Minutes after I meet Ismail Mustafa, the inventor of a new Tamarod computer app, we are chatting away like old friends. Dressed in sports clothes, the 35-year-old gives me the low-down on his new invention, which has now become very popular in Egypt.
Mustafa is a medical doctor by training. “I used to teach at the Faculty of Medicine, but I decided to retire from the profession. The reason is that medicine in Egypt, as many would admit, is not something you learn, but something you inherit. A successful doctor needs family connections to make it big.”
His story with computers was less complex, and Mustafa has always been a computer geek. “I love programming, and I learned a lot from online lessons,” he said.
Two years ago, he retired from medicine and started working with Amr Al-Geddawi, a friend who has a graphic-design office. At first, the two focussed on designing websites, but eventually they thought perhaps they should try developing apps as well.
“After the revolution, we started thinking of making apps about it. One app we thought about was a revolutionary test that involved 25 questions and a scoring system and helped you assess your revolutionary commitment. This was at the time when people were discussing the question of the revolutionaries and the so-called remnants, or fulul.”
Their second thought was an app called “foreign fingers”. The president had just made a reference to foreign fingers in one of his speeches, and the two decided that this could be an interesting concept for an app.
“We wanted to design a game called foreign fingers. The player would be asked to cut off foreign fingers on the instructions of the president,” Mustafa said. However, the game idea did not take off, as media interest in the concept of foreign fingers died off as fast as it had started.
The third idea was Tamarod, a game about the campaign to collect signatures demanding the termination of Morsi’s rule. In the game, the player goes out into the streets to collect signatures and runs into the usual obstacles, including the traffic and Muslim Brotherhood members.
If the Tamarod player hits a traffic light, he loses a life, and if he runs into a sheep, he gets a notice repeating the president’s famous words among wihch are, “gas and alcohol don’t mix.”
Mustafa began developing the conceptual aspect of the game, and then asked Al-Geddawi to provide the graphics. “I put down the idea as a scheme on paper and gave it to Al-Geddawi, as I don’t know much about graphics, but I was sure we could produce something good together.”
The first edition of Tamarod was issued two weeks ago on the Google Play Store, and a link was posted on Twitter.
The next step was to send this link to as many people as possible, but since Mustafa did not have many followers on Twitter, he asked his friends for help. One of them, Seksek, had a tremendous following, and as soon as he retweeted it, it went viral.
“By the end of the first day, we had 1,000 downloads, and by the end of the second week, we had 4,500 downloads, in addition to 3,000 downloads on our Facebook site,” Mustafa said.
Tamarod is now the number 10 most popular game in Egypt, which is a source of immense satisfaction, if not cash, to Mustafa.
“This app is not something that we were promoting for profit as much as to support an idea in which Amr and I believed. It is a kind of peaceful form of demonstration,” he said.
Mustafa said he had no firm political orientation, though he has always been on the side of the revolution.
“I am always seeking like-minded people, but I haven’t joined any group. I am aware that after any revolution there is a period of instability. I didn’t want to follow any current, since I cannot find anyone that truly embodies my ideas,” he said.
At the outset of the revolution, Mustafa’s favourite political figures were Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed Al-Baradei. “But this didn’t mean that I agreed with everything they said,” he added.
Although Mustafa is critical of the Brotherhood, he doesn’t think they should be excluded from the country’s political life. “What bothers me most about the Brotherhood’s supporters is that they agree without questioning with anything the Guidance Bureau says. They are totally incapable of admitting errors.”
Mustafa is not pleased with the opposition National Salvation Front either, because of what he says is its failure to connect with ordinary people. But he admires the Tamarod young people who have gone out into the streets as a result of what they believe in and have taken risks in handing out leaflets to the public.
The country’s political elite, as Mustafa calls it, doesn’t go out into the streets except for a few minutes, or for a photo opportunity.
“During the demonstrations at Al-Ittihadiya palace, I didn’t see anyone except Khaled Ali, the former presidential candidate, and Hussein Abdel-Ghani, the National Salvation Front spokesman. These people are true fighters. I like people who say something and then do it,” he said. According to Mustafa, the Brotherhood has failed to match its words with deeds. “The Brotherhood says one thing in the media and then something else on Twitter, as if they thought no one was watching them. Then when people start circulating their comments, they simply deny them.”
“The Brotherhood says that all Egyptians are brothers and that the country belongs to all of us, but in their hearts they are only loyal to one another,” he added.
“I studied in a French school and have a lot of Christian friends, and at first I couldn’t understand their immense worries during the elections and their utter rejection of the Brotherhood. But now I know better.”
Even Mustafa’s Brotherhood friends are beginning to find fault with the president’s speeches, especially his recent speech about Syria. “The Brotherhood has a real problem in terms of its public discourse,” Mustafa said.
As for the 30 June demonstrations, Mustafa is hoping that these will remain peaceful. “I don’t want people to die when they go out to demonstrate. This is terrible, especially when their deaths don’t lead to change and when the only thing that is left of them is a photograph on a web page.”
Mustafa and his friends have agreed to take part in the demonstrations, and to try to stop any acts of violence from taking place. “If we cannot stop the violence, we will leave,” he added.
If the demonstrations fail to achieve their objectives, Mustafa is expecting a backlash from the ultra-Islamist currents. After his Tamarod app became popular, he also received a threatening comment on his online account.
“Someone was threatening me, saying that I would be hanged after 30 June,” he remembers.
This was the kind of threat Mustafa, who worked secretly on developing the app, was hoping to avoid. “When the game became popular, my father-in-law told me that the game could be seen as supporting Tamarod. I told him that I believed in the idea and wanted to promote it. If there is a risk, then better people have died for this country already,” he said.
The Tamarod game can be downloaded from the Google Play Store on android-supported phones.