Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship: Abdulsalam Haykal

The World Economic Forum named Abdulsalam Haykal (right) a Young Global Leader. (Photo source: America.gov)

An article was posted recently on America.gov website about Abdulsalam Haykal, CEO and Publisher of Haykal Media (and its subsidiary, Forward Magazine).

Titled, Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship, here is an excerpt of the article:

20 April 2010

Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship

Technology, publishing, business growth in Abdulsalam Haykal’s repertoire

This article is part of a series on delegates to the April 26–27 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

By M. Scott Bortot
Staff Writer

Washington — If Abdulsalam Haykal has his way, Syria someday will be known as a regional technology hub led by a dynamic work force.

The young Syrian entrepreneur is no ordinary businessman. Haykal works actively to improve Syria’s small-business growth while running Damascus-based software firm Transtek and Haykal Media publishing house.

Haykal is president of the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association and a founding trustee of the BIDAYA Foundation, two organizations dedicated to empowering aspiring business people in Syria. In recognition of his business development activities, the Obama administration has invited Haykal to attend the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship April 26-27 in Washington.

For the full text, click here.

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How commercial is celebrating Valentine’s Day in Damascus?

Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Damascus:

For Syrians, who like other nations aren’t safe from the hands of commercialism, the rituals of valentine start a month before Feb the 14th

 By Hamzeh Abu-Fakher

Staff Writer, Forward Magazine

It’s February and stores, restaurants and cafes are tearing down what’s left of their Christmas decorations and adorning their spaces in this month’s highlight festivity, symbols that suggest displays of love and affection for Valentine’s Day. Red ribbons, red hearts, cupids and flashing red lights alarm lovers Valentine’s Day is drawing nigh.

 In Damascus, those embarrassing soft toy hearts with smiley faces, arms and legs, ceramic hearts on springs and even steaks wrapped in ribbon and festooned in hearts are excused. Thinking about all this, people may wonder: What is Valentine?

Everybody knows it’s “Lover’s Day” named after the martyr Saint Valentine; but what significance does it hold? It can’t be actually categorized as a holiday, you still go to work on that day, yet people and businesses prepare weeks in advance for it, just forgetting it the next day.

Valentine’s Day means different things for different couples. For some it means candlelit dinners, long-stemmed roses and flower-scented bubble baths in heart-shaped Jacuzzis in countryside bed and breakfast hotels. For others it’s an excuse to drop thousands of liras at a restaurant you’ve both been dying to try all year but haven’t found the room for in your budget. Fanciful or practical, whether you subscribe to the ”Valentine’s Day is an invented holiday” school of thought or not, this special day is a chance to celebrate your relationship – old or young, long term or just getting started.

The 14th day of the second month marks a day in which lovers forget their disputes and shower each other with gifts; flowers, valentine cards, teddy bears, and sweets. Not preparing in advance for this occasion is blasphemous, especially if you are a guy! Many women consider Valentines a test of their partners love and commitment.

Valentines is the only day of the year when all couples are required to be happy in love. For singles however, the day and night can be rather depressing, but nothing a soppy DVD and tub of ice cream and crisps can’t fix. Although, statistics show that teen suicide rates hike around Valentine’s Day!

Commercially, after Christmas and New Year, Valentine is the next most profitable holiday globally. Handwritten love notes have been replaced with mass produced greeting cards, and in the USA, the Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion Valentine greeting cards are sent each year worldwide. Not forgetting credit cards bills, which are the new means of expressing love. The fatter the bill, the hotter the night’s reward.

For Syrians, who also aren’t safe from the hands of commercialism, the rituals of valentine start a month before Feb the 14th. Guys start calling their friends to ask for money; No “man” wants to be caught penniless in front of their girl friends on Valentine’s. Restaurants start preparations with decorations and special offers “For Families Only,” “No single men allowed.” 50 liras red roses magically gain an extra zero, turning to 500 liras. And finally, cell phone companies start spamming their customers with bulk messages, such as: “Send a message to #### with your partner’s name to join the ‘Lover’s Day competition’ or to ‘test your compatibility.’”

Perhaps being in love does improve the economy! Some say that “Love makes the World go around,” while others say “Money makes the World go around,” using simple mathematical logic, love = money!

Like with all special occasions, I think Valentine’s Day has lost some of its enchantment because it has been abused by those considering it a commercial opportunity. However, this day, if handled correctly and planned well, could prove to be an incredibly romantic day allowing you a chance to treat your significant other, and demonstrate how much you love her/him.

A home cooked dinner lit by candles, scents of aromatics and a massage could prove to be the sweetest and most romantic gift a lover could offer. No need to go buy all the red scrap that replaced the New Year’s and X-mass’ junk. Valentine is a special day for a couple to celebrate their love, alone, not with the whole world in restaurants like some love concentration camp.

It all depends on how you view it, you can either think that a rose is a dead flower, or a symbol of undying love. The same way this day could either be another commercialized occasion, or a romantic opportunity for lovebirds to get together and exchange words and actions about how they feel for one another. And in the end, if couples are happy together, everyday can be Valentine’s Day, while Valentine could be an even more extraordinary day.

Fun fact: In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, as the day is considered a non-Islamic holiday. In 2008, this ban created a black market of roses and wrapping paper.

Meet Bassel Ojjeh, the Syrian web wizard who just left Yahoo! – by flipping the magazine digitally

Are you proud to be Syrian? Well, you should be!

Flip through Forward Magazine’s January 2010 digital pages, using the latest in page-flipping technology…
http://anax8a.pressmart.com/forwardsyria/index.aspx

Meet 4 Syrian expatriates who are …

– Influencing the online world (Yahoo!’s Bassel Ojjeh new ArabCrunch.net sponsorship deal for entrepreneurs)

– Lobbying to change perceptions about Syrians and Arabs in the US (Helen Samhan – Arab American Institute Foundation)

– Leading the paper industry from his Vienna-base (Nabil Kuzbari)

– Proposing premium health care insurance for Syrian from her US experience (Rola Kaakeh)

Syrian students banned from using supercomputer at KAUST University in Saudi Arabia

Syrian Students banned in KSA, Abdulsalam Haykal, Forward MagazineSyrian students denied academic access to IBM supercomputer at KAUST due to US sanctions

  • Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) honors US political restrictions over internationally-set academic freedoms and integrity

Damascus (October, 2009) –  The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the new world-class research university in Saudi Arabia, has denied 15 students access to cutting-edge technology inside its premises due to sanctions against Syria.

Accordingly, KAUST’s breakthrough IBM supercomputer, called Shaheen (Arabic for falcon), will be allowed for all students from all nationalities except for Syrians. The Shaheen, one of 14-systems around the world and the largest in Asia by far, will be off-limits to Syrian students and researchers in what can be seen as a breach of academic freedom.

In a scoop editorial by Abdulsalam Haykal, CEO and publisher of Forward Magazine in Syria, the writer revealed: “It’s a shame that the 15 Syrian KAUST students are not allowed to use the Shaheen. Why? American sanctions had to be observed in the agreement between KAUST and IBM. Syrian students were told that it was not a KAUST decision, rather one that related to the state of affairs between the US and Syria.”

Haykal continued to say, “KAUST is then forced to bend to politics, and act against academic freedom.”

KAUST breach of academic integrity comes from the fact the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on several occasions that, “[A university] can determine for itself on academic grounds, who may teach, what may be taught, how it should be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”

Forward Magazine, Syria’s leading English monthly and an offshoot of Haykal Media, announced early October it will be lobbying in US and Saudi circles arguing against such “unacceptable academic discrimination.”

Buy Shares in the Syrian Dream

By Abdulsalam Haykal, for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The original article can be viewed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=26077&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0&isNew=1#.

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.

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* 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).

When Damascus is too hot and the day refuses to end

Damascus Weather 2009

In the cab an hour ago, we couldn’t help but recall the famous Syrian saying: “The doors of hell are wide open” (Bwab jhannam mfatta7a el youm shi?).

We had an interview with a young man for an article in July, and so we hopped into a yellow cab, which had all its windows wide open. As the cab drove off, it felt like sitting under a hair drier. The streets were obviously a layer of cheese melting over a cooking pot. You could see faint steam camouflaging vision as you looked out of the window.

Damascus was suntanning, maybe she’ still is… I can’t tell, since I’m sitting under my AC.

Compared to Dubai, here is a piece of Heaven. No matter how hard-staring the sun is in Damascus, it still is a breeze of fresh air compared to the Gulf. I still can afford wearing long-sleeved shirts without feeling that lingering sensation of suffocation.

But what’s interesting to observe is that… when it’s hot, time moves slowly, it seems. In the business of magazines and publishing, it is well known that the first few days of the month – after a hectic production period – feel very relaxed, in comparison to concentrated days of magazine creation. But today is particularly slow. Everyone in the office is working hard to finalize things here and there related to our media group (Haykal Media), but after hours of meetings, writing, going out to meet people, writing briefs, contacting people over the phone, organizing editorial matters…. Time is still swooning under the scotching Damascene sun. It’s not six yet!

That’s why I decided to commit the legitemate act of blogging… in hopes of letting a few more very heavy minutes pass without me further feeling the weight of Time. Writing this post took me less than 10 minutes, which is quite quite disappointing in light of the day’s circumstances 🙂

Syria’s daily news scoops on Twitter

Forward Magazine is now on Twitter, bringing Twitter-ers the latest news from Syria: Inside information and scoops you can’t find anywhere, stories from the homeland that only journalists have access to, untold stories from the nooks and crannies of Damascus and beyond.

Read Syria’s daily headlines on http://twitter.com/ForwardMagSyria

Syria now on Twitter

Syria scoops now on Twitter