Heavyweight Arab investor (ART TV’s Saleh Kamel) backs investment in Syria, asks for more reforms

Heavyweight Arab investor backs investment in Syria

ART TV’s Saleh Kamel asks for more reforms

 

Heavyweight Arab investor Saleh Kamel (owner of ART satellite channels) asks for more reforms in Syria. This is an exclusive photo by Forward Magazine-Syria (captured by Nabil Nijem)

 Exclusive English text  – by Forward Magazine, Syria

 

Speaking at the 13th Arab Businessmen and Investors Conference this week in Damascus, Saudi businessman Saleh Kamel raised eyebrows with what was described as a sharp and courageous speech, dealing with investment, red-tape, and corruption in Syria.

Kamel, owner of the popular ART TV, CEO and founder of Dallah al-Baraka Group, addressed President Bashar al-Assad directly in his speech,  saying: “When you came to power, I was among the optimists regarding what lay in store for Syria – a brighter future in all domains, especially economics.” The reasons for this optimism, he noted, still firmly stand, calling, nevertheless, on President Assad to initiate “an Economic Correction Movement that demolishes bureaucracy and dismantles its complexities!”

While praising Assad’s vision and intellectual acumen, Kamel noted there were several malpractices taking place on a regular basis, obstructing the work of investors coming to do business in Syria – “obstacles to which Syria shies away from, and which your aids do not report, in fear of you and for you.”

Kamel made it clear that a heavyweight investor like himself faces no such obstacles, “since if they close the doors before me, I simply, walk in through open windows. What is required is simplifying procedure for ordinary investors!”

Such systematic change will not happen, he warned, “only by passing strict legislation and firm bylaws.” It needs a strong will from the helm of power in Syria that trickles throughout the political command, all the way down to grassroots Syrians, “employees, executives, observers, and ordinary citizens.” Kamel added, “We need to transfer your beliefs and desires to all of those mentioned above. It is high time that different branches of the state catch up with your grand aspirations!” He pointed out in order to move forward, one must not have a situation in which “one wheel is working, while the rest are rusty.”

Tourism industry in Syria: Lagging behind?

Kamel then spoke of the historic and cultural value of Syria, with all its “God-sent endowments and gifts, abilities and privileges.” Syria was a country, he added, “envied by ill-wishers and coveted by the good-willed.” Why then, he asked, “was it lagging behind neighboring Lebanon when it came to tourism? The two countries, after all, share the same eco-space, yet not the same success story, given Lebanon’s flourishing tourism industry.”

 “What is difficult here is to change the mentality of people, transforming them from bureaucrats into tourism-makers, efficient at smiling before incoming visitors at Damascus Airport.” A tourism culture and industry, he added, were no less important than beautiful landscape and historical sites.

 Saleh Kamel floats the idea of starting a $20m company in Syria

Kamel then said that he has been involved in start-up companies that hunt for opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, and Sudan, worth $2 billion. From the pulpit of the Businessmen Conference, he sought permission to establish a similar company in Syria, with a capital of $20 million. He personally vowed to contribute 50% of the initial capital, along with partners from other Arab states, granted that “we find serious Syrian investors to cover the other half.” The objective of the new company, which he described as “Syria Opportunities” will be to find new investment opportunities in Syria, jumpstart pending or suffocating ones, and expanding existing successful companies. He wrapped up that he wouldn’t call such a project, “Adventure Capital” but rather, “Initiative Capital,” claiming that God created Man to construct the earth, “and construction only happens when there is initiative.” If there were adventure and risk in construction, he said, “Allah the All Aware would not have ordered us to do so!”

Saleh Kamel’s speech elicited strong applause from the conference audience, which has been estimated at 1,000 businessmen from Syria and the Arab world. The 13th Arab Businessmen and Investors Conference, held in Damascus on March 3-4, 2010 is organized by a variety of players including the Arab League and the Syrian Union of Chambers of Commerce. It is held under auspices of President Bashar al-Assad, who was represented at the event, by Prime Minister Mohammad Naji al-Otari.

* Text of Saleh Kamel’s speech was originally published in Arabic in the daily al-Watan, and translated into English with modification by Forward Magazine.

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