Radio interview TONIGHT with Syria’s Sami Moubayed (Forward Magazine’s chief editor)

Sami Moubayed, Forward Magazine, BlogForward Magazine’s editor in chief, Dr. Sami Moubayed, will be guest interviewee at Radio Melody FM (97.9 fm) tonight at 10pm to talk about his career as university instructor, historian, writer and journalist. Moubayed, who is only 31 years old, has conquered many terrains on the media front and is considered one of the top political analysits of contemporary Syria. He wrote 4 books on Syria’s history (see links in this blog – right). The interview will take place during the popular Shabab Soorya radio program on Melody with young presenter Wassim Abdul Majeed.

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Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas: Cinema in Syria

 

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

How are we going to save the decrepit Syrian cinema industry?

I had intended this for a later post, but I got to thinking about it since so many coffee shops were being overrun by viewers of soccer matches. First, though, some background of the situation as I understand it. In the good old days we only hear about in magazines (like our March 2009 issue of Forward – go check it out!) and old people, movie theaters in Syria were pristine and attended by the echelons of our society, while our artists used the cinematic medium to excellence, expressing issues both deep and entertaining.

 

Somewhere along the line that all disappeared. Theaters became run down as the owners refused to spend the money on renovation, demanding only a pure profit from their continually worsening, decrepit show halls. Attendance was discouraged by the misguided, overzealous rants of the extremist elements within our religious communities, and those who would brave societal disapproval to watch a film were put off by the unsavory elements that came to frequent these run-down halls.

Meanwhile, as theater attendance dwindled, fewer and fewer directors were willing to brave the lack of an audience as well as the restrictive regulations set forth by the Syrian Cinema Organization. Turning more and more to television as an outlet for dramatic release, cinema all but disappeared from the Syrian horizon. Many lament this, but few have any ideas how to change this.

The problem, as I see it, is as follows: first, no one sees the theater as a legitimate arena to hold social functions in; two, because of this, none of the current or potential owners see cinemas as a lucrative investment, discouraging renovation or building projects for these theaters; finally, since directors can see they will have no money and no audience to do any of their projects, they simply won’t waste their time, and whatever cinemas are out there are showing films from abroad.

This is where all those soccer viewers come in. What might not be common knowledge is that, especially in North America, cinemas have a long history of broadcasting sports events (mostly wrestling, but some areas go to live broadcasts of American football games and other sports events). Therefore, broadcasting soccer matches, Olympic events, other sports, and even Bab al-Harra and similar TV programs on a large screen, with good picture and excellent surround sound, in an area with a concession stand only makes sense. Cafés and restaurants have benefitted from it; why shouldn’t cinemas?

As people become more familiar with the theater once again, and start scheduling their social schedule around these showings, owners may be enticed to compete in creating the best viewing space. Some tips from North America, once again; many making new theaters or renovating old ones are daunted by the traditional view of the cinema space as a huge hall with closely spaced seating. This does not need to be so. Many theaters abroad are no larger than a big café with a ceiling two stories high, and some have even created VIP viewing spaces, with comfortable chairs with side tables to hold treats bought at the snack bar.

Those saying that will increase cost of the ticket, in some areas this may be a positive. Remember those unsavory characters? Once cinemas are high brow again, they might shove off. That is also not to say that all theaters need to follow this model, but you must be able to cater to every taste, and these smaller viewing areas might be perfect for another idea from the world of theater abroad: Using the hall as a conference space. Business meetings requiring the best equipment for their power point presentations, private screenings of films on sensitive topics, conferences requiring audio visual finesse, and many other events can be held in theaters. It’s simply a matter of marketing and readjusting the image of the theater.

Now it is the turn of Syrian cinematic endeavors, and in this case, this will either require government aid or private philanthropy. As local directors are all TV-bound, and expatriate directors are simply not thinking along these lines, we need to create a draw to bring creative energies to the fore. What better way, then, than an annual international film contest, rewarding the winning project with a budget and a contract to make a film concerning Syria? I would stipulate that the film be a fiction piece, since we already excel in that regard, and since most documentaries stagnate a film contest as well as bring in low draws. Another rule should be that 70% of all production and acting staff be Syrian as well, allowing for an exchange of skills but further ensuring that it is a SYRIAN production.

The projects from the contest could be an excuse for huge red-carpet type premieres that would draw further attention to Syrian Cinema, and promote investment in other Syrian projects not involved with the contest.

Well, that is it for this installment. Remember, please contact us with your comments and thoughts about this doomed idea, and offer suggestions for future doomed ideas that we could look into and write about. Till next time!

The Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas: Parking in Damascus

Parking in SyriaIn what might become a regular feature of the blog, I start today with a suggestion that truly can only be described as doomed. Not because it’s a bad idea, mind you, I don’t think it is, and I’ve had some support. Simply put, it is doomed because no one will ever, ever take the initiative to put it into action, for a variety of reasons I’m sure you’ll be able to surmise yourselves, once I tell you what it is.

Some background: No one can be unaware of the parking dilemma in Syria. With the lowering of taxes and tariffs on imported cars, as well as the banking sector offering car loans to finance car purchases, the market and streets both flooded with automotive vehicles. Despite the high price of gas, everyone and their cousin got one, two, three cars in appreciation for the prices dropping so dramatically.

The one problem no one seemed to have anticipated was the fact that all these cars would need to go somewhere when no one was driving them. Since underground parking garages were outlawed until relatively recently as they posed a security risk, only a percentage of buildings offer their tenants indoor parking, leaving the streets the only available parking spaces.

As the previously famed wide streets of the new areas in Damascus got tighter and tighter due to all the parked cars, it was clear that regulation was in order. The government stepped up, making certain areas into paid parking only areas, and instructing police officers to ticket people who parked their cars on the sidewalks in some areas, and who even stopped their cars while they were still in it in others. This was all well and good, except for one extreme flaw: The government has offered us no alternative.

A definite air of outrage is in the city: if the sidewalks are off limits, streets are only going to get tighter, since we will all have to parallel park on the street itself. This may look more civilized (definitely so: I used to be mortified when I was in Canada and I would see newly arrived immigrants from the developing world try to park right on the green sod side walks of certain suburbs), but it is less space efficient, and does not take into account that now people need to park further and further away just to park at all.

As for ticketing people simply stopping in certain areas, the police have taken this to extremes, I believe. I have had to apologize to friends who dropped me off on the few occasions I go to the Forward distribution offices in Marjeh Square, as simply stopping to let me get out of the vehicle is all the provocation certain police officers need to swagger over and start registering the vehicle’s information.

So, this is my doomed suggestion, which I came up with while sitting in Costa Abu Rumaneh one day. There are certain government owned buildings that either serve no purpose, or are redundant within the same area. To me, I feel that since the Dar as-Salam and Adelah Bayham girl’s highschools are so close to the Sati’ al-Hassari school, that Sati’ can effectively be vacated and transformed into multi-level parking for the entire area. The government would make money off the project, selling hourly, daily, and monthly subscriptions. Resident’s of the area would finally have a place to put their car overnight, and since Abu Rumaneh is a bit of a restaurant district, people looking for a place to park their car will suddenly not have to walk millions and millions of miles to find a spot (I exaggerate only slightly: It really has become more efficient to simply walk or take a taxi to these restaurants).

The few objections I have been able to come up with for this scheme are: schools are already overcrowded, and the government may not have the funding for these kinds of projects. For the first, I only suggested Sati’ in this one case because it seems redundant in the area. It can be any old government building that is not being used to capacity or full efficiency. I also think that, if a lot of schools get torn down for this purpose, public schooling could be part of the decentralization happening in Damascus anyway. Perhaps the money gained from these parking garages could supplement the building of schools away from the downtown area, and children could be bussed there. The new building projects could be designed as schools to begin with, rather than converted residential buildings as they are now, and those about to complain that the bussing is inefficient probably don’t realize, or conveniently forget, that the students are already being bussed in to these schools. They’re already riding the bus, let them ride it away from the center of town.

As for the second, since the government already owns the buildings, and since they are already making money off the other Syria Park projects already in effect, I don’t see how that’s a valid argument. For the sake of not dismissing it completely, though, here is my solution: Bring in the private sector. The government can license these private companies for the projects, therefore maintaining control, and it could be a new avenue for investment for private businessmen, one that would serve an already established need.

Well that is it for the first installment of the Suggestion Box of Doomed Ideas. Let us know what you think of this one, and perhaps email your other doomed suggestions to the blog, and we’ll write up another installment.

World Economic Forum names Syrian entrepreneur as Young Global Leader

Abdulsalam Haykal, Syria, WEF  The Davos-based World Economic Forum (WEF) named a Syrian entrepreneur to be among 200 most distinguished young leaders in 2009. Abdulsalam Haykal, founder and CEO of Transtek Information Systems and Haykal Media, was selected as a Young Global Leader by WEF’s selection committee, composed of top media leaders and chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abullah of Jordan.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum said that Haykal’s nomination was “in recognition of [his] record of professional accomplishments, [his] commitment to society and [his] potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world through [his] inspiring leadership.” Schwab added that “the World Economic Forum is a true multi-stakeholder community of global decision-makers. Among the Forum communities, the Young Global Leaders represent the voice for the future and a catalyst for initiatives in the global public interest. As we currently face one of the most challenging times economically and socially, the Young Global Leaders are even more important in developing, designing and leading a world committed to positive change.”
Haykal, who is Forward Magazine’s publisher, said in a statement, “I’m very happy to have this honor bestowed on me by the World Economic Forum. It does not give recognition to me only, but to all the young men and women of Syria, who have taken upon themselves the commitment to lead their societies through serious and creative initiatives. Those are the ones who are leading the positive change, building on the country’s legacy as a principal contributor to the human civilization for thousands of years. They are courageous individuals that take charge in at this time of reform and transformation, and stand up for Syria’s historic role as a maker of peace and prosperity for the region and the world.”
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM SyriaNamed among 10 leaders from the Arab world, Haykal is considered to be one of Syria’s leading media and technology entrepreneurs. As president of the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association (SYEA), Haykal has been active in advancing new concepts in the business and society in Syria, including corporate social responsibility. Haykal advocates education as the most effective development vehicle in the Middle East; He is a trustee of the American University of Beirut, and of Kalamoon University in Syria, and founding board member of Tumouhi Scholarship Fund, an NGO. The list includes the CEOs of YouTube, Facebook, and Skype Technologies, in addition to Ferrari’s racecar driver Michael Schumacher, and 200 other leaders from government, NGOs, business, and academia in 71 countries.
“I don’t consider this honor as a tribute to my past work; it stands as a constant reminder of my commitment to my country’s young population, and to an economy based on free initiative, entrepreneurship, and fair reward to knowledge, creativity, and hard work,” Haykal said.