Buy Shares in the Syrian Dream

By Abdulsalam Haykal, for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The original article can be viewed at

I spent summers as a young boy in Damascus, while my fellow Syrians were flocking to my coastal hometown of Tartous to savor the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the heat of Damascus, my summers there were always special.

The Damascene diversity was riveting. Every Friday morning, my grandfather let me tag along during his weekend ritual of shopping for antiques. We would stroll along Medhat Pasha, better known as the biblical Straight Street, moving slowly from one shop to another, eyeing the colored-glass vases, rubbing smooth brass plates and ogling intricate pearl-inlay chests.

Grandpa and I laughed a lot as we shopped for antiques. Some of our biggest belly laughs were with Jamil, an elderly Syrian Jew whose shop was near the Al-Efranj Synagogue, an active place of worship even today. We would stop by the monumental Umayyad Mosque, where the faithful gathered for Friday noon prayers. Inside the mosque, Grandpa once lifted me up to peer through the bars of a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist, known to Muslims as the Prophet Yahya.

My grandfather, Faisal Sabbagh, loved Damascus’s history. But he was not stuck in the past. When he was not out searching for antiques, Grandpa was a neurosurgeon who had trained at Columbia University and later established Damascus University’s neurosurgery department in 1949. The generations of medical doctors he taught still remember him as their role model.

My other grandfather is still vibrant at 93. A celebrated entrepreneur and a long-time community leader, I’m proud to be his namesake. He articulates his wisdom through witty poetry and fascinating stories, looking down at the prevailing patronizing attitudes. He teases my father about his passion for high-tech photography. Grandpa bought his first camera in France in the late 1920s, long before the era of digital cameras, and took photos of the National Boy Scouts, which he led in Tartous. He rejoices in his memories of the Scouts demonstrating against the French occupation more than 75 years ago, reminding me that all adversity comes to an end sooner or later.

Talk to young Syrians today and you will find that they often have similar family tales of history, tradition, resistance and innovation. Many have roots in far-flung corners of the world. Similarly, people around the globe can trace their roots to Syria, which was considered by some to be the geographic centre of the world, as well as the heart of the historic Silk Road connecting the Asian continent to Europe.

Many visitors confess that they feel “at home” in Damascus. That sense of belonging is due to an amusing anomaly: any visitor can find a Syrian who looks like them! We are a blend of cultures that triumphed over our ethnic and religious identities to form one nation. Yes, we have a distinct Arab identity and a rich Islamic culture. But we also have a powerful Christian heritage, a Mediterranean character, and a proximity to Europe.

Syria and its capital, Damascus, are sometimes themselves thought of as antiquities, remnants of an illustrious civilization that never quite made it to the present. But for the thousands of us born in the 1960s and 1970s, Syria is a very different nation than even a decade ago. We often feel we have an unprecedented opportunity to flourish.  We are committed to the rebirth of the “Syrian Dream”, empowered by a distinct sense of belonging and sense of duty.

Syria is an ancient nation propelled by a new, technology-savvy generation of young entrepreneurs. We have a vision of what we can be and have set the course to implement it. Countless people in government, civil society, business and the quiet heroes among ordinary citizens work hard against all odds, as we seek to be makers—and not only seekers—of peace. In a world as unstable as ours today, it makes sense to buy shares in this Syrian Dream!

At a recent World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan, I, along with 200 young adults from around the world named as Young Global Leaders, shared our stories and plans for a better world. I had an opportunity to tell government officials, entrepreneurs and activists about the contemporary global perspective that now thrives in Syria, nurtured by a heritage that gives Syrians the confidence to advance into the 21st century.

At the Dead Sea, I also realized I was not just a proud citizen of Syria, but also a proud citizen of an ever-changing world–just as my grandfathers intended me to be.


* Abdulsalam Haykal is a Damascus-based media and technology entrepreneur and a social activist. In 2009, he was selected to be one of 200 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Haykal Media’s Forward Magazine launches Syria Banker ’09 guide

Launch of Syria Banker '09 at the Dedeman Hotel on August 2, 2009 (Sunday), by Haykal Media's Forward Magazine

Launch of Syria Banker '09 at the Dedeman Hotel on August 2, 2009 (Sunday), by Haykal Media's Forward Magazine

Damascus, (SANA) – Haykal Media launched on Sunday at Dedeman Hotel the Syrian Banker ’09 guide by Forward Magazine. The supplement provides services to the market and clients such as retail loans, loans for companies and commercial facilitation in order to help finance trade and industry.

The supplement also contains information on Syria, banking activity and economic changes. The guide is written in English by Syrian writers, in addition to interviews with Syrian economists.

AUGUST 02, 2009

H. Sabbagh


Syria Banker ’09: The new face of Syria’s economy

Syria Banker '09, Forward MagazineWhen our team of writers and editors started working on Syria Banker ’09 some 6 months ago, the preassure of producing a comprehensive guide on Syria’s new economic landscape  – and the role of private banks in changing the face of Syrian economy – was a great challange for all of us.

“While several banks around the world
have closed down in the wake of the
crisis, more banks are going to open
in Syria before the end of 2009. Since
private banks made their successful
comeback in 2004, after more than 40
years of absence, they have been working
very hard to provide comprehensive
services to the Syrian market. They
succeeded in many aspects, and failed
in others. All in all, their performance
was satisfactory to their shareholders.”

— excerpt from op-ed by Abdulsalam Haykal, CEO and group publisher of Haykal Media, mother company of Forward Magazine/Syria Banker ’09.

We started out with creating a thought map for the guide – we successfully released early August (as evident from a previous post) – by identifying what really needs to be emphasized. We decided for the guide to be hefty and rich we needed to have the following elements:

  • Interviews with pivotal policy makers whose vision and work is promising a great change for Syrian economy (Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, Finance Minister Mohammad Hussein, and Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh). These people are the ones with visions for opening up the Syrian market, drawing strategies to attract foreign investment and inacting laws to prevent money laundering.
  • Interviews with bankers and testimonies about their journey in the Syrian market… what challanges lie ahead, what’s been achieved and what is planned down the pipeline.
  • Inteviews with thinkers and economists who can analyze the current trends growing in Syria in commercial, corporate retail and Islamic banking.

By speaking to all of these people we covered every turf possible related to banking reforms in Syria, we also wrote up an interesting report about the financial landscape of all of the operating banks in Syria, with focus on the ones that are slated to open in the near future.

The people who have so far asked for copies of Syria Banker 09 include economists, entreprenuers and professionals who are interested in keeping up with their country’s fastest growing industry.

To order your copy inside and outside Syria

For more details on Syria Banker ’09…
Forward Magazine
PO Box 28, Damascus, Syria
T +963 (11) 2245200
F +963 (11) 2223465

To order online click here

 Text by Syria Banker ’09 editor, Ruba Saqr