any bullets. We flew into a calm and functioning Benghazi airport, surrounded by flower bushes.

Libya is not as we left it. Driving across the country, we visited old friends and new acquaintances. We discovered that the Esbaks, a family of revolutionaries who I met last February in the Green Mountains of Libya’s east, had lost their youngest son since I last saw them—killed by a mortar shell on the eastern frontline. We discovered they had a new set of politics as well: after decades of dictatorship, they were already fed up with the transitional government and they wanted to see Libya divided into states.

In every town we stopped in, we met rebels we used to know—men who could now be called militia members. They had retained their weapons and their autonomy. The people who defeated the old system may be the biggest threat to stability in the new one. In Misrata, a militia leader named Mohamed Shami took us to the city’s largest prison. There, the men who used to be winners are now the captives. Their overlords are the rebels they once fought and repressed. One of the prisoners we met is Sayyed Muammar Gaddafi Dam, the late dictator’s cousin. We watched as Shami, the militia commander, posed for a picture with the frightened Gaddafi at his side.

There is no justice in the new Libya—but the former rebels are quick to note: there wasn’t much justice in the old Libya either. The prisoners are awaiting trials. Some have been waiting a year. But in the mean time, the conditions aren’t so bad, the militias say—at least torture isn’t as rampant as it was under Gaddafi.

At times our journey was certainly eerie. We stopped in all the places where we had been shot at covering the war. Human remains are still submerged in the sand at one of the first rebel camps that Gaddafi bombed from the air, outside the oil refinery at Ras Lanuf. We stood in the place where our journalist friends and colleagues had been killed in Misrata; and we interviewed former loyalists on the road in Sirte where a rocket-propelled grenade had missed my car and struck someone else. Our jaws dropped when we walked through Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli. It had been smashed and burned to oblivion, as if the entire country had vented 42 years of rage on a single spot. Perhaps noticing our shock, a 12-year-old boy leaned out of a car window and asked me: “Did you ever expect to see this?” His introduction led us to a conversation with his family, and Yuri photographed the boy and his brother, as they explored what was once the dictator’s, now theirs.

We got the feeling, as we moved from town to town, that the country was in the midst of a great, collective exhale: that Libyan journalists and politicians were just starting to find their footing on new and unfamiliar turf; that families were lifting their heads from beneath the rubble to take a look around; that, despite all the guns in the hands of lawless militias, people were at least shooting at each other less often.

We drove across the country humming along to Libyan revolutionary hip-hop, and stopping to talk with picnicking families, religious leaders, refugees, village sheikhs, and oil workers. Some people wanted revenge; others had already taken it. A lot of people were angry that the money wasn’t flowing fast enough and that they were compelled to rebuild their war-ravaged homes and businesses with money from their own pockets.

But we didn’t find the same despair that had filled the eyes of the young men we encountered in blood-spattered field hospitals just months before. Museums have been erected to commemorate the battles fought and the martyrs lost. Schools are back in session—even the shell-shocked ones. Hundreds of former rebels are training to join the new national army. Old friends are now talking about tourism and business. We heard women discussing women’s rights and lecturing men on politics—a newfound agency that they’ve capitalized on since the revolution. Where the weak transitional government is failing, ordinary citizens are helping one another rebuild. Young people are getting creative. And the most marvelous thing we found as we traveled was optimism; optimism of the wild, determined sort. Libya is set to hold its first democratic election in June. No one knows how many bumps lie in the road up ahead. But despite all those challenges, and the years of heartbreak behind them, the Libyans we met on our road trip seemed hopeful.

Read more in this week’s issue of TIME: Hope Among the Ruins

Abigail Hauslohner is TIME’s Cairo correspondent.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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Could a piece of software make you think differently about sound? Could it reflect ideas, the culture of listening?

The developers of the SUFI series of plug-ins seem to think so. In place of screencasts showing which knob to turn which way, they head with a video crew to Morocco. The “instruction” might be about the value of reflection or call to prayer, about living as much as how to use a tool. You can see the first two examples: a meditation on the idea of daily interruptions in the soundscape coming from God, and a collection of electronic drones set to a beautifully-shot backdrop. The interfaces are rendered in graphics and (for the vast majority of us) a foreign language, and instead of reverting to the conventions of plug-in design, they assimilate ideas from another culture about tonality and function.

The plug-ins will be released for Max for Live on the 8th of May, and VST plug-ins later on. (Some version of the Max for Live plug-ins are available now – links at bottom.) The collection includes:

  • DEVOTION, lowering your volume five times a day at the time of call to prayer
  • A drone machine (in the second video, sounding quite nice)
  • Four soft synths tuned to Arabic maqam scales. (They describe these as “North African maqams,” but I believe the tuning should be consistent with the use of maqam elsewhere around the Mediterranean and Arabic world.
  • One drum machine amidst the synths, Palmas, with a hand-clapping UI (see screenshot).

You have a week to practice learning to read neo-Tifinaght Amazigh script.

Updated: There are in fact no references in the videos here to Sufism, but the creators respond to questions about why they selected this name on their FAQ. As with the videos above, collaborations and friendship inspired their thinking. They write:

The title is an homage to several Moroccan Sufi musicians we’ve worked with over the years who influenced our thinking about musicianship & sound itself, as well as a way of foregrounding the complex but largely unremarked relationship between faith and technology. We’re fascinated with how software and digital environments encode cultural values and beliefs by conditioning choices and framing possibilities. For example, If Apple is a secular religion, selling contemporary magic, then should that change the way we feel about – and engage with – its operating system? The spirit of Sufi aphorisms, we hope, is manifest in these plug-ins. At a literal level, many of the roll-over infotexts come from Sufi verse.

Apart from being an interesting “cross-cultural” exercise, though, these plug-ins can serve as a reminder of two things. First, design choices are constrained only by your imagination. Aside from any perceived cultural values, you can really make software do, theoretically, anything – and make any sound. Convention can be a useful tool, but it can also become a prison. Second, the creators consider VST compatibility as a way to reach users in the Middle East and Africa. Whether this particular effort is successful or not, those are massive and growing audiences. (To anyone reading there, by the way, hello from way up at this end of the Northern Hemisphere!) Of course, these plug-ins will be just as foreign to nearly all of that audience as it is to, say, producers in Melbourne or London, but as we watch the videos from Morocco, it’s worth considering just how small our Internet-connected planet is – and how wonderfully-vast the spaces between us, and the possibility contained there, remains.

Software can serve for a medium for collaboration, as in this case, which ties together a variety of backgrounds from traditional producer to Amazigh musician. The Amazigh people, tying together modern Arabic culture and language with Phoenician roots (much like my own Lebanese ancestry), represent a rich practice of music. Just as the remote, historical world of J.S. Bach might direct a modern software plug-in, these can, too – and in living fashion.

The work is led by Jace Clayton (DJ Rupture), with programmer Bill Bowen, designer Rosten Woo, Amazigh musician Hassan Wargui , and videographers Maggie Schmitt and Juan Alcón Durán. The creators report that “a physical Sufi Plug Ins Forever Box is expected for late 2012, and Clayton is currently preparing an installation version of the Sufi Plug Ins.”

Mark your calendar for next Tuesday, or join the mailing list at the site. More information:

http://www.beyond-digital.org/sufiplugins/

Thanks, Jesse Engel!

As seen on maxforlive.com (thanks, David):

Devotion: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1140/devotion
Drone: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1139/drone
Palmas: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1138/palmas
Hijaz: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1137/hijaz
Bayati: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1136/bayati
Saba: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1134/saba
Khomasi: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1133/khomasi

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