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Syria 100 SP

November 2010│Issue 45 www.forwardsyria.com

Adonis speaks

The poet king on love, life and being Syrian

Generation gap: Working families under pressure Syrian Arab horses striding ahead Omar Ibn al-Khattab to hit Arab screens


Contents 2 4 7

Inbox ------------------------------------------------

Let us pretend that they lied at Nuremberg -----------------------------------------------Appetizers ------------------------------------------------

Forward Magazine, November 2010

Forward Guest

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Alaa Zaybak: A Syrian brave heart ------------------------------------------------

Business

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New breeders no longer just horsing around -----------------------------------------------Syria: Industrial strength ------------------------------------------------

In Syria we trust

38

Searching for a job that makes a difference ------------------------------------------------

Start-ups

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ADinSpot: Transitioning hotspots to AD spots ------------------------------------------------

Culture

18

Cover story Adonis, a giant in the world of Arabic literature, ranks on the 20th century’s list of most influential Arab literary figures along with Gibran Khalil Gibran, Mohammad al-Maghout, Ahmad Shawki, and Nizar Qabbani. The 80-year old poet - a household name among Arab intellectuals - speaks to Forward Magazine about how his life and career evolved, from poverty as a child in his Syrian village, onto the grace and intellectual vigor he experienced in Beirut and finally, to his current residence in Paris. Adonis, a legend in his own lifetime, has graced the front page of Arabic newspapers for years with his articles on secularism, his insights on politics and religion, and his controversial views on society. He now tells Forward Magazine about what it meant to reach Number One and how difficult it has been to stay there.

Main feature

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43 44 45 46

The chair man of arts -----------------------------------------------Inside the garden of the mind -----------------------------------------------An abstract life -----------------------------------------------The 2nd Caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab on screen ------------------------------------------------

Face of the Future

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Ghazal Tabbal ------------------------------------------------

SHABAB 49 THE FORWARD

CREATIVE PLATFORM FOR YOUNG SYRIANS -----------------------------------------------Forward advisor

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At home and away: Working parents under pressure ------------------------------------------------

Where the earth screams in horror ------------------------------------------------

Inside the minds of Syrian teenagers ------------------------------------------------

The last word

A parental dilemma -----------------------------------------------Syria 100 SP | Lebanon 5,000 LL | USA $6.50 | Jordan 1.5 JD | UAE 10 AED | UK 2 GBP | Saudi Arabia 10 SAR

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Art censorship or PR blitz in Aleppo -----------------------------------------------For subscriptions please log on to www.forwardsyria.com


Syria 100 SP

October 2010│Issue 44 www.forwardsyria.com

inbox

Changing Attitudes Syrian efforts to make tomorrow brighter for young people with disabilities

Send your comments to: Fax: +963 11 222 3465, P.O.Box: 28, Damascus, Syria E-mail: forward@haykal.com, Blog: www.fwmagazine.wordpress.com

7th Special Olympics launched under the patronage of the First Lady

Previous issue:

Riz Khan debates life, journalism and politics What will the US midterm elections mean for Syria?

The cast

A

s a long term resident of Damascus, studying Arabic and volunteering with an NGO, I have grown to think of the Old City as my home. In the one year I have spent here, I have seen the number of tourists grow enormously. Amongst us "locals" I hear constant complaints about the stream of tourists, with cameras around their necks, clogging up the streets and detracting from some mythical form of "authenticity." As one friend recently snapped: "I don't think I've seen a Syrian on Straight Street in a month." I for one am tired of the moaners and find the picture of so many different 2

November 2010

dresses, faces and the sounds of so many different languages delightful. How wonderful that so many people have opened their minds, with the help of positive press, to see the charms this exciting city has to offer, eagerly buying local produce and sampling new cultures. Let them come. And let them return home with stories of the magic and the hospitality that Syrians have always been famous for. Yes, the times are a-changing, and all for the better. Rebecca Saunders, a British Arabic student, in response to complaints tourists are taking ove the Old City.

Chairman: Mohamed Haykal CEO and Publisher: Abdulsalam M. Haykal Editor-in-Chief: Sami M. Moubayed Managing Editor: Lauren Williams Senior Writer: Hamoud Mahmoud Staff Writer: Hamzeh Abu-Fakher Art Director: Ibrahim Aladdin Production Officer: Firas Adra Photography: Nabil Nijem, John Wreford, Carole al-Farah, Joanne Lisinska, Fares Alzahaby, Eyad Mallouhi Cover: Photo by Richard Westall/Getty Images Contributing Writers: Alastair Beach, Mayar Mnini, Diego Gómez Pickering, Rawad Abdel Massih, Richard Westall, Advertising, Circulation, Subscriptions by Haykal Media: Executive Manager: Ammar Haykal Creative Advisor: Karim Shukr Group Sales Manager: Soud Atassi Communication Officer: Yara Barhoum Distribution Supervisor: Mohamad Taleb Circulation Manager: Ameeneh Abaza Printing: Salhani Printing House, Syria Correspondents: Dubai, New York, Doha, Montreal, Washington DC, Beirut, Amman, London Distribution - Syria: General Establishment for Publications Distribution. Lebanon: Moyen Orient Distribution SAL Contact: P.O.Box 28, Damascus, Syria Tel: +963 11 2245200 Fax: +963 11 2223465 Editorial: forward@haykal.com Advertising: hm@haykal.com “I dedicate Forward Magazine to my father Mohamed Haykal, whose guiding optimism has helped me see the many ways forward.” - Abdulsalam M. Haykal Licensed in Syria by Decree 80 of August 24, 2008. A publication of


Editorial

Let us pretend that they lied at Nuremberg How would the world react to false witnesses after World War II, at Lockerbie, or after 9-11? Why have false witnesses in the Hariri Affair been protected—to say the least—by the international community?

erhaps the most celebrated trial of the 20th century was that of Nuremberg, which took place in October 1945 when Adolph Hitler’s top men stood before court on charges of crimes committed during World War II. Let us imagine that these Nazi officials and the witnesses that came with them lied under oath and falsified information; how would the international community have reacted? How would the world have reacted had witnesses lied at the Lockerbie trials for example, or in all court proceedings that took place after 9-11? In Syria we are very keen, both government and public alike, on finding out who killed Rafiq al-Hariri on that fateful day in Beirut on February 14,

years later, completely cleared of all charges against them? What kind of probe is the UN heading if Israel was never questioned or drilled in the Hariri Affair? In any murder after all, aren’t investigators required to “round up the usual suspects?” When Yasser Arafat died in 2004, theories surfaced that the Palestinian leader had been poisoned. It was amazing that nobody back then summoned Ariel Sharon to court. The man had repeatedly threatened to kill Arafat since their confrontation in Beirut in 1982. Those threats alone should have been enough to drag him to the International Court of Justice when Arafat was confirmed dead at a Paris hospital. In Hariri’s case, why was Israel never considered a suspect by the international community or the UN? The Zionist State, after all, had sent commandos in boats to Beirut back in April 1973—headed by Ehud Barak disguised as a brunette woman—to

2005. We also believe that the entire ordeal is quiet simple and straightforward: Israel did it, without the shadow of a doubt, to blame it first on the Syrians and then on Hizbullah. What Israel could not achieve during the war of 2006, vis-à-vis the Lebanese resistance, it will try and achieve through the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). It will use the international tribunal to strike at the legitimacy, legacy, and future of Hizbullah. What kind of an investigation is this, we tend to ask, when four officers were arrested for the crime in 2005 and released four

murder three top Palestinian officials in cold blood. A state that is capable of doing that—among other things—is capable of doing everything and certainly capable of orchestrating the Valentine’s Day massacre of February 2005. But let’s go back to the false witnesses in the Hariri Case. Clearly from court findings and all reports by UN judges since 2005, these false witnesses lied under oath and distorted facts, leading to a miscarriage of justice and doing great harm to Syrian-Lebanese relations. Syria has already issued war-

By Sami Moubayed

P

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rants for their arrest and is expecting Lebanon to take similar action. So long as the STL refuses to take action against these false witnesses and refuses to even consider Israel as a prime suspect in the Hariri murder, then the STL and Israel stand as two sides of the same coin. Last October, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah gave a brief yet thundering speech unleashing hell on the STL and whoever cooperates with it, insisting that it is an Israeli project targeting the arms and reputation of Hizbullah. His fury came only 24 hours after investigators from the STL invaded a gynecologist’s clinic in the Ouzai suburb of Beirut, where amidst the chaos that ensued, claimed to have been swamped by women who stole their briefcase and documents. Nasrallah said that the entire incident was a violation of ethical, religious, and humanitarian norms, calling on the Lebanese to boycott the STL, which had no business digging into the records of female patients in Beirut. Offering the STL any assistance, Nasrallah said, would be like offering assistance to Israel itself. Syria and Hizbullah are aware of the dangers posed by the US’s clear, and almost sudden, support for the STL, expressed by its ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. For almost two years, the US has refused to immerse itself at micro-level in Lebanese affairs, unlike the Bush era, preferring to concentrate instead on bilateral relations with Damascus, peace talks, and Iraq rather than Lebanon. Struggling for the Jewish vote in the upcoming midcongressional elections this November, however, the Obama Administration is willing to walk that extra mile to make sure that pro-Israeli voters are satisfied with a strong stance against Hizbullah and Syria, using the STL for this specific purpose.


Inside:

The Wikileaks story—a milestone no doubt in the history of online publishing— has sparked off sharp debates in capitals around the world.

Appetizers Food for Thought

Say Again

Google This

Milestones

Photo by SANA

Local News

President Assad: Resistance is non-negotiable In a candid interview with the mass circulation Arabic daily alHayat newspaper, last October, President Bashar al-Assad spoke about the Middle East peace process, Syrian-Lebanese, SyrianSaudi, and Syrian-US relations. A new Middle East has emerged, he said, which has more awareness on the public level and which adheres to resistance as a right to defend countries and occupied land. Assad was quoted saying: "Resistance is non- negotiable. If a party is against the resistance, how can I sit with anyone who is against it when I am with it? I'm not talking about Hezbollah but rather resistance as a principle, not a party." When asked about chances of forming a government in Iraq, seven months after elections took place and two weeks after hosting Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki in Damascus, the Syrian President noted, "I cannot expect; I can hope. I can't foretell the future." He then added, "Through our experience over the previous decades, every arena

with US presence changes into chaos and all facts prove that. Is the situation in Afghanistan stable? Was the situation stable in Somalia when they intervened? Had they brought stability to Lebanon in 1983? They created chaos in every place they entered." The US, Assad noted, was responsible for the chaos in Iraq, adding that no foreign role in Iraq was positive if it did not adhere to Iraqi national interests. On Lebanon, Assad said that force will not end the crisis sparked off by the Special Tribunal created to investigate the 2005 murder of Rafiq al-Hariri. Force, he said, “always brings more destruction and ruin, and any conflict from any party will destroy Lebanon.” He added, “We believe that Saad al-Hariri has the ability to overcome the current situation… in the current crisis he is capable of helping Lebanon… I believe he is the most suitable person for this difficult stage… he can visit Syria at any time." November 2010

7


Appetizers food for thought

The Wikileaks Saga: A plea for transparency or mere megalomania?

T

here are two developing stories worth watching in the complex web of Middle East affairs. One is a recent order by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, banning the release of any classified documents from Israel’s history, until 2018. That is a total of 70-years since creation of the Zionist State on Palestinian land, back in 1948. Netanyahu’s order speaks volumes about how comfortable Israel is with its recent history, given all the confiscation of land, the burning of property, and the uprooting of an entire population; men, women, children, and the elderly, from the land of their ancestors. Shortly after these orders were given— which went by unnoticed in the Arab world and was more or less ignored in the international community—the exact opposite happened when the controversial website Wikileaks published nearly 400,000 documents taken from logs of US soldiers in Iraq—many hacked from the Pentagon by the Australian website founder, Julian Assange. The Wikileaks story—a milestone no doubt in the history of online publishing—has sparked off sharp debates in capitals around the world. Some argue that the democracy of information is inevitable, arguing that if George W. Bush and Tony Blair lied to the world about lurking dangers in Iraq and Saddam’s WMDs, someone out there had to tell the rest of the world what re8

November 2010

ally happened, and why. Others, however, including the Pentagon, claim that publishing these documents is highly irresponsible because they threaten the life of US and coalition troops still serving on battlegrounds within Iraq, not to mention the lives of the civilians, torture victims and informants mentioned in the documents, who could also be identified. Between the two arguments lies a wide gap, millions of people around the world who are just curious to know more about what kind of classified information came out of Wikileaks, vis-à-vis Iraq. At Forward Magazine, we actually spent the entire weekend on October 23-24 browsing through the very user-friendly website, reading through hundreds of documents related to maltreatment of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi soldiers, under the watchful eye of US troops, during the period January 2004-December 2009. At least 6 died, apparently, under beating, burning, and lashing of their compatriots in uniform. The crime US troops committed was knowing what was happening, turning a blind eye and doing nothing about it, probably because of the luggage on their shoulders, thanks to Abu Ghuraib. In one log, documents reveal that the Americans suspected Iraqis cutting off the fingers of other Iraqis— and burning them with acid. The reports record a total of 109,032 deaths in Iraq during those six years, 66,081 of who were civilians, 23,984 were so-called insurgents, 15,196 were ‘host nation’ troops (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 were from the coalition army. This means 31 Iraqis were dying per day in Iraq during the six years—a horrific number compared to what was released by Wikileaks earlier this summer, about the death toll in Afghanistan being 20,000; five times less than what was taking place in Iraq. No wonder world capitals are furious with Wikileaks and it comes as no surprise for Netanyahu to write off an eight year postponement of his country’s historical records and archive. Bloody records like these—in as much as people value knowing about it—their perpetrators prefer that they remain under lock & key.

Say again... “I haven’t asked for anything from Egypt, and I don’t want anything from Egypt. Us differing politically is not unprecedented.” President Bashar al-Assad speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper last October. “I regret the behavior of the Arabs. They brought African children to North Africa, they made them slaves, they sold them like animals, and they took them as slaves and traded them in a shameful way. I regret and I am ashamed when we remember these practices. I apologize for this.” Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi speaking at the second African-Arab Summit in Libya on October 10 “Al-Mehdi Al-Muntazar (The Awaited Mehdi who is sacred to Muslims) will come here (to Lebanon) and with him will be Jesus Christ!” Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addressing massive crowds in South Lebanon during a groundbreaking visit last October “This may be my last chance to offer an assessment of my time in the White House. Looking back, I am struck by how many unpopular objectives we pursued.” Former US President Jimmy Carter on his tenure at the White House in 1977-1981 “What we have between us is special; Iraq and Syria cannot get by without each other. Our relations with Syria are different from relations with other countries.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri alMalki, during a visit to Damascus aimed at mending broken fences since August 2009

this For more on massive leaks related to the Iraq War and all misconduct that came with it, check out: Wikileaks documents + Iraq


Appetizers TElecommunications

STC enters third telecom operator bid

Syrian students met Presidents Carter and Mary Robinson For the first time in the history of bilateral relations, Syrian students met with a US President to talk about Syrian-US relations, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and the Middle East peace process. The ten young Syrians were students at the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Kalamoon, while Carter was part of a delegation of The Elders, an independent group of prominent global leaders, brought together through President Nelson Mandel’s initiative in 2007. They offer their collective influence and experience to support world peace and address major causes of human suffering. The Elders delegation included, in addition to Carter, ex-Ireland President Mary Robinson, Indian activist Ela Bhatt,

and former UN envoy, veteran Algerian statesman, Lakhdar Brahimi. The Elders made a point during their Middle East trip to meet with students from Gaza and Egypt, in addition to Syria. For an entire hour, they listened to the students voice their worries about continued occupation of the Syrian Golan and lack of Middle East peace, thanks to a US administration that is unable to deliver, and a Israeli on that is unwilling. The Israelis, they noted, were more interested in a peace process, than a peace treaty with the Palestinians. The Syrian students included Maya Khalil, Heba Bitar, Sereen Dardari, Amr Saffour, Afraa al-Goul, Aseel Azzam, Ghali Houri, Qutayba Daaboul, Joudi Issa, and Ayham Shaaban.

Moallem to UN: Stop Israeli theft of Golan water Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem sent a strong message to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN General Assembly President Deiss, urging them to take stronger action against Israeli theft of Syrian water supplies in the Golan heights last month. In the letter, Moallem said Israel must cease pumping water from the prevent Israel from the Golan Heights in violation of international law. According to the Syrian News Agency, Moallem accused Israel of illegally controlling supply of the Syrian wa-

ter, claiming the Israeli occupying residents of the northern Mays region had no right to the Adelaide resources. Illegal irrigation systems of agricultural land used by Jewish settlers and the introduction of artificial water systems, he said were “causing serious economic and environmental disaster.” This is a “violation of international law and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council adopted in 1980 called for the occupation.

Saudi Arabia's incumbent telecom operator, STC has expressed interested in joining the bid for Syria's third mobile telecommunications operating licence, the company said in a statement placed on the Saudi bourse website last month. The Syria government announced in August that it would launch an auction for a third mobile phone licence, with an initial application deadline of November 14. UAE telco Etisalat already confirmed its intention to bid for the licence, while Turkish mobile operator, Turkcell, is also considering a bid. Kuwait's Zain Group, which is itself now an acquisition target for Etisalat Group, was the first telco to express an interest in the licence. Syria's mobile market is currently dominated by Syriatel and MTN Syria, which both operate under build, operate and transfer licences. With a mobile penetration rate of about 44%, Syria is widely viewed as one of the Middle East's last untapped mobile markets.

BANKING

Byblos Bank launches customer service hotline In a further bid to get a stranglehold on the retail market, Byblos Bank have opened a new customer service centre in Damascus. According to the bank the line will spare customers the hassle of visiting a branch for simple queries. Costs for extra branch numbers, which have skyrocketed for private banks over the last twelve months in Syria, will also be spared. Walid Abdel Nour, General Manager of Byblos Bank Syria, said the modernizing move was designed to cater to customers needs. “Byblos Bank Syria strives to promote banking culture among Syrian citizens and to always improve and develop the banking services,” he said. The customer service line will be open during normal business hours, but the bank says there are already plans to extend the service to 24/7 support in the near future.

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November 2010


BLASTING DESIGN BY RADO

SINTRA JUBILÉ / HIGH-TECH CERAMICS / WWW.RADO.COM


Appetizers DEVELOPMENT

Syria to host mega-mall

Goethe to open second institute in Aleppo After several delays and false starts the second Goethe Institut branch will open in Aleppo on December 1. The institute will take up residence in a 1200 meter square space in the recently (and magnificently) refurbished 16th Century Franciscan Shibani School in the centre of the Old City. Offering German language classes,a library and internet facilities, the Institute will also play host to a range of activities, exhibitions and cultural events. Longstanding director of the Goethe Insti-

tut based in Damascus, Bjorn Luley , said “ it was time” to put Aleppo on the cultural map. “It was a real pity when the British Council closed in Aleppo this year,” he said. “Aleppo really deserves this – the people understand that a lively life is a big asset to the city and the community.” An opening night concert and reception will feature exceptional German oud nay players and percussionists, followed by a repeat of the concert for the general public on December 2.

TRADE

European Union teach tools of the trade market With many businesses feeling hard done by in the wake of new trade agreements with neighbouring Turkey, and the push to diversify exports, the EUfunded Trade Enhancement Programme (TEP) last month organized a one-day workshop last month aimed at arming trade beneficiaries with the right trade tools for effective trade policy and strategy. The “International Trade Policy Instruments” provided participants with a background on policy instruments available to governments in drawing up trade policies. Targeting beneficiaries from the Ministry of Economy and Trade, the Chamber of Commerce as well as other ministries and administrative bodies,decision makers, associations, academic institutions, NGOs, and representatives from

the private sector, the workshop aimed to help facilitate and increase Syrian trade flows and allow Syria to take full advantage of globalisation opportunities. A formal TEP training programme in trade policy and negotiations will run over the course of the next twelve months. According to Mr. Paul Baker, TEP Trade Policy Key, the programmes will influence competitiveness, trade and economic performance and stimulate debate on trade policy issues. TEP is a four year (2009-2012) 15M Euro EU-Funded Programme established by the Government of Syria in partnership with the EU Delegation in Syria to improve Syria’s macro-economic situation through facilitating and increasing Syrian trade flows.

Syria is set to become home to the largest shopping mall in the Levant, with Majid Al Futtaim Properties revealing last month plans for the mega mall on the the Beirut-Damascus highway in Yafour/Sabboura. Deriving inspiration from the interwoven street patterns of Damascus’ souks, the ancient alleys and covered walkways will be transformed into into a contemporary retail space of designer shops and an extensive array of international food courts. It will host the largest Carrefour hypermarket in the region, international fashion brands, 20 screen cinema, a unique family oriented entertainment centre, over 100 restaurants under one roof, five star hotels linked directly to the mall and surroundings and several more entertainment and cultural events.

water

LG enters water treatment LG Electronics announced last month they will enter the market in global water treatment programs. LG announced they will invest more than US$400 million over the next decade with the goal of generating US $7 billion in revenue by 2020, with the aim of becoming one of the top 10 global water treatment companies. “LG hopes to be able to make a small but significant contribution to alleviating this global problem with its commitment to finding solutions through innovation and technology,” Young-ha Lee, President and CEO of the LG Electronics Home Appliance Company said. LG will concentrate research and development in advanced membrane filtration systems, and said partnerships, mergers and acquisitions will form part of their strategy to expand quickly. LG will begin with industrial water treatment and expand its coverage into sewage and drinking water treatment. The company eventually plans to enter water treatment engineering and procurement.

The Phoenicia voyager makes homecoming The Phoenicia ship expedition concluded its historic voyage, celebrating a homecoming to the ancient port at Tartous last month. The 20,000 mile voyage recreated the first circumnavigation of Africa over two and a half thousand years ago one on board a replica of the 600 BC Phoenician Ship, originally launched 12

November 2010

from the ancient port at Arwad Island. Built and launched in Syria in 2008, Phoenicia links the Middle East, Africa and Europe through a cultural odyssey, stopping at Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Oman, Comoros Islands, Mozambique, South Africa, The Azores, Gibraltar, Tunisia, Malta, and Lebanon.


Appetizers culture

Syria exhibition in the Royal Academy

Photo by SANA

The British Syrian Society have announced plans for the exhibition of Syrian artifacts in London in 2013. The exhibition will be held at the Royal Academy of Arts, and will cover Syria’s history by exhibiting a plethora of Syrian artifacts dating from early history to the 19th century. The announcement was given in Damascus Uniersity, alongside a lecture by Robert Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic Arts at Edinburgh University, and Lead Curator of the Syria exhibition in the Royal academy – the exhibition that is expected to travel to other renowned international cities afters its debut.

President Assad with Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt

World leaders flood the Syrian capital World leaders and international statesmen came to the Syrian capital during the month of October, all focused to hammering out solutions to pending regional problems. The long list of Syria visitors included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, former US President Jimmy Carter, and former Ireland President Mary Robinson. They also included ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh, Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, US Senator Arlen Specter, and senior Chinese political advisor Jia Qinglin. The cabinet vacuum in

Iraq, the explosive situation in Lebanon, the continued Israeli siege of Gaza and the frozen peace process were all on the agenda of foreign visitors to Damascus. Malki’s visit stood out among all others, given that diplomatic relations between Damascus and Baghdad had been strained since August 2009 when ambassadors were withdrawn from both capitals. During his Syria trip, Malki stressed his desire to re-establish ties with Syria, resending his ambassador to Damascus. As a direct result of the Malki visit, the Syrian ambassador to Baghdad was restored only days later, and a SyrianIraqi Business Council is expected to be launched this November.

Qassab Bashi gets Italian Order of Merit Italian President Giorgio Napolitano granted Syrian citizen Joumana Qassab Bashi the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Knight Class, for her unwavering support of the Italian community in the United Arab Emirates last September. She was named a “Distinguished Friend” in recognition of her cultural, charity, and philanthropic activities. The award was granted by the Italian Ambassador to Abu Dhabi.

resources

Desertec for wind energy Desertec, the world’s largest renewable energy initiative, visited Syria for preliminary studies and cooperation drafts last month. Desertec are considering connecting Syria to their renewable energy power grid; and in partnership with Cham Holding, utilizing the Syrian desert for solar and wind energy. The plan will take five to eight years. At a press conference hosted by the Syrian German Business Council, Desertec CEO Paul Van Son said: “Though solar energy is till expensive, new technologies such as Concentrated Soalr Power (CSP) are reducing the costs and such technology such as CSP will available at a competitive rate in 10 years.”

automotives

Nissan race to find the best auto technicians Early last month three Nissan technicians were set to work the clock in Nissan’s Annual Service Technical Contest (NISTEC). Their task? To repair defects in three cars within a limited time. Mohammad Nouah came in the second place, the third place was awarded to Fidaa Maad, while Nazeer Jabaji came in first place, and was qualified for the regional Nissan contest, to be held in Dubai in November 2010.

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November 2010


Technology

Syria falls prey to banking cyber crime

Syrains have been warned that the banking cybercrime malware Zeus Trojan is a threat to online users in Syria. Since the first version of Zeus Trojan, the preferred choice of cybercriminals, has resulted in millions of dollars being plundered from domestic bank accounts worldwide by stealing online banking credentials, which were then used to access bank accounts belonging to the small business or municipalities and transfering it to fraudulent bank accounts. Over 40,000 variants of the malware have been recorded. In February 2010, the US-based corporate security company NetWitness reported the detection of ZeuS-infected computers in 2,500 organizations in 196 countries. The issue was raised in Syria’s 6th ICT Security Forum last month, with Tarek Kuzbari, Managing Director of Kaspersky Lab ME claiming the software was an emerging threat in the Syrian banking sector. “This can prove very dangerous for

unsuspected and unprotected Internet browsers as their online banking details and other vital information stored online can be compromised and used against them and at their expense by unscrupulous cyber criminals.” The malware is a setback to the newly intoduced banking sector, who are beginning to roll out ebanking services, yet to gain the trust of Syrian customers. According to Kaspersky, an up to date operating system, complemented with a security solution which includes an antivirus, antispyware, firewall and vulnerability scanner, is key in reducing the risks of cybercrime. “Additionally, online banking users are advised to regularly check their bank account and notify the bank immediately in case of discrepancies. If money is stolen, the bank should be able to block the transfer and to return it to the rightful owner,” highlighted Tarek Kuzbari.

Highlight of the month Galaxy S smart phone launched in Levant Samsung recently introduced its Android-based smart phone – the 9.9mm thick Galaxy S, to the Levant market. The handset brings users the latest version of Google’s Android, OS 2.1, which offers users a rich lineup of productivity tools and third-party applications. The OS runs with high speeds on the S5PC111 1-Ghz processor, which delivers smooth transitions, crisp graphics and improved multitasking capabilities. The large 4-inch Super AMOLED display delivers high screen quality, with less reflection, free viewing angles and instantaneous touchresponse, while the mDNIe (mobile Digital Natural Image engine) boosts an even sharper and crisper viewing experience for photos, videos, and e-books. It creates a perfect environment to record, edit and play HD video, to browse the Internet, and to read e-books. This multimedia experience is further accentuated by the phone’s 5-megapixel camera. Samsung also made the device fingerprint and stain resistant to guarantee a pure user experience. “The Android-powered Galaxy S will set a new standard for smart phones. It is the perfect device for people in all corners of the world who want that extra edge; to be more effective, productive, better connected, and in tune with their smart life – both personal and professional – all through a device that is elegant, intuitive and a sight to behold;” commented the President of Samsung Levant, Sang SukRoh.

Cabinet approves new law on internet communications The Cabinet approved late October a draft law on Communication via Internet, and establishment of the Planning and International Cooperation Commission, to be directly set under the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri, chairing the meeting, stressed the importance of institutional work and developing the work mechanisms of the public sector and implementing the scheduled plans and programs. November 2010 15


Appetizers

An Italian affair heats up the kitchen A supporter of the Italian ‘Slow Food’ movement, Vito Mollica, 37-year-old Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Florence (Italy), will be visiting Four Seasons Hotel Damascus for a special black and white Truffles promotion.

C

hef Mollica has had a fascination with Syria since he was just a child. “First of all, Syria is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and it is an honor visiting it as I’ve heard so much of it since I was a little boy," he says. Mollica is here to talk truffles. A celebrity chef with a fanatical following, he was invited for a special week of culinary delights by the Four Seasons Hotel Damascus kitchen. Only in his thirties, the chef has already reached executive position. Mollica was trained in the Milan regional gastronomy school in Italy and rapidly rose to the top.

He was born in southern Italy in a small region called Basilicata before moving at a young age to Milan which is completely different in food, life style, and traditions. However, he still had his home region’s influence from his mom. Mollica is an ardent supporter of the slow food movement, which is a movement that started 20 years ago in Italy to protect food heritage and traditions. As in the last decades the fast food industry has been booming without much of basic food control, with the ingredients used produced in mass resulting in the deterioration of the quality and the nutrition; all that basically resulting in a group of chefs coming together trying to promote food grown by small producers

with labels to show that they care about healthy food. An advocate of natural food, Mollica is hoping to see the markets in Syria and discover them, visit the spice markets, carpets and antique shops, as he has heard so much about them and the Old City from Chef Muhammad Hilal upon meeting him in Istanbul two years ago. When asked about the magic of truffles, Mollica answered: “All ingredients you find could be grown and cultivated all throughout the year, they could even be manipulated to give out different attributes; truffles however are different.” As Mollica pointed out, they are a calendar event in Italy and southern France, and they still hold the traditions they started with ages ago. “Besides, truffles provide a hint of a flavor; they have a mild taste, and you have to use all your senses to enjoy. You have to look at it, smell it, feel it, and taste it.” Be sure to be visit Il Circo from the November 1 to 7, as you will be treated to a taste you will not be forgetting for a while 16

November 2010

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ayyam gallery|beirut Samia Halaby «New Works»

October 7 to November 27

ayyam gallery|cairo Safwan Dahoul «Still Dreaming»

October 19 to November 30

ayyam gallery|damascus Curated from the Samawi Collection «Then What ?»

October 11 to November 13

ayyam gallery|dubai difc Khaled Takreti «I am a Teenager Again» October 25 to November 30

ayyam art center |dubai Kais Salman «Material World»

November 9 to December 31

www.ayyamgallery.com


Cover story

Adonis speaks to Forward: The living legend of Arab poetry Last month, Adonis was robbed again of a Nobel Prize, after first being nominated in 1988. He would have been the second Arab to receive the honor.

Photos by Richard Westall/Getty Images

By Diego G贸mez Pickering

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November 2010


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ith over thirty published books in almost equal number of languages, Ali Ahmed Said Esber, through his literary pseudonym, Adonis, is the Arab world’s most renowned poet and one of its best recognized intellectuals. Essayist, translator, literary critic, historian, journalist, editor and story teller, there is not a single area left untouched by his creative being. With a pen name taken from the pagan Syrian prophet whose cult spread to Greece, his work as daring and complex as it is beautiful. Adonis' revolutionary use of rhyme and metre modernized Arab poetic language, while retaining the suurealism and mystical symbolism that characterizes Arab literature. Syria’s star son talked to us about his life, his works and thoughts between Paris, where he currently resides, Beirut, his adoptive hometown, and Damascus, where it all started. “It is not myth that transforms itself into a story but history itself that is a myth” Adonis was born to a modest family in 1930 in Qasabin, a small rural village in Northeastern Syria. He started writing at a very young age and opted for signing his first works as Adonis, a mythic god of Semitic roots, after magazines and newspapers rejected his early submissions. What’s left of the Adonis of Qasabin, in Paris? What differences or similarities are between both? From Qasabin I preserve my interest in discovering the world, in questioning, in proposing, in knowledge. There are very little differences, almost close to none, between the Adonis of Qasabin and that of Paris. The one of Paris is more mature, has lived a long life, but like all other poets is still a little boy, because if he stopped being so he would die. How did the social and family backgrounds of Ali influence the conformation of Adonis? Coming from a poor household things were never easy. My relationship with my father was like the one you could have with a teacher. From him I learnt everything, my affection for books, poetry, reading and intellectual search. Thanks to him I de-

veloped my creative flair; I enrolled in school and university and eventually became who I am nowadays. From my mother I got my emotional needs, my irrational self, everything that is required for having a balance between opposites. That is why I believe that regardless of the social or cultural background every person is born a poet or at least has the potential to become one.

step.

At 80 years-old what is left to do for Adonis? For me the most important thing is writing, and I wish to keep on doing it every day. That has been my life and that is the way I want it to stay; and not in a methodological way but rather spontaneous, in between cafés and the street, the river and the subway, watching passersby and living life. Falling in love, that is what I enjoy the most and the main reason for us to be alive. Writing, travelling, drinking, sharing with friends and my close ones; because that is how you learn more about yourself and your own culture, that is how you discover your inner world and that of others.

How costly is freedom? Freedom has a very high price; a price one must pay to enjoy it. That certainly has been my case and that of many others. Like women, a fundamental piece of man’s life; part of my work and my thoughts, but so often misunderstood and undervalued in our world.

“I have never felt like the property of someone else in the same way that nobody has ever owned me” Adonis arrived in Lebanon in 1956. In Beirut he reinvented himself and laid the foundations of his career. He embraced poetry, leaving behind his political militancy but not his fascination of it. There he lived the horrors of civil war until it was unbearable; escaping the Israeli invasion he recurred to exile for the second time in his life. He has been living in Paris since 1985, turning his back to all the atrocities but at the same time taking them with him. What does exile mean to you? For me there are two types of exile, the geographic exile and the exile of thought. The first one is lighter, almost imperceptible, when confronted to the second one, which is the exile of one self, of emotion and sentiment. It is a very personal exile, insurmountable and, most of the times, terminal and devastating. I believe I was born exiled but throughout my life I have been able to overcome that condition, step by

Do you miss your country, your affections? For over 20 years I did not visit Syria, but now I try to go at least once a year. It is a country that I never really left behind but rather took along with me. That is why I do not miss much because I have always had it all. And I still have, I own the best of both worlds.

Literary landmarks Shi’r Magazine In 1957, alongside Lebanese poet Yusuf Al-Jal, Adonis founded in Beirut “Shi’r” (poetry), a monthly publication that soon became a turning point for literature and poetry in the Arab world. At the same time he published two of his best known works, “Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs” and “The Fix and the Movement.” During these early years, Adonis established the purpose that would accompany him throughout his career: renovating Arab poetry. Recreating language, surpassing the classics and making man the ultimate object of poems. Critically assuming local culture and acknowledging universal poetic and literary experiences. Al-Kitab In “Al Kitab” (The Book), considered by the author as his literary pinnacle, Adonis proves his deep knowledge of Arab society, culture and history, both before and after the arrival of Islam. It is a work that took him over a decade to complete and that was published in three different editions during a period of three years. Through it, Adonis brings the reader closer to his world, his people, his past and his present. Aghani Mihyar ad-Dimashqi "Aghani Mihyar ad-Dimashqi" (Songs of Mihyar of Damascus), published in 1961, represented a turning point in Adonis' career and a new direction for Arab poetry. While Adonis' work was to become richer in symbolism, the volume shattered traditional metrics and illustrated his mastery of rhythm. November 2010 19


Cover story their plea is unique and very sad. They have lived over sixty years as refugees, unwanted and even rejected by their so-called brother nations who in many cases have used them as a political tool without really caring about their well being or about solving their disastrous situation. Palestinians are victims of times, history and circumstances. Palestine is a tragedy without remedy

“If we walk away from poetry we walk away from ourselves. What is poetry but love, only love?”

Sufism’s role in the Arab world’s intellectual and literary development is undeniable. What role does it play nowadays? Within the Arab world, Sufism is the sublimation of thought, its mysticism and philosophical connection. Unfortunately, nowadays its practice has been greatly reduced and separated from its roots; it has been persecuted by politics and constrained by social paradigms. Something that is detrimental for the spirit of illumination that should enlighten the obscurity immersing our world. Where did you find your creative influences? In Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Ibn Arabi and all the classic Arab poets. What represents poetry for Adonis? Do you find it superior to other literary disciplines? Somehow, it is impossible to define poetry. It is the means for expressing ideas and thoughts. The poet is a creator and poetry is a creative process, with which I feel more comfortable than with any other. For me there is no artistic style as such but only artists that are the ones expressing themselves, creating, being. That is why we can not say there is a discipline superior to the rest; purer or more important. That said, I must confess I am not a big fan of reading novels, I find them too long. I never seem to be able to read them in the correct order, not that I think I should. I never finish them. Maybe that is why I am not very fond of novelists. 20

November 2010

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Adonis meets Shukri al-Quwatli “The more you are in contact with the other, the more you unveil about yourself” In “Al Kitab” (The Book), considered by the author as his literary pinnacle, Adonis proves his deep knowledge of Arab society, culture and history, both before and after the arrival of Islam. It is a work that took him over a decade to complete and that was published in three different editions during a period of three years. Through it, Adonis brings the reader closer to his world, his people, his past and his present. How real is the supposed split between East and West? Between East and West there will always be crossed interpretations and misunderstandings because assessments and judgments on both sides are based on stereotypes, built upon mutual ignorance and disdain for the other. What challenges faces the Arab world today? Currently, Arab societies live with great apathy, veiled by an obscurantism based on an archaic interpretation of life and religion. There is a stubborn and absolute ignorance of what art, literature, poetry, the old masters and our civilization’s great cultural inheritance are. From your perspective, what will happen with the Arab Israeli conflict? There is no solution on sight for the Arab Israeli conflict; it might be prolonged for years or even decades. There is no willingness on either side to put an end to a war that has lasted for so long and has claimed the lives of so many innocents. The Palestinian people are the ones that have suffered the most;

Courtesy of www.syrianhistory.com

In 1957, alongside Lebanese poet Yusuf Al-Jal, Adonis founded in Beirut “Shi’r” (poetry), a monthly publication that soon became a turning point for literature and poetry in the Arab world. At the same time he published two of his best known works, “Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs” and “The Fix and the Movement”. During these early years, Adonis established the purpose that would accompany him throughout his career: renovating Arab poetry. Recreating language, surpassing the classics and making man the ultimate object of poems. Critically assuming local culture and acknowledging universal poetic and literary experiences.

In the mid-1940s, Adonis (then a child known by his original name Ali Ahmad Said) had his first encounter with Arab officialdom. Contrary to the reputation he carefully built for himself in future years, which was very critical of Arab governments, regardless of their form of legacy, his first encounter was rather remarkable and it had a profound effect on his life. In 1947, the young boy walked from his remote village to the nearest town in the Syrian coast in order to greet then-President Shukri al-Quwatli, who was touring all of Syria while campaigning for another term at the presidency. Adonis admired Quwatli, father of Syria’s independence from French colonization who had come to office through the ballots in 1943, and wrote up a nationalist poem exclusively for the Syrian President. Town elders tried to prevent the poor young boy from coming close to Quwatli but the President insisted to hear what Adonis had to say. Shaking yet proud, Adonis recited his poem, managing to attract Quwatli’s full attention. Quwatli immediately saw promising talent in the young man and offered to grant him one wish. Adonis replied, “I want to go to school!” Although in his teens, Adonis had not yet completed his full schooling, because of poverty. Quwatli complied, sending Adonis on scholarship until he graduated from Damascus University. Looking back at the event over 60-years later, Adonis would say that the entire encounter with Quwatli now seems like a myth, something that happens only in fairytales.


Ibrahim Jalal 1-24 November 2010 Rafia Gallery

26 Damascus Boulevard Next to Four Seasons Hotel +963 11 311 0803 www.rafiagallery.com


Main feature

At home and away: Working parents under pressure

With more women at work and new influences on children, the traditional Syrian family structure is changing By Alastair Beach and Lauren Williams

Photo by Carole al-Farah

It is 5pm and Nihal Ishak, an accountant at a Damascus hospital has just returned home after a long day at work. Her husband, a government employee with a public water works company is still at work. With the kids home from school, there’s homework to be done and dinner to be made. Luckily, Ishak cooked for the week, taking at least one chore off the list. The mother of three admits juggling family life and work isn’t easy. While her two children are at school, arranging childcare for her youngest daughter, 5, is a constant juggling act. Often the only option is to bring her to work – a situation, she admits, is not ideal. “Usually my daughter stays with her brother at home until I come back, and sometimes she stays with the neighbours. But when no one can take care of her she comes with me to the hospital and the nurses take care of her.” She adds that “They like her in the hospitals and she causes no problems to anyone because most of the time she stays with me in my office.” “My little kid is my only concern, the other two are grown-up enough and they can manage the two hours from the time that they get back from school until the time we come home, but my five-year- old can’t.”

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Syrians are fond of saying that family always come first. But with more and more families depending on dual income to support the family home, parents report having less time to spend with their children. The changing workforce structure, with more mums at work, is altering the traditional family structure. Children are spending more time on their own, or with fathers. So how do Syrian families adjust? Ishak says her family is “under pressure.” There is not a minute to lose in her day. “I cook the night before, and when we are back from our jobs, we heat our food for dinner.” Quality family time together is limited and Ishak feels she must compensate to make up for her absence. “I’m trying to fill in the blanks where they don’t see me, especially in the summer, by taking them out at night.” “I have to explain to them that this is the best thing for their future because we are saving money for them.” Ishak takes home 18, 000 SP each month. Together she and her husband earn 40, 000 SP a month, a figure she says is just enough to feed and look after their son and two daughters. “We have a lot of bills to pay,” she says. “So I would never think of quitting my job to spend more time with the family.” Professor Samir Ibrahim Hassan – head of Sociology at the University of Oman and former Dean of Sociology at the University of Damascus – says Syrian family structure is undergoing a "transformation" as a result of the changing economic context and workplace structure. Women, he said, are spending more time outside the home and less with their families. All in all, he said, "the traditional extended family circle is being replaced by a smaller, nuclear unit." According to a U.N. survey women's participation in the workforce has seen a slow but steady increase from 21% in 1991 to 25% in 2007. Syria's laws provide mothers with basic support. Article 54 of statutes of the law governing public sector entitles women who have just given birth to seventy-five days of paid holidays. Women are also entitled to an extra month with 80% of salary. And while the law also obliges businesses and institutions to establish nurseries near or in the workplace for mothers, something not always adhered to. An increase in the number of

childcare facilities in the last three years in Damascus is evidence of a large and growing need. Though experts are divided on the effects of the changing role of mothers, Prof. Hassan believes there are benefits to these new arrangements. “Our studies show that working women and women who spend more time outside the home gain more experiences and are more open minded,” he said. “They bring that attitude home and that has a more positive effect on their children than the negative effect of time spent away from their children.” In a way, these changes have empow-

nineteen were asked to name the three most important “identifications to their identity”. While only 25% cited their families, over 70% mentioned their educational attainments. This phenomenon is not unprecedented and it isn't unique to Syria. “Much like what happened in Europe twenty-five or thirty years ago is happening now, only much more rapidly, " Prof Hassan said. “You see this across the region, but in Syria the changes are happening faster”. How parents adapt to these changes is crucial to healthy family life and the move into successful adulthood. "We need to think deeply about how to

ered women. “They share in the decision making and have a stronger role in the family," Prof. Hassan said.

deal with this struggle between generations,” Prof. Hassan said, adding “parents need to remember that they also witnessed a lot of change.” Experts agree the key to a healthy functional family is better and more communication. “Parents need to discuss things with their children, what they are going through, in order to understand them and make sure the gap is not made even wider," he said. “They need to listen and they need to be more democratic in their parenting.” According to Doctor Nadia Khaddour, a child psychologist, the traditional authoritarian Syrian parenting style, involving physical punishment and deprivation is not compatible with today's generation. She says this outdated attitude often leads to negative consequences for the children when they reach adulthood. Dr Khaddour says that this kind of parenting can eventually lead to timidity, fear, and weak personalities in the children. Dr. Khaddour insists on the importance of communication inside the family unit in order to reach understanding between parents and their children. According to her, this is essential to ensure good parenting and a successful upbringing of children. “Parents need to cooperate in raising their children, the mother and father must support each other far more then in the past," she said. “This can profoundly affect their children's natures, their knowledge, and their relationship to society.”

Generation gap Meanwhile, young Syrians – tech savvy and increasingly independent – are exposed new and radically different influences, contributing to a generation gap and presenting new and unexpected challenges to parents. According to Prof. Hassan, the new arrangements are creating “essentially a lag between generations.” He has comprehensively researched the subject over five years in both rural and urban circles. He found that changing influences and new class structures contributed to a growing gap between the young and old, urban and rural in Syrian society. “We need to keep in mind that there are many variants,” he said. “The difference is greater in rural areas, for instance, where children have access to more education than their parents.” External influences play the greatest role in the gap between parents and children. “Before, children learned everything, all their culture and behaviour, from their mothers and fathers – now children learn from other sources," prof Hassan said. New sources are available to children. “They are going to school and university, they have access to new technology and outside influences.” In a study by FAFO on Syrian University youth, teenagers aged seventeen to

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Photos by Carole al-Farah

Main feature

Inside the minds of By Mayar Mnini

I

n his book 'Teen Life in the Middle East', Ali Akbar Mahdi writes: "Syrian teens feel like the golden plate is not as shiny and full as it looks to their parents‌ as the country is opening up to the world they are realizing that what their parents have given them is not enough to face the life in a rapidly developing Syria" Is he right? As he tweaks a loose bolt from the underside of a car at the Hosh Blas workshop where he works as a mechanic, Muhammad, 15, lights a cigarette. "I loved school even though it was so hard but I wanted to work to save some money because I want to build a small room on the roof to get mar-

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ried in it." Imad, a 15 year old working in constructions, says "I dropped out of school because it was too hard for me and also, my friends used to tell me that money can buy you anything while going to school can't, anyway I strongly regret that decision now." According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 7.6% of Syrian teenagers aged between 12 and 14 years are dropping out of their schools to work. On the other hand teenagers from middle to higher economic spheres face different concerns. Both 14-year-old Saraya's parents work. He says he barely sees his parents and as a result is more indepen-

dent, but it isn't always easy. "My father works as a psychiatrist and my mom is an accounting manager, " he said, from an internet cafĂŠ where he was reading English song lyrics for translation studies. "I barely see my father because he works late at night, when I finish studying, and sometimes I help my mom with her work." For teenage girls, the desire to work in a field they enjoy was a recurring ambition amongst those Forward spoke to. Along with a husband and a house with all the trimmings, teenage girls say they want to work to be financially secure. Maya, also 16, dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer.


Syrian teenagers "And my family supports my desire," she said. Teenagers say time constraints with parents are one problem, but a lack of communication with their parents ranks high on their list of concerns, with teenagers complaining their parents doubt the value of the way they spend their time. Amer, 16, said his mother and father have different and at times conflicting approaches to parenting. "My relationship with my dad is based on authority. We don't discuss anything he just gives me orders and I have to follow them." "On the other hand, dealing with my mom is much easier as she gives me three orders per second, but she

never makes sure that I follow them." And while teenagers say mixing with the opposite sex is more common than thought, it can be a source of dispute for parents. Amira, 16, said his parents "are cool with me inviting my friends – boys and girls— to my house", but he said, "they get upset if I stay out late." Regardless of class, it internet is an omnipresent force in the lives of teenagers. Internet cafÊs serve as a local hangout as much as a source of external entertainment and education. Wissam,14, stopped "engaging the enemy" in the online game 'CounterStrike' to talk about his habits.

"I used to come here every single day in the summer," he said "Sometimes I play some online games with my friends for four or five hours." And, like all teenagers, music is a crucial part of forming identity. "I hate Arabic music," says Kinda, 15. "It's lame. I love techno and my favorite artist is Davis Vendetta." Lina, 19, on the other hand lists Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and Backstreet Boys among her top three artists. Reem, 16, with black painted nails and dark shadowy eye make-up is adamant: "Nightwish and Evanescence are my heroes," she says.

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Main feature

A parental dilemma

Photo by Carole al-Farah

By Alastair Beach

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D

ialia Khurshid, a mother of two young children, does not know whether she will smack her children when they get

older. “I’m not sure yet, beating is useful for some kids but not for the others,” The 25-year-old housewife said. Her ambivalence is perhaps understandable in a country where rigid attitudes towards child disciple often rubup uncomfortably against changing attitudes to disciplining youngsters. Last month two Syrian teachers were fired from their jobs after a video was posted on the internet showing them violently beating two pupils with a stick. The two female teachers were shown lashing a pair of young boys on the feet with a stick, and after Syria’s education ministry opened an inquiry they were dismissed. Apart from demonstrating the growing strength of new media peoplepower in Syria (the teachers were only sacked after a Facebook campaign was launched calling for an investigation), the incident highlighted evolving attitudes to corporal punishment around the country both at home and in the school. The use of physical punishment in schools has long been banned in Syria, yet speak to many parents and they will tell you that it is still around – and they are not always very disapproving. Dialia said that sometimes children in schools “go beyond the limits” and teachers need “harsh means to deal with them”. She added: “But unfortunately teachers are now using the stick to beat students even for the smallest mistakes. “All of us make mistakes, but the teachers have much more problems to deal with, so they use the stick to beat the children in order to solve the problems fast.” Bassam Alkadi is the director of the Syrian Women's Observatory, an organisation which campaigns against violence directed at women and children in Syria. In the wake of the Facebook beating scandal last month, she said that this kind of violence “does not shock anybody” because it is so widespread. Speaking to a French news website she said: “In the video, we can see that the two teachers let themselves be filmed because for them, this is normal behaviour. They don’t do it on the sly”

And it is not just in the school. According to the latest figures compiled by Unicef, physical disciplining is widespread in Syria, with 74 per cent of children aged 2-14 experiencing minor physical punishment in the home. Najla Hamwi said she could only remember a few incidents where she had to beat her children. The mother-of-four, a lawyer, said: “It was when they did something very nasty, like when my daughter stole money from her friend. “In in this situation the talk brings no good, and we have to be harsh on them in a situation like that.” But she said that beating children will leave a psychological trace in the future, and added: “If they receive the beating, they will transfer it to their own children.” Yet there is another influence at work in the Hamwi household – namely Islam. Najla said that being a Muslim has a huge affect on the way she brings up her children. She said: “The Islamic culture is the best way to let your kids grow up. “Islam, if you know how to raise your children on it, will help you in the future. Your children will help you in your old age and take care of you. Islamic education means that you will never been in infirmary in the future.” Lina Emam, a 34-year-old housewife, disagrees. The mother-of-two, who lives in Midan, said that religion should have a limited role in bringing up children. She added: “All the religions focus on the same good things with little differences. The problem is when religion becomes the centre of the whole process because this creates hate between people.” Her views were echoed by Dialia, who said: “The good children are good, regardless of whether he or she is Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. “I don’t think that religions have anything to do with raising kids. What is wrong is wrong, and what right is right in all religions.” And yet even for her, perhaps the cycle of punishment will be harder to break than she hopes. “I remember that my father used to tell me how my grandfather used to beat him for nothing. “God will be my witness that my father didn’t beat me after I was six years old. But here I am now, and I have to use my own way to raise my children.”

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Inside:

Guest FORWARD

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Photo by Nabil Nijem

World Entrepreneurs

Don't use the word 'retard'... It's much better to say 'people with special needs'

Alaa Zaybak: A Syrian brave heart Young down syndrome superstar of "Waraa al-Shams" Alaa Zaybak has proved to the whole world that with a strong spirit, fierce intellect and a cheeky sense of humor, you can achieve all your dreams. Syria Forward sat down over a coffee with the man of the moment. November 2010 29


Forward guest

Alaa on screen last Ramadan with Syrian stars Radwan Akili and Nadine Khoury

A

laa Zaybak seems to bring a breath of with him as he enters the Mezze cafÊ in Damascus – shooting smiles at everyone in the room. He's listening to his Tamer Hosni's recent hit "Noor Eini" which he has downloaded on to his cellphone. As we settle down over our coffees, he flicks through the pages of the most recent issue of Forward magazine and with no hint of arrogance, exclaims "Look! This is me!" Proving disability is no obstacle to success, Alaa was already a household name after his memorable performances as 'Alaa' in the hard-hitting television series "Ma Waraa Al-Shams," which focused on the problems people with disabilities face in Syria. But he cemented his fame when he made an unforgettable and heartwarming appearance at the September Special Olympics. A professional Olympic swimmer, he has participated in many special national and international swimming competitions, and won gold for Syria in the regional Special Olympics event. As if that's not enough, Ala'a coached young children keen to learn to swim and counts horse riding and hockey amongst his other sporting interests. With over 500 fans on his popular facebook page, Alaa responds personally to messages of well wishes and encouragement. He is keen to educate

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others on the damaging stereotypes of those with disabilities. "Don't use the word 'retard'," he writes on one page, "It's much better to say 'people with special needs'." Despite obvious trouble speaking, Alaa is full of surprises. Pointing to a picture of Lebanon's General Michel Oun, he displayed a shrewd interest in politics. "This guy is pro-Syrian policy in Lebanon," he said, before moving to another picture of Hezbollah's AlSayed Hasan Nasrallah. "I love Al-Sayed Hasan Nasrallah and Dr Bashar‌ they both love their countries," he said "I watch the news daily." In the evenings, Alaa loves spending time in his father's shop to chat with some of the customers about football. "I'm a big fan of Real Madrid football club," he revealed, challenging the interviewer to a match. "You should worry," he jokes, "I'm a very good football player." Alaa said he is lucky he has received special care from his family and his country to help him overcome his disability. Never far from his side is his dedicated sister and carer, ... who he counts as a personal hero. "It's allowed me to play an effective role in society," he said. Let's hope that everyone with disability can receive such care and understanding, and gradually be recog-

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nized as normal people with potential, not liability

Five minutes with Alaa Zaybak Did you face any difficulties as an actor? Acting is a hard job because it requires training and commitment and everyone who wants to be a successful actor needs to use enormous efforts. How did your lifestyle change after becoming an actor? Now I'm famous and everybody in the street smiles at me and that makes me feel good. I wouldn't mind acting in another television series. What are your plans in the meantime? I have a lot of plans because I like to stay busy but I would like to help my swimming coach to help teach other kids how to swim. In the meantime I like to go to my father's shop in the evenings to chat with the customers. Who is your favourite personality in Syria? I really like President Bashar al-Assad because he really loves his country. What are your dreams? To visit France and marry a girl I love. I once had a dream of being in love with a girl and I took her to the beach and we swam together.


Inside:

Business

Photos by Joanne Lisinska

Banking

Insurance

Finance

Just two years ago, there were just 30 breeders dotted across Syria. Now, there are over 500.

Microfinance

Entrepreneurship

Manal al-Assad on her horse 'Khartoum' in last month's International Endurance Ride

New breeders no longer just horsing around Long held dear to Syrians, the Arab horse industry is getting a kick start and new breeders have their eyes on export potential to the Gulf.

By Lauren Williams

Manal al-Assad strode through the finish lines just after noon last Saturday, looking calm and cool above her princely Arab sire, Khartoum. With the Palmyra desert shimmering red dust behind her, she was a perfect image of the Arabian dream. Assad, the honorary president of the Syrian Equestrian Federation, came in first ahead of sixty riders to complete

the back-breaking 120 kilometre endurance ride. An annual event, it was the first time the International Endurance Ride was held at Palmyra. The decision to change the location from Damascus is one of new efforts to revive and promote an industry of sentimental and cultural value in Syria. Long held dear in the hearts of Bedouin tribes, Syrian Arab horses have, until

now, remained a pleasure hobby for Syrian breeders, compared to the flourishing business trade of their Gulf counterparts. Now, thanks to a raft of equestrian events and tourism marketing, the market for Syrian Arab horses is developing and new breeders are casting their eyes to the lucrative gulf exports. Following a country-wide census of Arab horses in Syria in 2004, there are November 2010 33


Business now 4,500 Arab horses registered with the UK-based World Arab Horses Organization (WAHO). While an estimated 2000 horses remain unregistered, the admission of Syria in to the WAHO and the country’s subsequent hosting of the WAHO convention in 2008 is slowing but surely rejuvinating the flailing industry and adding export value to Syrian Arab strains, who until now, have failed to attract the princely prices of Gulf thoroughbreds. Until now, the highest price paid for a Syrian Arab was around US $100,000 in 2007 – a far cry from the US$500, 000 $1 million Gulf Arabs regularly attract. Lack of coordination of stakeholder industries has been blamed for the unprofitability of the equestrian scene, an

ternational buyers. This year, organizers say they expect an increase in patronage of 25%. A push to include equestrian events in the next edition of the hugely popular Special Olympics is also underway. The Syrian climate and geographical location is ideal for breeding and Syria boasts an illustrious history of strong and pure strains. Indeed, one of the three founding sires of the modern thoroughbred racing industry in Europe – the Darley Arabian- was bought at market in Aleppo in 1704. Just ten years ago, there were just 30 breeders dotted across the Damascus countryside, Homs, Latakia and the areas around Deir al-Zour and Hassakeh. Now, there are over 500.

year, aiming to breed and export Syrian Arab horses to Gulf states for jumping and racing. “I have about fifteen horses. I moved five of my thoroughbreds from Kuwait and the rest I bought here,” he explained. Minker has combed the country, visiting stables across Syria to source the best Arab horses. “The weather is better here. It’s cooler. In Kuwait we need to use air conditioning to cool the horses.” “Here, it’s cheaper and the horses stay in better health.” Moreover, he says, prices for Syrian Arabs are far more reasonable. "Here you can buy a good quality, strong horse for between $2,000 and

industry worth over US $300 million in Saudi Arabia alone. But new coordination has seen a raft of new and optimistic breeders enter the Syrian export market, matched by growing interest from Gulf buyers keen to snap up Syrian produce, thanks largely to the patronage and work of those like Manal Assad, who has taken the reigns in completing the passionate work of the late Bassel Assad, also a keen equestrian. March will see Manal Assad compete again in the International Show Jumping and Dressage tournaments followed by the third Profair Damascus International Horse Fair and market in May. The first, held in at the Damascus fairground in 2008 was a definite success, attracting thousands of horse enthusiasts and in-

“To increase the export market we are increasing activities – events and exhibitions - we are doing everything we can to push this proud industry,” said Ghayath al-Shayeib, the director of the Damascus Arab Horses office in the Ministry of Agriculture. “2004 was really the start of the export market here,” he said. He is encouraging breeders to register horses to add to their value and promoting education campaigns for new breeders interested in entering the market. Khaled Minkar owned racing thoroughbreds in Kuwait for 30 years before returning to Syria this year. He decided the time was ripe to enter the Syrian market and will open his new stables outside of Damascus later this

$10,000. As soon as they arrive in the Gulf they almost triple in price," he said. While the stables were opened as a hobby, Miukar says he hopes on a return on the investment in the next five years. “Right now, it’s a hobby, but I am looking at developing this into good business.” The industry, he says, does need some work. “We need support from the government and from the industry stakeholders,” he said. But it’s not just dollars that are attracting new breeders “I love Arab horses,” he said.. “This is part of our heritage. It’s our culture. I would love to see the industry develop.”

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Business

Syria: Industrial strength Syria’s rising appeal for companies seeking a foothold in the Levantine market has seen investment soar in its industrial sector, boosting government efforts to push the country towards a more open market economy In August 2010, the Industrial Cities and Zones’ Directorate (ICZs) announced a rapid increase in investment in four newly formed industrial cities throughout the country. Adra, Sheikh Najjar, Hessia and Deir El Zor captured total investments worth 441.7 billion SP ($9.6bn) by the end of June 2010. It is an impressive achievement given that the construction of Deir El-Zour began just three years ago. Houssam Chehabeddine, the general manager of Bel Syria, the local subsidiary of France’s Bel Group, believes these industrial centres can play a crucial role in attracting investment. “Many industrial cities will be created. While it will be hard for existing factories to move at this stage, it is a very interesting option for new entries since they will benefit from preferential rates, reduced taxation and power supply among other things,” Chehabeddine said. Nearly $4bn was invested in the cities in the 12 months leading up to June, a year-on-year increase of 69.2% that signals rising confidence in Syria’s climate for industrial investment. This was matched by a heavy volume of newly registered projects, illustrating the diversity in scale and sector of the country’s industrial base. For example, Adra alone now has 1952 industrial projects either operational or under construction. These statistics will likely be welcomed by the government, which has emphasised the need for the state to recalibrate its role in the economy and encourage private sector investment through policy papers and its last two five-year plans. Damascus is also continuing to seek bilateral agreements to encourage investment from a number of emerging trading partners, while maintaining its policy of seeking private sector partners to run failing state-owned industrial projects. In late September the minister of industry, Fuad Issa Al Juni, met with 36

November 2010

the Danish state secretary for trade and corporate affairs, Anne Steffensen, According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, talks took in a wide range of possible fields of investment and cooperation in Syria including joint projects for fertilisers, cement, pharmaceuticals and food processing. Steffensen suggested that this process will begin with the provision of Danish technology for the Al Rastan Fertilisers and the Al Rastan Cement companies. Damascus has also been involved in similar discussions with Belarus over the Arab country’s automotive industry. In mid-September Al Juni held talks with Belarus’ MZNT and MAZ

Established in 1977, GSC made a loss of S£50.5m ($1.09m) in 2009. Damascus hopes to negotiate a deal whereby a concession will be offered for the company on a revenue-sharing basis, ensuring fresh investment and the safeguarding of jobs. Such a policy has had mixed results over the last few years, with several companies failing to attract substantial investor interest. The government will hope that the GSC intervention matched the success enjoyed by the Tartous Cement Company, which has been rehabilitated by the Pharaon Group after the government signed a contract with them in 2005. The investment figures give Damas-

companies about the potential establishment of a joint venture to manufacture MZNT trucks and MAZ buses in Syria. A feasibility study is expected to be drafted by November before any final agreement between the two parties is concluded. Such moves should help sustain the influx of investment and capital into the industrial sector. The government hopes that this will also be supported by the rehabilitation of state-run companies. The latest company being promoted to potential investors is the General Shoes Company (GSC).

cus good reason to be confident that there will be more success stories to draw on in the near future, and that the strong endorsement of the industrial sector, which has been amply demonstrated by the latest investment levels, will continue unabated

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In Syria we trust

Searching for a job that makes a difference Syria Trust for Development on Saturday held NGOs' Opportunity Exhibition at Massar center for Exploration.

In a small structure in the old fairgrounds in Damascus, next to where the Massar Discovery Center will be built, the Syria Trust for Development held a Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) Job Opportunity fair with the participation of several other developmental organizations early last month. Keen Damascenes flocked from all the corners of the country to attend, packing the hall, resumes in hand, hoping for recruitment in the development sector. Ziad Salah, a final college year student said: “I’m studying English Literature in Damascus University, and although I don’t have enough time for a full time job, I still hope to be accepted 38

November 2010

as an intern to gain enough practical skills before graduation.” Marian Shamsin, PR director of Bidaya Organization said the exhibition allows organizations to present youth opportunities to establish their own projects through providing technical and financial support. Additionally, all the visitors and those interested in recruitment were able to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the role of the participant NGOs, along their social and economical developmental effects. Laila Rahma of the Said Development Foundation said: “NGOs Job Opportunity fair is a chance to introduce the mechanisms of the developmental sector, through the career develop-

ment environment;” where many development-specific job opportunities were presented, such as Funding Procurement, Project Management, Social Development, and Environment Developmental, amongst others. Also participating in this fair was the Syrian Trust for Development, Amaal, Bidaya, Ibdaa Bank, Little Roses Organization, Agha Khan Network for Development, Syria Environmental Society, and the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association. Omar Abdul Aziz Hallaj, executive manager of the Syria Trust for Development, said: “The Syria Trust for Development took this initiative within in the framework of its collaboration plan, aiming to upgrade development awareness, promote participatory culture and find means for cooperation between all segments of society.” Dina Saqr, 23, Kalamoon University: “This fair is an excellent opportunity for young Syrians to find a job to serve their country’s development. As sometimes we the youth need a motivation stronger than career or personal development.” Abdul Kareem Riad, 26, an unemployed, journalism graduate said: “I heard about this fair through my friends, I didn’t want to come at first, but now that I’m here I’m seeing how beneficial it is. Not only do I get to apply for jobs in new interesting fields that weren’t available in Syria five years ago, but I get to be introduced to the different civil society organizations, developmental institutes, and NGOs, that work in Syria.” Salim Muhammad Abul Khair, Business Development Specialist: “This is a wonderful opportunity for researching the Syrian labor market supply on one hand, and the Syrian labor market demand on the other. While at the same time, we get introduced to the myriad of different developmental projects and the kind of job positions introduced through them.” It is hoped the fair will be turned into an annual event to shed light on developmental work, projects and initiatives launched by NGOs

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ADVERTORIAL

Rihanna Industries:

Role model for Agricultural Investment Jihad al-Weis, CEO of Rihanna Industries talks to Forward about investing in the agricultural field

By Muhammad Bassiki Marked by its official launch last August, Rihanna is one of the first Syrian companies to venture into agricultural investment. Although the mother company was established in 1920 by the grandfather of Fida al-Weis, Mustafa – who owned a small candy and caramel shop - it was later expanded by his grandson to become the biggest candy factory in Syria. Could you tell us about the company and how it started? The company was established in the late 1980s; my family started its first agricultural expansion in Syria by setting up a glucose factory in Aleppo, which required the purchase of starch used for glucose. But at the time there were no glucose factories in the Middle East, and they had to import, and so, the idea to establish a factory themselves came to light. Establishing a factory meant that they needed to produce feed for their cattle, and from that point on, they became one of the biggest feed producers in Syria.

What enticed your company to expand in agriculture in Syria? We witnessed a rise in demand and subsequently in pricing of feed in 2005. So farmers began selling their cows and turning them to meat as they were unable to produce milk. And this was a problem that wasn’t only faced by the Syrian market, but by the regional ones as well, and this led us to invest in farming and in milk production. Rihanna Industries farms currently have around 1000 cows, and its new venture into their new factory in Aleppo Suburb will include 2000 extra heads with the cost of a billion for the cattle and the farming lands, while an additional 1.5 billion SP will be spent on the site and its installation. How will the new farm influence the local communities? This project will have a positive local development influence, as it will provide about 600 jobs for its local community members, but more importantly, we will be providing feed and expertise for the local farmers, for the exchange of milk.

What products will be offered? The products to be offered in the local market will start with fresh sterile milk, served in 1 liter packs, 0.5 liter packs, and 20 milliliters packs for kids – those will have a 6 month validity date. The factory will be using the UHT international technology, where the milk will be boiled in 135 degrees Celsius temperature for 4 seconds to rid it of bacteria, and then it will be cooled for 4 seconds to be then stored in sterile containers valid for 6 months. In your opinion, what are the difficulties faced by those desiring to invest in agriculture locally? At the beginning, Rihanna couldn’t find scientific advanced expertise in agricultural technology, which forced the company rely on foreign scientists. Additionally, there is a law forbidding the import of cows, so local cows had to be habilitated for milk production. Nonetheless, all the problems had been tackled, and Rihanna will be able to turn Syria into a milk-exporting country soon

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Start-ups

ADinSpot: Transitioning hotspots to AD spots

Photo by Carole al-Farah

Not only grasping the attention of consumers with their transition from regular eBanner Ads to the first ever full-page electronic Ads, but they’ve also been awarded IBDAA’s Best Technical Project Award, which also helped secure their incubation from the ICT.

Started as a thesis by Majed Lababidi in Damascus University, this IT final-year project managed to grant its architect a career, a company, and most importantly – a vision. ADinSpot is a full-blown Advertising agency, providing the A to Z of advertising to companies – i.e. Graphic design, labeling and branding. However, their most significant asset is their ability to provide full page electronic advertisements, as opposed to the small customary electronic banners. The system works through a hard40

November 2010

ware and software kit, installed in “Hot Spots”, which are areas of public internet access, such as cafes, parks, hotels, and restaurants. When a user in a “Hot Spot” tries to access the internet with a laptop, he will be logged on into a full-screen window with an advertisement, which would enable him to access the internet – even via optional user accounts if desired. The kit also offers internet speed limiting, download and upload speed controls; a firewall, which can allow

access from 1700 users at the same time; a cache engine, which improves the internet speed by storing common visited websites data, so when users access them again they retrieve the data from the storage system not the internet; load balancing; and a billing system. Moreover, all hardware and software synchronize with the central server for software and advertisement updates. Since starting the project in 2009, and being joined by Abdul Aziz Abbas – the current Chief Technical Officer (CTO), ADinSpot has managed to lure in more than 20 hotspot clients. “We covered more than 70% of the most important cafes and universities in Damascus, and now we’re planning to expand in other cities – recently we’ve contracted the Higher Institute of Business Administration (HIBA). In the future, we are hoping that Syria’s development will usher in more internet access points, such as airports and parks, that we would be able to service,” commented Lababidi. Lababidi and Abbas’ new project for their company involves working on a network management system, which accordingly is in its last phases, and that should help set up ADinSpot as a high-profile competitor in major regional hubs, such as Abu Dhabi and Qatar. When asked about plans to relocate – even regionally and not internationally, Lababidi refused utterly saying: “We started with Syria and we plan to continue and expand from here internationally. We want our company to remain Syrian, and based in Syria, as it is our country, and we want to offer it and its name and reputation all that we can. “In ending, we might face daunting challenges here, such as the one ADinSpot faced while manufacturing the hardware and implementing schematics, but we must believe in our projects, and we should not stop in the face of obstacles; we should solve them one at a time.”

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Inside:

Culture Syrian Drama

Exhibitions

Fashion

Photo by Ibrahim Aladdin

Music

Many are asking how producers make an entire work about Omar, who according to Islamic norm, cannot be shown on screen

The chair man of arts

Usually they form a prop to the main subject, but Waleed al-Masri has succeeded in turning chairs into the centerpieces. By Hamzeh Abu Fakher

November 2010 43


Though he received much criticism over his repetitive theme, al-Masri insist the chair theme provokes new and thoughtful questions each time, relating a simple objects to the whole human existence. In his basement atelier in Jaramana, al-Masri - friendly, affable and charming - talked about his latest creations, as well as his thoughts on the Syrian modern art scene. Lately, al-Masri has introduced a new element – mosaic – to his chairs and is also experimenting with new color play, composition, balance and opposites. Through a combination of science and experimentation, he says, he has reached optimal equilibriums in greys; mixing oranges and blues, white and black. So why mosaics? “I’ve always wanted to draw mosaics as I worked with them almost a decade ago,” al-Masri explains. Mosaics are ancient forms of documentation, al-Masri explains, relics of the elements and lifestyles from centuries ago. Formerly a talented mosaic craftsman, al-Masri attempted, initially unsuccessfully to translate the craft to two-dimensional forms through drawings. After repeated frustrations, he had a revelation: “You need to meditate on an idea to reach it clearly. Sometimes you try to forcefully penetrate it but that will not get you anywhere, as you only impose your preconceptions on it. “After you harmonize with the idea through meditation you reach a state of revelation, where everything comes together and the room lights up with relaxation. This process evolves your psyche –fitting the pieces in life.”

The Syrian contemporary art scene Having experienced life as an artist abroad and his fair share of home-grown criticism, al-Masri is understandably outspoken about the Syrian art scene. “Unfortunately there isn’t a real interactive contemporary art scene in Syria yet, exhibitions are mostly visited by acquaintances of the artists and gallery owners not by real art enthusiasts,” he said. “Abroad, visitors are knowledgeable about arts and talk to you about it breaking down the technique into details; the dialogue is always about art and its in44

November 2010

spirations.” "Some may blame commercialism, though for ages commercial and original were present side by side; they never canceled each other. Style and substance of works are exchangeable; people are free to do whatever they want – there are no absolute values in art; no black and white, only different perspectives." “It is all about how you see it; everything has a value to someone. But as long as you paint with your own style nobody will judge you because it is your character reflected not anyone else’s.” What we find lacking in Syria is a diversity in trends; many people follow a certain trend because they don’t know another, they don’t have many choices to pick from. “Accumulating our knowledge about art from books and internet is important but that can never match watching the real works. We need museums and different sorts of art institutions,” al-Masri said. “Critics are also important; they are essential to the art scene. They are the ones that connect and explain artists to the majority; the majority has a consumerist mind so they cannot really understand artists. “Throughout history artists always relied on critics; some of them are so knowledgeable and present you with analysis of your work better than you could come up with, helping you define your character in a more tangible way.” What about teachers? Teaching art is like therapy, al-Masri said and students need to be understood and helped to know themselves. "Professors err when they try to impart

students with their own style," al-Masri explains. "Usually understanding an artwork completely is a state of euphoria, where you connect with the character of the artist and completely absorb it. First impressions are the most important in the process of understanding art; nobody gets a second chance to leave a first impression. " When asked about how he measures his success, al-Masri is candid: “Personally, I measure my success by my ability to lock myself up in my atelier in indulge my art and paint.”

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Photo by Nabil Nijem

Culture

Inside the By Lauren Williams Sahar Al-Jajeh dreams about flowers. In her dream-garden grow new species, unrecognizable combinations of petal, bud, carpels and anthers. These creative amalgamations; parts of orchid, gardenia, iris or hydrangea materialize on canvas in over-blown swathes and folds in oil. Technically still-life, Jajeh’s paintings of flowers are not traditional. Painted on large–scale canvases, flower componants fill the frame in microscopic detail that reveals their inner workings - but never the whole. Rather than rooted to the ground, and free of any vases, these flowers hang in space in mesmerising layers of purples, blues and pinks. As a keen gardener, Jajeh says she


An abstract life In his first visit to Syria since he left to France, 37 years ago, Ibrahim Jalal is back with a solo exhibition held in Rafia Gallery on the 1 November. Academically Jalal established his foundations in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, which he proceeded from to the Ecole Nationale Superieure Beaux-Arts in Paris as an associate mid 70s. However, when asked about where he learnt drawing Jalal recalls a happening that occurred when he was merely 6 years old, he said: “My brother was drawing a portrait of Asmahan; I found her to have the prettiest face I’ve ever seen, and I wanted to draw because of that.” He continues: “My style of abstract art is derived from the culture I lived in my village next to al-Ma’arra. My father used to weave white and black fabrics in our home, while my mom and other women in the village used to weave large round plates of colored straw. Abstractionism is a part of our heritage, even through the mosaics you find in the Dead Cities next to al-Ma’arra.”

garden of the mind looks at the shapes of the flowers, which reorganise themselves in her mind and never works from photographs. Displaying a charming form of pragmatism, the self-taught artists says she would rather focus on the beauty in life in her art, than pain and conflict. “These are the flowers of my mind; from my dreams.” Elaborating: “I don’t want to show the ugly things...there is enough pain in life, so let art the place to show the beauty.” “People can see the beauty of life when they look at my art,” she says. It wasn’t always the way. Walking around her sumptuously decorated home, al-Jajeh points to older works; traditional still lives, then later in her career, stark abstract expressionist

works of white figures wandering lost in eternity of black disorder, and abstract light plays of mirrors and glass. In her quest to find her calling, Jajeh experimented with style, application and disciplines, finally settling, for now at least, on the flowers. Exhibiting in Camden and Brick Lane galleries in London, she recognises the feminine symbolism of the flower’s insides. “Maybe there is a sexual component – after all, Syria is a male dominated society and these paintings are very feminine.” “But maybe, I think, it is about needing to see the inner workings of people.” “In my paintings, you feel human emotion.”

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November 2010 45


Culture

The 2nd Caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, to appear on the Arab silver screen screen—as the case with the Prophet Mohammad and all his companions. One cannot see them or hear their voice, so as not to associate their name with the actor who depicts them on screen, and additionally, one cannot draw their image or make a statue out of their likeliness. Audiences remember that back in the 1970s, Hollywood based director Mustapha al-Akkad made his classic, Mohammad: Messenger of God without ever showing the Prophet—only his cane and camel. This time, sources add, if objections snowball about bringing Omar to the silver screen, director Hatem Ali might satisfy himself by showing blurred shadows of the Caliph and not his full face.

Director Hatem Ali

I

n what has been described as a revolution in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and television drama, the Saudi channel MBC and Qatar have teamed up to produce a 30-episode epic on the life of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, one of the most powerful and influential Muslim leaders in world history. The work is being written by the Jordanian Walid Seif and will be crafted by the popular Syrian TV director, Hatem Ali, who a few years back, made a groundbreaking TV biography of Farouk I, the last King of Egypt. According to sources close to production, the work will feature Syrian star Taim Hasan—who played Farouk and Nizar Qabbani in the past—as the Caliph Omar. A frenzy of debate has already ripped through political, religious, and cultural circles throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Many are asking how producers make an entire work about Omar, who according to Islamic norm, cannot be shown on

46

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Iranian sensitivities Politically, the upcoming TV series (earmarked for the summer of 2011) will undoubtedly enrage the Shiites of Iran, who hold very negative views of Omar and his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. Shiites claim that the two men hoarded the caliphate for themselves after Prophet’s death in 632, threatening to assault and burn down the house of his daughter Fatima (wife of Ali) if she did not endorse Abu Bakr’s caliphate. Omar’s assassination at the age of 58 in 644 is another controversial juncture that the TV series will have to deal with, since he was stabbed at the mosque in Medina by a Persian (Abu Lu’lua) in revenge for his invasion and occupation of the Persian Empire (present-day Iran). His son, Ubaidullah Bin Omar, pledged to kill all the Persians in Medina in revenge—and actually managed to hunt down accomplices of the man who killed his father. Earlier this year, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered that Iranian media and culture refrain from insulting anyone who had been close to the Prophet. Theoretically, this applies to Omar who accompanied Moham-

mad for 16-years, during all his wars, and both within Mecca and Medina. Centuries of indoctrination against the Caliph (who Sunnis call Prince of Believers) will undoubtedly prevent hardliners in Iran from being quiet about Omar revisiting them next Ramadan—made all the more notorious, perhaps, thanks to Saudi and Qatari funding of the TV drama

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Highlights in the Life of Caliph Omar 1. Officials under his reign were required to come to Mecca during the annual pilgrimage where people were free to present complaints against them. 2. Omar paid high salaries to his staff—up to 7,000 dirhams annually—in order to minimize chances of corruption. 3. Omar was the first to introduce the public ministry system, where records of officials and soldiers were kept. 4. He was the first to appoint police forces to keep civil order. 5. He was the first to discipline the people when they became disordered. 6. He was the first to order a census of all Muslim territories. 7. He issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well in the Muslim Empire 8. Omar was founder of Fiqh, the Islamic jurisprudence. 9. He established Bayt al-Mal in 641, for annual allowances to Muslims. 10. In 639, his fourth year as Caliph and the seventeenth year since Hijra, he declared that the Islamic calendar should be counted from the day of the Hijra of Mohammad from Mecca to Medina. 11. During the Great Famine, he froze implementation of Quranic verses related to cutting a thieves’ hand if caught stealing and exempted poverty-stricken citizens from paying the zakat for 3-years 12. 4050 cities came under Muslim rule under Omar’s reign, scattered across Syria, Egypt, Libya, Anatolia, Persia, Armenia, and the Caucasus


Looking Forward

Face of the Future: Ghazal Tabbal Senior projects coordinator for SYEA Ventures (Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association) at just 25, Tabbal – an English Literature graduate from Damascus University with no former experience - is as a promising authority in capacity building in Syria. be targeting different demographics. I was considering women empowerment, as women aren’t accepted in society as equals. Even if a woman proves herself in the labor force she will not be accepted as an equal; women are underestimated even though they could be equal and more. We need to raise awareness, and that is one of the key issues I’ve learned.

Photo by Carole al-Farah

Throughout your experience, what are the challenges facing NGOs working in Syria? In SYEA, we work through training and sponsoring projects, and one of the obstacles we face all the time is people’s fear of divulging their ideas, worried they might be plagiarized. People don’t understand the role of NGOs; they think all organizations are out for material gain. The next big problem would be the lack of qualified staff in the Syrian labor market, though with our training schemes we are slowly tackling these issues and this is enabling us to branch and spread more in the region, to connect and cover all cities and municipalities.

How did you reach your position at such a young age? I wanted to work before graduating, so I enrolled in an internship at the UNDP for four months where I was trained in capacity development. After that I started working with SYEA because their mission statement and vision are unlimited, which I thought would enable me to learn and develop, and go up in ranks fast – and that turned up to be true. I was promoted after just four months, then again after 48

November 2010

three months. How did working for SYEA and the rapid ascension in its ranks affect you? It definitely taught me a lot, and helped me learn a lot and mature more. I’m connected to SYEA, to its goals and projects, and I would love to leave a personal print. And now through its influence, I personally wish to have my own project to help with awareness and empowerment – though I’d

Your passion for your work, and your performance skills, what do you attribute those to? I couldn’t have made it without the support of my family. We are four girls and I am the first one to work, and that has only been possible through the encouragement of my family, I owe them everything. While professionally, my thanks go to Michel Arcouche, director of SYEA Ventures, and Abdulsalam Haykal, who both taught me a lot. What would you advise those who would want to work with NGOs? I would tell them that they should only work for an NGO if they believe in its goals. Working for an NGO is different than holding a regular job, you must feel like you're affecting a positive change to be able to continue

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Inside:

FORWARD

THE you a talented photographer? Publish your photos with Forward Shabab CREATIVE PLATFORM FOR YOUNG SYRIANS

Photo by Rami Skeif

Are

SHABAB

No relation between heavy metal suicide, devil worship, baby killing, rape or church-burning has been recorded in Syria

Rami Skeif, 34, is a Syrian pharmacologist trained at the American University of Beirut and in Jordan, who has an appetite for photography. This photo was taken at sunset in the port city of Tartous on the Syrian coast. Photo details: Model: SONY DSC-H7. Shutter Speed: 10/5000 sec. Exposure: Normal Program. F-Stop: f/4.5 ISO Speed: 100.

Are you a talented photographer?

Would you like to see your professional photo in Forward Magazine (and on Forward Shabab’s cover)? Send us your high-resolution photos with a photo-caption at forwardshabab@haykal.com. The photos can be of any topic you desire, granted that the photo is pro.

Inside... » Heavy metal fans defend their identity

» Poem: Had I known

September 2010 49


SHABAB I don't worship Satan FORWARD

I just like to rock!

By Rawad Abdel Massih 50

November 2010

I’ve been trying to get a Swedish hard rock band to Syria and you can’t understand what kind of formalities I’ve been going through, Eventually, the project was rejected by authorities fearing “devil worship!" In 1995 a kid in Lebanon took using his father's - a Lebanese army official – gun. Rather than looking to his parents to blame, the Lebanese cops went to the shop who used to sell him cassettes and destroyed the place. From then on the heavy metal/suicide and Satanism link has been ingrained in the Lebanese ,Syrian and ME media. Sensationalist headlines like ”who killed the 17 year old boy? The devil of hard rock in Lebanon!” were used - all of course linked to the completely unconnected suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994. In the late 1990’s Hala Sarhan dedicated four episodes of its ART program to “expose the evils of heavy metal,” when it was asked by a journalist of Rose Alyoussef: "why do you think young men listen to Savatage, Sepultura, Pink Floyd, Metallica?” she reposnded: "who are they?" Syria hopped on the fear bandwagon in the late 1990’s. Any guy wanting to hold a guitar faced problems before the concert even went ahead, even though no relation between heavy metal and any suicide or “devil worship, baby killing, rape or church burning has been recorded in Syria. We are a Syrian heavy metal band, we use in our lyrics stories for Saddalah Wannous and talk about the Palestinian cause, but still we can’t do concerts or sell our CDs because of this pervasive stereotype. Our new album was refused by all shops just because our logo contains a skull; an hourglass that has a baby on top and a skull at the bottom, meaning the more time runs the more life is consumed. Anyway, what’s wrong with a skull? Why don’t they remove it then from biology classes if it’s so evil? If heavy metal is so hellish why in Dubai, Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Brazil, Indonesia, India….and all of the western world allow heavy metal concerts just like any other kind of music? Why do heavy metal musicians get honored with major prizes throughout the world? Why did 60,000 people turn up to the Sonisphere metal festival in Turkey? Why did Iron Maiden’s audience in Rock in Rio festival in Brazil attract 250,000 people? Why did ART used Savatage’s "Can you Hear me Now" for one of its programs? And why did Syria TV use Joe Satariani’s music in its programs?


“Satanism” or “Devil worship” in heavy metal. When you talk about Satan or black magic in a song that doesn’t necessarily mean that you adapt this ideology. If you like writing stories about serial killers that doesn’t mean that you are a serial killer. Equally, if you write a song about a biblical story that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a devoted Christian. Candlemass’s Samaritan is a song that deals with the biblical story of the good Samaritan but when the band were asked if they consider themselves a Christian band they said: "no! It’s just a nice story." Heavy metal in Syria Heavy metal fans have existed in Syria since the 1980's and musicians like Jack Power band who covers 1970’s hard rock and heavy metal songs. The 1990’s saw a lot of cover bands like Urgent, Sphinx, Zodiac, Nuclear Dawn emerge . In the late 1990’s a band from Aleppo released few original tracks. It was only in 2003 when Nuclear Dawn released the first full length Syrian heavy metal album and in 2004 my band The Hourglass released our first album. Later Olive ,Absentation and Slumpark Correctional released albums or some original tracks. Still, cover bands who ,just like, struggle to get gigs. Each of us has his own private life and work that doesn’t want it to get affected by gossip and rumours. The heavy metal look Spikes, long hair, black t-shirts, sometimes make up, headbanging, loud music, and the rock fingers… I don’t remember historically who the

guy is that specified that men should have short hair and girls long hair, probably because he doesn’t exist. Many important male figures in history and religion had long hair. What’s the problem with a black t-shirt? Isn’t black the color of elegance? Don’t priests and nuns wear black? Doesn’t the groom wear black in his wedding? The connection between black and evil is medieval.

Had I known

"Rock fingers" ward off evil "Rock fingers" is a sign used by bands and fans of heavy metal, formed by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down with the thumb. This sign has different meanings in various cultures. In Stoker’s Dracula it was mentioned “he explained that it was a charm or guard against the evil eye.” Ronnie James Dio, considered one of the best vocalists ever in metal popularized the sign in metal. His Italian grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye. Dio began using the sign soon after joining Black Sabbath in 1979. The previous singer in the band, Ozzy Osbourne, was known for using the "peace" sign at concerts, raising the index and middle finger in the form of a V. Dio, in an attempt to connect with the fans, wanted to use a hand gesture but distance himself from Osbourne.. Explicit material It is true there is a lot of explicit violent and sexual material in metal and rock music. And in my opinion, again like movies, albums should be rated. But sex and violence are everywhere; the internet, in movies, in books and comics, in the schools with our kids. I’m not saying that all metal bands are angels, but bad people are everywhere.

Among the reforms the Governorate of Homs undertook in recent years, sculptures by Syrian artists were put cross the important places in the city. One included a hand raising the index and the small finger and holding a carved stone with ancient Syrian language with middle and third fingers and thumb. Clearly the same sign was used by an ancient Syrian people. Some silly people made a big issue about “the sign of the devil in the city of Homs” and the municipality removed the sculpture. Rawad Abdel Massih Born in 1980. Holds an Msc in Marketing. He works in solar and wind energy. He started learning guitar when he was 15 and formed heavy metal band The Hourglass in 2003. The band has released three albums.

Photo by Nabil Nijem

Heavy metal lyrics Rock n’ roll in general is rebellious music; we should not forget the 1960’s revolution that had a lot to do with stopping the Vietnam war. Rock music seeks change that’s why lyrics criticize. Lyrics in heavy metal can cover all issues and topics. It could deal with reality (war, pollution, relations, child abuse, drugs abuse, suicide, friendship, memories, true stories, personal stuff), or emotion. It could deal with spiritual issues (religion, faith/ atheism, ghosts, God/Satan. Heaven/hell, angels/demons, biblical stories or even history and myths (Odyssey, Alexander the Great, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, the Crusades.) In general, metal lyrics tends to play on the dark side of a story. Like the relation between light and shadow, you have to see both to get a full picture.

Asma Bitar Had I known that movie was our last I would have carved its title in my past But time betrayed us, days and months have passed That memory faded.. it faded fast Had I known that was the very last kiss I would have never let go of your lips Never let that smell of yours fade, and this.. This taste of yours that I will always miss Had I known today we would be apart I would never have let my dearest heart Love you that much, not even a small part But I love you.. always have, always will. A gap in my life will, forever, still Exist, that only you could ever fill. November 2010 51


Inside:

The caretaker will point out the stone tongue of the earth's gaping mouth, frozen in open dreadfulness

Advisor

FORWARD

Damascene Things

Leisure

Forward Organizer

Photos by John Wreford

Places to go

Where the earth screams in horror Your calves won't thank you. But a visit to the site of man's downfall is rich and rewarding...if not a little morbid. On the top of the Mount Kassioun's second, eastern peak, is a small and lonely mosque. Inside that small and lonely mosque is a cave. Inside the cave is a very heavy rock. A rock that has a very bloody history. From central Damascus, our taxi driver stops where the steep incline

begins and shouts out to the teenage driver of a passing pickup – an elaborately decorated Toyota 4.x4’s narrow enough to continue up the mountain. The driver – on his vegetable drop off route, motions for us to climb on the tray. Soon we are ricketing along a steep

incline, winding through the back streets of Muhajrin and Ruq-neddine. The houses are grouped closer here, the streets too narrow for regular cars. Washing hangs from windows and from electrical wires strung haphazardly across the cobbles streets. The blaring horns of Damascus traffic November 2010 53


Forward advisor Advisor

Forward Organizer... Art and Culture Walls of Damascus Photographic exhibition with works by German artist Monika Spahl. Goethe-Institut Damascus gallery 1-28 November Malja of the Qeshleh, The Finnish Embassy Exhibition Al-Eshleh Gallery, Shelter 7- 15 November sinks below us giving way to the specific voices, doorway conversations and the shout of a children’s football game. Eventually the road reaches a gradient threshold making even expert driving impossible. The driver helps us from the tray and motions with his fingers that we walk from here. ‘’Up up, up’’ he says, pointing to the peak where a green-blue dome is just visible. That’s where we are headed. As the last of the mud brick houses the mountain opens up before us and our path becomes clear. A blue handrail zigzags stark against the sepia rock face for what looks like at least a kilometer. We begin the uneven climb; a small step with the left foot and a lunge with the right, the steps too long for a comfortable momentum. As we round the first bend, we are already panting and sweating. Conversation stops in a combination of dread and determination to reach the distant white building on the peak. Up, up, up, Damascus is seen from a new angle. The view is spectacular. Square grids of rooftops look mazelike, growing satellite dishes like cacti, and diving swallows chirp and circle around us. We collapse when we reach the mosque and for ten minutes sit watching the skyline when a young man, caretaker and grandson of the man who built the mosque, shows us inside. The mosque is built close to the site known as Maqam Aarbain "The Stop of the Forty", allegedly the place where 54

November 2010

the first murder was committed it is also one of only three places where it is said that all forty prophets revered by all monotheistic faiths have prayed. At Magarat Ad-Dam, "The Cave of the Blood", the legend goes, that Cain, the first son of Adam, did smite his brother Abel in a competitive rage, causing the earth to split open in a scream of horror. The caretaker will point out the stone tongue of the earth's gaping mouth, frozen in open dreadfulness. The cave itself is divided into two parts: the hall of worship and the smaller cave where you can press your hand into the imprint of that of the archangel Gabriel, who held up the collapsing mountain to carry Abel's body from the cave to its nearby resting place. From the cave ceiling, the mountain still weeps "tears", which some believe heal ocular diseases. To really get a sense of the gruesome crime, visitors are invited to pick up the death stone, to feel the density of a stone used to crush the skull of a man. How much is legend and how much is truth, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. But this is not a place for skepticism. It's a place to take from and build on your own set of beliefs, or simply enjoy the complexity of others. As the caretaker tells us: "I have come up here every day for at least a couple of hours for the last 20 years." "To pray?" I inquire "No," he laughs, "This is where I like to practice Tai-chi."

The 18th International Damascus Film Festival Various locations 7 - 13 November Al Moured workshop Mustafa Ali Gallery 1-2 November 9am-7pm Houmam Al Sayed Exhibition of contemporary paintings by Syrian artist Houmam Al Sayed Ninar art Café 7 November – 6 December Studio Osep by Tayfun Serttas Exhibition about Osep Minasoglu, one of the oldest living studio portrait photographers of Istanbul. Delfin Foundation 10 November - 10 December Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm Tayfun Serttas Artist talk and video screening Delfin foundation 16 November 9pm-10:30pm rsvp required to: rsvp@delfinafoundation.com British Council’s Creative Culture Economy Master class on Audience development by Sarah Boiling Dar al-Assad Opera House 8 November 11am-1pm


15th Damascus Theatre Festival Dar al-Assad Opera House 28-30 November Tango and folklore Week Argentina by singer, guitarist Ju'n Fal, singer Jorge Guillermo accordian player Orlando Trojillo and pianist Pablo Valle and dancers Dar al-Assad Opera House 23 – 25 November 8pm "Love without Wings" Theatre and marionette performance from Houda Al-Khatib Dar al-Assad Opera House hall 23-25 November 8:30pm “The night was long at the embassy’s door” Drama directed by Nidal Al Achkar in cooperation with Al-Madina Theatre Dar al-Assad Opera House, Drama Theatre 26 - 27 November 8pm Brahms Symphony no.4 Symphonic National Syrian Orchestra will perform a programme including Beethoven Egmont Overture, Puccini aria from Edgar, Rossini Figaro's aria and Brahms Symphony no. 4, with baritone Iyad Dwaier Ebla Conference Hall By invitation only 11 November 8.30pm

Trade Damascus International Fair of Doors and Windows Damascus Fairground 2-11 November Damascus Communication and Information Technology Expo Damascus Fairground 11-15 November

lectures “The responsibility of a scientist towards his society” Lecture by leading microbiologist in former East Germany Prof. Dr. Jens in German with translation into Arabic. 2 November 7pm

2nd International Conference in Food Industries and Biotechnology Homs University, Syria 1-3 November

Youth and Heritage Mobile multimedia exhibits (in buses), where youth express their vision of their cultures at three locations:

13th International Healthcare and Medical Exhibition Local and international medical and pharmaceutical companies ehibit the latest in health and medical technology and findings. Yaman Land Aleppo 4-7 November

The Sweida Exhibit Location: Shahba Near al-Qulaiba 6 – 12 November

2nd Syria Lab Expo Latest scientific innovations and technologies on display, products testing and quality check techniques. Yaman Land Aleppo 4-7 November 5th Dentalcare Expo International dental and laboratory equipment exhibition 4-7 November Yaman Land - Aleppo Discover Sarouja Guided historical tour through the avenues and alleys of Sarouja Souk Sarouja 6 November 4pm

The Palmyra Exhibit Deir Atieh, Kalamoon University 6 – 12 November Both Exhibits The National Museum Damascus 30-31 November FOCUS SYRIA lecture series: Ulrich Malisius, the gtz-manager of the Urban Development Program for the Rehabilitation of the Old City of Damascus present the results of past projects and will give an outlook into future projects. In German with translation into Arabic 24 November 7pm Goethe-Institut Damascus hall

To list your event in Forward Organizer, email an explanation of the event in under 100 words, inlcluding dates, times, location and price, to organizer@haykal.com November 2010 55


The last word

A butterfly flaps its wings in Aleppo and a storm brews in a teacup Tongues are wagging in the Syrian art world after a dramatic melee erupted at the International Women’s Art Festival in Aleppo last month. Guests to the opening night were left stunned when they were treated to an impromptu performance by Mexican born, New York based photographic and installation artist Erika Harrsch, who staged a protest in response to the last minute “censorship” of her photographic series “Imago.” The works – six large-scale photographs of butterflies fused with photographs of female genitalia – were created in 2006 and featured as part of an installation work, “Eros Thanatos” which was presented at the Houston FotoFest Biennale and the Centre d’Art Contemporain du Luxemborg belge, among others. The event, organized by Syrian arts giant and director of Le Pont Gallery in Aleppo, Issa Touma is now in its eighth year. Touma, has been credited with successfully pushing arts and culture in Aleppo and Syria through the hugely popular evnt and deserves a hats off for opening up the arts scene in Aleppo, utilising previously unused public spaces such as the old electricity building and generally breaking frontiers. His exhibits and festivals, it must be added, are not strangers to controversy. As the festival has grown in prestige, so has interest from stakeholders and all important fundraisers, who help to escalate the event profile, scale and venues. This year, Touma attracted the assistance from four prominent societal female personalities, who it seems had some role in the events that unfolded on the night. The facts are these: Harrsch was invited several times by Touma to take part in the event, but denied, citing fears the works would be too controversial. Touma told Harrsch this year the time was ripe. Prior to the event, concerns were raised about the explicit images, and only discreet prints of the butterly-vaginas appeared in the catalogue. On arrival to Syria, Harrsch was given the opportunity to exhibit in Touma’s personal gallery, Le Pont, only but claims she was comfortable with assurances there would be no problem. One hour before the opening, Harrsch 56

November 2010

received a phonecall from Touma informing her the prints (worth $6000 a piece, and all sold) had been taken from the walls, their whereabouts unknown. Harrsch panicked. She arrived at the gallery to confront Touma and the fundraising women, demanding her works be returned. Denials were issued, and in dramatic fashion, as guests arrived to the opening, Harrsch began nailing miniature promotional prints of her butterflies to the walls, accompanied with a sign reading: “This artwork has been censored and removed.” In a murder-on-stage moment, guests applauded as they watched an increasingly hysterical Harrsch demand her artworks be returned, in the belief she was a performance artist. Here events become unclear. Harrsch, claiming her expensive works had been illegally “stolen” on order of governorate authorities, continued her demands and began to record the conversations with various governorate officials on her iphone, threatening to broadcast details of “the theft” live online. “I was afraid and I wanted my works back,” she said. In the end the works were returned, thankfully undamaged, and subsequently displayed at Le Pont. As opening nights go, it might be considered a PR disaster. Or was it? Rumour has it Harrsch has since attracted interest for solo exhibits from other notable regional galleries, while Touma’s reputation for the unconventional has increased. But the event has left others in the arts community sour. As one promininent arts personality put it: “We’ve worked really hard to open up the arts scene in Aleppo and this kind of thing, biting the hand that feeds us, sets us back ten paces.” “Basically, if the work is important enough, then there is an interest in pushing boundaries, but in this case it was provocation for the sake of provocation... it was childish.” What exactly constitutes valid or important art is an eternal and frankly tiresome debate. It is true that historically important progress has been born of controversy and at times offence. But it is unlikely there will ever be a consensus on whether Harrsch’s particular concep-

Photo by Eyad Mallouhi

By Lauren Williams

tual and carefully researched analysis of migration, female sexual identity and maturity has that kind of valuable role in an Aleppo today. Touma maintains he believed it was safe to show the works “I felt that in the last year something had changed in Aleppo...I never expected this would happen,” he told me. “I’m not looking to get involved in political antics – if I had, I would have shown the works in 2004.” But tellingly: “I look for art that is crazy, wonderful, beautiful and shocking,” “Good art makes people happy or angry and when we cross red lines and have a debate, that’s the first step to a healthy artistic experience.” Those who ordered the removal have since publicly said their decision was to “protect the National interest.” National interest is the most often quoted reason for censorship in Syria and indeed around the world, and in the questions of national security and personal safety, it has a rightful place. But in art, according to Touma, “National identity has no place.” “Opening the borders will help the Syrian artistic National identity more than those who claim they are protecting it,” he said. Perhaps setting clear lines in art, as in literature, political discussion and internet in Syria may go some way to avoid a repeat of this kind of mishap, rather than leaving decision-making subject to the personal tastes of a select few. Sadly, lost in the brou-ha-ha were truly valuable and important messages from other worthy artists, one of whom, here at least, deserves a special mention; Hengameh Golestan who photographed women on the first day the veil was introduced after the 1979 Iranian Revolution was powerful documentation of true cultural and historical value for women still. And this in the name of progress

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Lauren Williams is an Australian journalist and new Managing Editor of Forward Magazine


Forward Syria - November 2010  

Forward Syria - November 2010

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