A photo of Sarah Hegazi smiling widely and holding a rainbow flag aloft at a crowded nighttime outdoor event, with stadium lights visible in the background.

When I dance, I always dance with a rainbow flag. The same flag that Sarah Hegazi was imprisoned, tortured, and eventually died for. When I dance, I dance as a protest. I dance in all my queerness. I dance in all my Egyptianess. I will not apologise for who I am. I will not apologise for existing.

The Bellydancing Robot: A Blend of Art and Technology

As a neurodivergent, British-Egyptian queer refugee woman in engineering, I am vastly underrepresented in this field. The engineering industry can be incredibly challenging and often feels unwelcoming for people like me. Despite my love for engineering, the lack of diversity and representation makes it a difficult environment. 

Representation is crucial. When people see someone like me succeeding in engineering and combining it with art, it opens doors and inspires others. It challenges the stereotypes and norms that have long dominated this field. It is important to showcase that diversity in engineering leads to innovation and richer, more inclusive technological advancements.

The bellydancing robot project began as a way to explore how robotics could be used in art as a form of resistance against the systemic barriers that exist in my industry. Using my engineering skills and love for dance, I designed a robot that can perform bellydancing moves. It celebrates my cultural heritage.

However, the term “belly dance” is a Western name that has colonised a rich and diverse tradition. The dance I integrate into my robot’s performances is rooted in Egyptian culture, not the often exoticised version seen in Western media. This project is my way of reclaiming and decolonising this art form, highlighting its true origins and cultural significance.

Sarah Hegazi: A Symbol of Courage and Resistance

Sarah Hegazi was an Egyptian LGBTQ+ activist who became a symbol of courage and defiance. In 2017, she was arrested and tortured for raising a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. Despite her suffering, Sarah continued to fight for LGBTQ+ rights until her death in 2020. Her story is one of bravery and a strong commitment to justice and equality. Sarah was also my friend.

Combining Technology and Advocacy

The bellydancing robot is a way for me to honour Sarah Hegazi’s legacy. Just as Sarah used her voice to fight for the marginalised, the robot uses dance to promote messages of inclusivity and resilience. By including LGBTQ+ themes in the performances, I aim to raise awareness and create a sense of solidarity within the community.

A Tribute to Sarah Hegazi

Sarah died for my right to wave this flag. I will exercise this right every single chance I get. It’s been almost four years since Sarah died, and at times, it still doesn’t feel real. I met Sarah in 2016 through a mutual friend. We were part of a secret LGBT+ Egyptian group. Sarah always encouraged me to visit Egypt again, saying it was getting safer for LGBTQ+ people.

Then, one night in 2017, at a Mashrou3 Leila concert in Cairo, she waved a rainbow flag. For a few hours, I thought she was right—Egypt was getting safer. But soon, terror swept through our community. People disappeared, and Sarah was taken by the Egyptian secret services.

We later found out she was held in solitary confinement under terrorism charges. She was tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and sexually assaulted. When she was released, activists helped her escape to Canada. Despite the trauma, Sarah continued to support our community.

Why Vital Capacities Is So Important

Vital Capacities is crucial because it merges accessibility with artistic innovation. It provides a unique platform where I can grow and contribute. The residency’s commitment to breaking down barriers and fostering diverse artistic expressions aligns perfectly with my goals to decolonise technology and make engineering more inclusive.

Integrating AI into the Bellydancing Robot

My residency with Vital Capacities is about enhancing my ongoing project by integrating Artificial Intelligence into the bellydancing robot. The aim is to create a dynamic installation that not only performs Egyptian dance but interacts with audiences through AI. It will recognise and respond to a mix of ‘doom’ and ‘tak,’ the core sounds of Egyptian percussion, and choreograph dance movements in real-time.

Integrating AI into my work with the bellydancing robot will be transformative. It will elevate my artistic practice from static performances to interactive, responsive shows where each audience interaction is unique. This technology not only broadens the scope of my performances but also deepens my engagement with audiences, creating a truly immersive experience.


Sarah’s life and activism have greatly influenced my work. Through the bellydancing robot, I continue her legacy by creating a platform that entertains, educates, and inspires. Each performance is a reminder of the courage needed to stand up against injustice and a tribute to those who fight for equality and human rights.

Next time you wave a rainbow flag, please remember that Sarah Hegazi died for your right to do so. Wear that flag as a badge of honour. Pride is a protest. Our mere existence is an act of defiance. Forever, in your name, Sarah. 🖤✊🏽🏳️‍🌈

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