4 Syrians arrested after the Flotilla Affair all released

By Forward Magazine

The four Syrians arrested by Israel for having been onboard the Turkish ship Marmara on Monday, have all been released from Israeli captivity and are now headed for Jordan where they will then leave to Syria.

They include: Shaza Barakat (45), Hasan Rifaii (43), Mohammad Salta (47) and Hilarion Capucci (88) the famous ex-Archbishop of Jerusalem who although Palestinian, holds Syrian nationality. This brings the saga of the Freedom Flotilla, which started last Monday, to an end although justice needs to be done to the 20 civilians killed onboard the ship, 15 of them being Turks, and the 50 others wounded.

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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.

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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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.

U.S. names Ford as its ambassador to Syria

This is the full text of a Statement by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, that Forward Magazine, and other media oulets in Syria, received a few days ago.

February 17, 2010

Good afternoon.  I am pleased to be back in Damascus.  I am here to convey President Obama’s continuing interest in building better relations with Syria based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.  Syria plays an important role in the Middle East and this is a moment in which both Syria and the United States, despite our differences, have a stake in exploring ways in which we might cooperate.

 I had quite productive and extensive discussions with President Assad.  We talked candidly about areas in which we disagree, but also identified areas of common ground on which we can build.  The White House announced yesterday that Robert Ford will be the next American ambassador to Syria if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  That is a clear sign – after five years without an American ambassador in Damascus – of America’s readiness to improve relations and to cooperate in the pursuit of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis with progress on all tracks of the peace process, and in the pursuit of regional peace and stability.

To deepen our dialogue as we move forward, Ambassador Dan Benjamin, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, will remain here for another day of meetings.  I have no illusions about the challenges on the road ahead, but my meeting with President Assad leaves me hopeful that we can make progress together in the interest of both of our countries. 

 Thank you very much.

William Burns

Avatar: A commentary on the Palestinian saga (Reading between the lines)

Avatar movie (2009) tells the story of Palestine, according to Syrian sales professional, Soud Atassi (Photo doctored by R. Saqr)

Reading between the lines of AVATAR

By Soud Atassi

AVATAR, for many, is just an American movie about war between the humans and some strange creatures that own a strange living forest that is full of life power. The movie shows us that the American army does not care about humanity, shedding light on how the bad decisions of the highest management of the world can ruin the innocents’ homes and history (American effrontery) and how deceived are the American people!

Why pay to watch such a movie when they can see it in front of their eyes, not in imagination, but for real:

Just look at the map,

Mark on Palestine.

Enjoy the movie!

Please go and watch AVATAR and consider that you are looking at a movie about the Palestinian people, whose tree and home have been uprooted –  just like the tree and homeland of the aliens in AVATAR!

Soud Atassi is the Group Sales Manager at Forward Magazine and Haykal Media

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.