Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

 By Forward Magazine, Syria

The only woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla, Shaza Barakat, has been arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and taken to a prison within Israel. She happens to be the only Syrian woman among the hundreds of activists who were attacked by the IDF at 4 am on Monday, where 20 civilians were killed, 15 of whom were Turkish citizens.

Shaza, aged 45, was born in the northern city of Idlib in 1965. She is an amateur scriptwriter who currently works as manager of a computer systems academy in Damascus and had formerly served as an instructor of Arabic at the Pakistani International School of Damascus (PISOD). Shaza, a mother of three, dreams of writing a 30-episode drama about the life of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Her husband said that he had last spoken to her more than 24-hours ago, before the Freedom Flotilla was stormed by the IDF on May 31.

Forward Magazine calls for international solidarity with Shaza Barakat. She needs to be treated in a human and dignified manner, since she was illegally arrested by the Israelis, having committed no crime except help channel humanitarian aid to Gaza. She needs to be released from Israeli captivity and justice needs to be done to the thousands of those who were terrorized by the IDF earlier this week. Our prayers go out to the 20 civilians killed on Monday.

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…

Meet 4 Syrian expatriates who are …

– Influencing the online world (Yahoo!’s Bassel Ojjeh new 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)

Interview with Syrian entreprenuer Abdulsalam Haykal on ‘The Next Web’

Photo of Abdulsalam Haykal at a Transtek pavillion, Syria (posted on The Next Web)The Next Web blog, an international source of  news and views about the web, posted a recent interview with Syrian entrprenuer Abdulsalam Haykal. With sanctions on Syria getting a recent renewal by Obama’s administration, Haykal views sanctions “both as a blessing and a curse.”

He continues, “In entrepreneurship, the barrier to entry is a crucial factor. Sanctions make the barrier low because competition is less fierce. However, it gives you a cushion that might slow down innovation if all that a country or society seeks is self-sufficiency.”

“Sanctions can limit your access to resources, and your belonging to an international community of peers, and this limits the resourcefulness of a company.”

Haykal is CEO of Transtek, founder and CEO of Haykal Media (Forward Magazine’s mother company), and president and co-founder of SYEA (The Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association).

Carter v.s Forward Magazine: 1st Syrian media outlet to conduct an interview with a U.S President

Forward Magazine is the first Syrian media outlet to ever carry out an interview with an American president. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is the first American leader to speak to Syrian media – he spoke to Forward last month and broke many important news, including:

  • The appointment of a US ambassador to Syria is expected soon.

Jimmy Carter speaks to Syrian media outlet, Forwrad Magazine (1)

The 1st American president to give an interview to a Syrian media outlet…

Carter to Syria’s Forward Magazine: I’m carrying Assad’s good greetings to Obama

DAMASCUS (January, 2009) – Former American President Jimmy Carter said that Syria and the United States can expect there are “better times ahead” for their bilateral relations. In the first-ever interview for an American president with a Syrian media outlet, Carter told Forward Magazine, Syria’s first independent English monthly, Carter implied that the near future will see the return of the US ambassador to Damascus, filling a post that has been vacant since relations plummeted in 2005. Such a move will coincide with re-opening of the American school in Damascus, Carter said, in addition to reopening the American Language Center – both of which were closed by the Syrian government after US warplanes raided the Syrian town of Abu Kamal last October killing 8 civilians.

Speaking to Sami Moubayed, Forward’s editor in chief and Syria’s top political commentator, Carter confirmed that he “will be carrying some good greetings to the leaders of the new administration, through my meeting with President Assad.” During his visit to Syria, the fifth since 1983, Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as “popular among his people.” They discussed Syrian-American relations, in addition to regional developments in the Middle East, including the peace talks between Syria and Israel. Speaking of the involvement of the upcoming administration in Washington, Carter asserted that Obama cannot “put enough pressure on either Syria or Israel to yield on their basic principles.” He added, “My hope and my belief are that there are enough compatibilities between the two parties to reach a final agreement.”

The full text of this exclusive interview appears in the January 2009 issue of Forward Magazine (Syria).

Profile of a young photographer from Syria: Mais Shourbaji

Mais Shourbaji, Forward MagazineMais Shourbaji photography

Mais Shourbaji photographyMais Shourbaji photography

It doesn’t take one a long time to realize the young woman, holding her camera and getting busy searching for good angles, is a talented one. Born in 1983, Mais Shourbaji is one of Syria’s self-taught photographers; ready to snap a picture with great ingenuity and passion as long as she is in love with the experience.

Her regular office working hours – as executive assistant in a multi-national company – take up most of her day, but after 5pm every evening she is ready to change into casual dress and join her friends at concerts, Jazz festivals and the theatre. That’s where she fulfills her heart’s passion and spends many evenings taking snapshots of Syria’s buzzing cultural life.

Mais is popular, very active and has a lot to say about women in her country. She advocates freedom and adventure, two aspects that define her photography. Recently, she has taken part in a documentary to be released in the near future about the changing face of the Syrian society, the contradictions young women of today are facing, and the ambitions someone like Mais has.

Photo Passion

mais shourbaji

I met Mais last year, on one of
Music Matbakh‘s stops in the region. She was the photographer assigned to take photos of us while we performed at Qasr el Azem. I had the pleasure of meeting Mais again when I relocated into Damascus and joined Forward Magazine as its associate editor-in-chief.

The young woman with a lot of zest believes “success is to love what you do, to persist and never give up no matter what obstacles you face, and to keep on developing your skills in order to excel.”

That’s indeed an indication of a very driven person. But where did Mais get her inspirations from?

“My father is one of the most influential people in my life; he’s an artist, a cultivated and quiet man. He’s my friend… he hears me out and supports me in everything I do, at the same time he is a harsh critic who wants to see me stand out. My dad has a great role in shaping my personality; he helped me liberate myself from one-track mindedness and taught me to look at life from different angles with open mindedness.”

Mais photos on Flickr can be found here.

Writer: Ruba Saqr (associate editor-in-chief, Forward Magazine. Damascus, Syria)

VOTE NOW: Will Golan Heights return with Obama?

"What? Syria?"

How can you allow people, journalists, opinion writers, and decision makers from other nationalities, better understand Syria, to see the true fabric of this society, the different dimensions that this country has, the different kinds of attitudes, mentalities and opinions Syria harbors? The key is: Media & Communication.

Do you think Barack Obama’s Middle East policies will help restore the occupied Golan Heights to Syria?

To cast your vote, please visit . Go to the right-side column to visit our online Polling center.

Forward Magazine will be sharing the outcome with readers in our upcoming print edition (as well as on our website and blog). If you have extra comments you’d like to make about the matter, please do so here, and we will be quoting you in our article-in-the-making about The Golan Heights. We are conducting off-line surveys to complement the off line ones through different mediums.

Why vote?

Our magazine reaches crucial decision-making hubs around the country, the region, Europe and the USA. We believe the media machine elsewhere in the world has smeared Syria’s image for long. Many people (bloggers included) have a defeatist attitude towards an English-speaking magazine published in Syria. Some question English publications by saying things like: “Who will read an English Magazine? How many Syrians read English?”

"How charming? Is it Urdu?" "Huh?"

Aha, well.. The important thing is to have publications that talk to the World, with the same language, professional standards and commitment that other World publications have. Dubai, Amman, Beirut, Cairo (and most of the Arab capitals) have English publications dedicated for creating bridges with the world, communicating the country’s cultural, political and personal stance. Those countries have started with state-owned newspapers that come out in English, and then opened up the market for privately-owned English publications that helped create many mirrors through which the country is reflected. Many state-owned publications have succeeded in creating false images about their country portraying it as a democratic, economically brilliant states – when in reality it is Marshal-Law-ruled with collapsing economies – all because they have started to master the global media game. We, on the other hand, don’t plan to deceive, but to “communicate” and get Syria’s many voices heard.

Western Media

Syria is not one dimensional, it is not backwards, it’s not the tight-fisted, narrow-visioned country that the West portrays us as – in every single news piece about Syria. On the contrary, Syria has a generation of people with great potential, and very plausible achievements on so many fronts – the least of which are cultural. Syrians are misunderstood all over the world. There are world-adopted stereotypes about Syrians (and Syria) that we want to break, influence and change. You can help us get your views across by being part of the change we aspire to achieve. Yes, there are flaws, like everywhere else – local, personal flaws… Those don’t make us the monster that Western media likes to portray us as.

Syrian Flag UK Flag Here is an example of how one blogger’s website is getting Syrian views heard. Sasa, an active blogger, was recently quoted in the Telegraph (one of the major publications in the UK). Click here for more about “Syria News Wire makes it into the Telegraph.”

Wishing you all a good day.

"Can't hear you, dear!" "Excuse me? I don't understand what you're saying?" "What?"

Ruba Saqr (Associate editor-in-chief, Forward Magazine, Damascus, Syria)