Commencement Speech at AUIS – 2017

Hello dear soon-to-be graduates, family members, hard workings teachers, mentors and loyal friends, the whole family of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. It is a huge, huge honor and a great pleasure to be with you today.

First of all, I want to offer you my sincerest congratulations. I know you’ve all been through a lot just to get to this point. Many sleepless nights and sacrifices that you wouldn’t want to repeat. And now you and your families are looking at the future and thinking about what’s next. It’s not easy, I know… But it’s exciting.

My name is Ricardo Karam. I am a Lebanese TV host and the founder of TAKREEM.
You are not going to believe me if I tell you that you are perhaps one of scariest audiences I’ve ever faced! In the great tradition of Graduation Commencement speeches, AUIS asked me to say a few words about myself. As a media personality who is constantly in the public eye, you might be surprised to learn I’m not used to talking about myself. In fact all of my work, energy and airtime goes into asking questions and getting other people to talk about themselves. We talk about their deepest motivations, their failures and achievements (in reality there are usually far more failures than achievements), what gets them up in the morning.

If it was possible I would go back in time and ask a few guests from my talk shows what advice they would give you. What would the successful Iraqis from my show Irakioune say to you? What would Refat Chadirji and Zaha Hadid have said if they were standing here today? What would Ghassan Atiyyah, Maath Alousi, Walid Kadduri, Azzam Alwash or Shwan Taha say? We could even speak to Danielle Mitterand who was so influential in shaping Kurdistan. I can tell you directly what Zaha told me. She said “the key to everything is education”. And that Education doesn’t stop when you finish classes: in her view the path to success comes from learning the hard lessons of life. But, equally importantly, and I must stress this: Don’t count your lessons. Count your blessings.

Before I go on, let me tell you more about where I’m coming from, who I am, and what drives my path and choices. I am a believer and I believe in the fact that I am going to make it. I always depended on myself so I had to make it. Maybe the tough start I had in life helped me get where I am today. And it’s why I’m standing here with you.
Like some of you, I lost my father before I was born.
I used to look at the sky in the night, trying to spot my father among the stars until I lost hope. If this is you, or you have faced great personal tragedy and loss, have courage in yourself for you know the true value of life. And remember that healing does not mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives. Don’t let this loss define your own sense of possibility and your future. You have a very precious future.

My own story begins in the war in Lebanon. All my childhood and teen years,I lived the war. When the war started I was 5 years old. Everything was about destruction. We witnessed terrible things. We moved houses many times. Each time we moved I lost all my toys, albums, books and … memories. Everything was stolen. But I had a dream even though I didn’t know what that dream was.
I was so fond of music. I used to spend all my pocket money buying LPs (there were no CDs at that time).

Then, during University it was still the war. We used to cross from the East to the West of Beirut to go to the American University. I remember the fear: every day we were so scared to make this journey. But making this journey made me who I am. For my first degree I graduated in Chemical Engineering (it’s hard to believe isn’t it?!) but what I took with me from AUB was the wider value of education: discipline, curiosity, a strong work ethic, an open mind and an openness to others.
These values shaped who I am today. It is because of these values we share that I feel so at home with you now. This style of education is the backbone of the region. The American Universities in the Middle East have launched some of our greatest talent. It’s this education that has enabled me to engage with a wide cross-section of Society from billionaires to the poorest and some of the most disadvantaged people across the world. In fact I engage with individuals in all 4 corners of the globe. And in Lebanon, like you have here, we have always had many different communities coming from the outside who we have had to learn to live with. I hope you are as proud of your democratic roots as I am.

When I graduated from AUB in 1991 – I later did a Masters in Business Administration – the war in Lebanon had just finished. We knew nothing about what a country should be. We just wanted a normal life like the ones we used to see in the movies. We were starting from scratch. And at that time I had nothing. But I was rich in curiosity and ambition. I started exploring: attending conferences, joining exhibitions, and going to concerts. I bought books and started reading a lot. I had to reinvent myself.
I started teaching myself about politics and reading all the different newspapers every day. There was so much to do. And I did it, alone.
“Never underestimate the power of thought; it is the greatest path to discovery”.

I wanted to be different; it has always been my motto. My first job in the media was being a broadcaster on a French radio station. I was 18 years old. With my French crooner accent, I have invaded homes of men and women in Lebanon and I loved it. I loved talking live to people, igniting virtual friendships, sharing the happiness, the sadness, the loneliness, the successes or even the failures of the listeners. My voice became afterwards a trademark for the TVCs or advertising and I adored doing them.
Unexpectedly, I had an offer to work on TV and to present a weekly show. Me? TV? There was nothing either compelling or appealing on traditional and public TV. But I was cornered and I said yes.
The beginnings were ridiculous. I had to work a lot on myself. I loved the contact with people and did I practically everything you can do in TV. I worked on sets with props, I learnt to edit, I got involved with sound and lighting, production and I have been behind and in front of the camera.
My journey in TV was not an easy one. Many people attempted to stop me from climbing the ladder. From secret services to colleagues, from the critics to politicians, even the head of the TV channels were against me. Jealousy is a major opponent to anyone’s success. However, I never looked on that. Nelson Mandela once said “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”. I followed his advice.

During my 25 years on TV, I was able to host the movers and shakers, the thinkers and doers of the world on my own TV shows. My TV shows have always been independent. I’ve had to stand tall. This is very tough in a climate where most TV stations are fuelled by political money and big businesses. I have done this by working very hard to develop exceptionally high quality content. In an environment where quality is vanishing, I had to combat stereotypes and impose in-depth programs.
Today, I sit on major worldwide panels; I give conferences and talks all over the world to empower people, to stimulate the youth, to motivate them to go onward and never give up whatever the obstacles are.

My mission in life is to make the future generations proud and hopeful for their future. In my TV work the underlying agenda of the shows is always to reject negativity and inspire hope among viewers.
Consider the past several decades of news coming out of this part of the world: war, strife, sectarianism, tribalism and extremism. This constant negative news stream stifles hopes and encourages nihilism, which is why offering a counter-narrative is so important.

The idea for TAKREEM came from my TV shows. I have done shows with some of the world’s biggest names – Luciano Pavarotti, Bill Gates, the Dalai Lama, Paolo Celho, Andre Agassi….as well as remarkable middle eastern personalities. The public discovered with me the real personalities of Zaha Hadid, Carlos Ghosn, Nicolas Hayek, Tom Barrak and many more.
But I’ve always wanted to spot talent and feature unsung heroes who are not known to the public. Through my work in the media I have a unique opportunity to shine a spotlight on individuals who are doing great things. TAKREEM was a vehicle to do this at a socially driven level. One of our main missions is to fight negative stereotypes and show people we are capable of great things. We launched TAKREEM 8 years ago and today it’s more important than ever to promote role models – and give young people something to aspire to.

We do this through an Awards platform. We honour individuals and organisations that are setting the highest standards in Medical and Scientific research, women and men pursuing excellence in Education, in Humanitarian work, as Leaders in the Corporate world, as pioneers in the Arts and as budding entrepreneurs. We have 9 different Award categories which we give out every year at different city. Last year, the Award Ceremony was held in Egypt. This year we shall be in Jordan. And one day, I would love to celebrate those successes in your beautiful country. We want to recognise and promote great work, give people the respect and appreciation they deserve. We show to the world the extraordinary talent, vision and quality of output in every different sector in our world.

We do this in order to turn negatives into positives.

We need to be our own role models. At some point in my life I had a choice. I made a decision to remain in my country and perhaps give up some opportunities for the purpose of bringing knowledge, economic growth, and social change back to the communities of the Arab world where I come from.

What I want to tell you is that you do not need to go abroad to succeed. There are exceptional opportunities here where there is a lot to do. While you create your own future, you have the opportunity to shape the future of Kurdistan and the region. Here you can make an impact you would never be able to in the West or elsewhere. With your education you have all the right tools at your disposal. And in whatever you choose to do, wherever you do it, you can make a positive difference simply by living your values.
The values espoused by your University, your future Alma Mater – good citizenship, personal integrity and the ability to communicate and listen to others – together have a wider ripple effect than you can possibly imagine. We are all interconnected. How you live, how you behave, how you treat others has a direct influence in shaping the communities around you and the quality of life you are able to experience for yourself. Life is all about relationships and friendships. So watch out how you use those selfies and pics of your friends here today!
I want to invite you to reflect on the words of another very modern talk show host, Ellen de Generes. Ellen says “Success is to live your life with integrity and to not give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not. Success is to be honest and to contribute in some way … Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. Then by all means you should follow that.”
My final message to you is: be the change you want to see and have fun with it. I wish you all a lot of fun.

…وداعاً ايفو بيتانغي… عراب الجراحة التجميلية

…خلال مسيرتي، أتيحت لي الفرصة لمحاورةالبرازيليين الثلاث الأكثر شهرةً قاطبةً إيفو بيتانغي، بيليه وباولو كويلو

.توفي إيفو بيتانغي، جرّاح التجميل الأكثر شهرة في العالم الذي ساعد في جعل البرازيل مقصداً للأثرياء والمشاهير.كان في التسعين من العمر

.منذ عام١٩٦٣، توافد ملوك وملكات ورؤساء العالم فضلاً عن نجوم السينما والطبقة الاجتماعية المخملية في العالم إلى عيادته السرّية بحثاً عن الشباب من جديد
.و كان بيتانغي حريصاً على عدم الإفشاء عن أسماء “ضيوفه”. ومع ذلك، قيل أنّ دوقة ويندسور، فرانسوا ميتران، الحسن الثاني ، حسين بن عبدالله … جوان كراوفورد، زازا غابور، بريجيت باردو، إليزابيث تايلور، صوفيا لورين مرّوا تحت مقّص “مايكل أنجلو” الجراحة التجميلية

.من خلال والده الطبيب الجرّاح، رأى العديد من ضحايا الحوادث والمرضى الذين يعانون من تشوّهات وراثية.وهذا ما غذّى عنده شغف الترميم وتصحيح الشوائب
.بعد دراسته في ريو دو جانيرو ، سافر إلى سينسيناتي في الولايات المتحدّة الأميركية للتخصّص، فلندن وباريس حيث كان مجال الجراحة التجميلية يتطوّر بسرعة. عاد إلى ريو في عام ١٩٥٢. في عام ١٩٦١، شبّ حريقٌ هائل في سيركٍ في ضواحي المدينة والتهمت النيران الخيم في واحدة من أسوأ حرائق البرازيل، فهرع إيفو إلى مكان الحادث لإنقاذ الأرواح وإجراء عملياتٍ جراحية للضحايا
…وكانت الإنطلاقة الفعلية


.”أعتقد أنه يجب محاربة آثار العمر بأناقة وتميّز، بعيداً عن المبالغة المثيرة للسخرية. أنا أحاول أن أعمل ببساطةوبطبيعية”، كان يردّد، “طالما أنك مرتاح مع نفسك، فإنّك لا تحتاج إلى جرّاح تجميل”

.في عام ١٩٦٠، افتتح جناحاً خيرياً في سانتا كازا، حيث اعتاد هو وفريقه القيام، كلّ أسبوع، بعملياتٍ جراحية ترميمية مجّاناً للمرضى المحتاجين الذين يعانون من تشوّهات خلقية أو ناتجة عن حوادث. كما كان يجري الفريق عمليات تجميل بتكلفة منخفضة لذوي الطبقة المتوسّطة الذين لا يستطيعون تحمّل التكاليف. يجب التذكير أنَ شمس ريو دو جانيرو اللاهبة تشرق حوالي ٣٠٠ يوماً في السنة، والناس يعيشون عملياً على الشاطئ، وينظر إلى مثل هذه العمليات تقريباً كضرورة

.”لقّب إيفو بيتانغي بفيلسوف الجراحة التجميلية، وقد كرّر دائما أنّ “الجمال هو رفاه. عملياتي ليست فقط لشكل مرضاي. هي لنفوسهم

.بعد مقابلتنا التلفزيونية في العام ٢٠٠٣، دعاني لزيارة جزيرته الخاصة “إلها دوس بوركوس غراندي” القريبة من ريو حيث وصلنا على متن الهيليكوبتر وتناولنا (الكايبيرينها) الكوكتيل البرازيلي الأشهر
.عدت والتقيت به بعد ذلك في غشتادالسويسرية وباريس ولندن في أكثر من مناسبة

.مات إيفو بيتانغي بعد يومٍ واحد على حمله الشعلة الأولمبية، وهو على كرسي متحرَك، في مجمّع ماراكانا في ريو دي جانيرو يوم السبت الماضي

.في معرض حديثه عن الحياة والموت، قال يوماً: “الحياة تعلّمنا كلّ يوم. وأعتقد أن الشيء المحزن عند الموت هو اندثار رغبة التعلّم هذه ”
.مات إيفو بيتانغي العملاق والعالم سوف يتذكّر دائماً مهاراته التقدّمية، كرم أخلاقه، إبتسامته المحبّبة…وبالتأكيد توقيعه لعملية “المؤخّرة البرازيلية” الأكثر شهرة

.ملاحظة: الصورة مأخوذة في البرازيل عام ٢٠٠٣

Plastic surgery founding father Ivo Pitanguy…Goodbye!

Ivo Pitanguy, the world’s most famous plastic surgeon who helped make Brazil a popular destination for the rich and famous to get work done, died. He was 90.

During my career, I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing the 3 big (P)s of Brazil: Pitanguy, Pelé and Paolo (Coelho)….
Famous throughout the world, legend in his native Brazil, he was eclipsed in public recognition only by the soccer god, Pelé.
Since 1963 kings, queens, presidents, movie stars and socialites have gathered at his impressive but discreet doors looking for youth again. Pitanguy was said to have a long list of international jet-set types who he operated on, though he was also careful not to release names. However, beauty can never be kept secret. From the Duchess of Windsor, François Mitterrand, Hassan II of Morocco, Hussein of Jordan … to Joan Crawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren … have been among those who apparently went under “the Michelangelo of the scalpel” .

Pitanguy’s death came one day after he carried the Olympic flame at Rio’s Maracana Stadium on Saturday, while sitting in a wheelchair.

With his father being a surgeon, Pitanguy saw many accident victims and patients with genetic deformities. “They were treated, their bones were reset and they were sent home, with little regard for how the disfigurement would affect their psyche”, he recalled.


After a residency in a local medical school in Rio, he traveled to Cincinnati to further his studies, completing a fellowship and then studying with leading surgeons in London and Paris where the field of plastic surgery was developing rapidly. He returned to Rio in 1952. When a circus tent caught alight in 1961 one of Brazil’s worst fires, he rushed to the scene to save lives and later carried out surgery on the victims.
Everything became history afterwards…
“I believe that you should correct the aging process with elegance and distinction. You should not overdo, because if you overdo, you are only creating a mask without expression, a mask of death. That should be avoided. I try to bring naturalness.” Getting older is often most difficult for beautiful women. “They don’t feel it is natural to age, but if you help them with a distinguished proper operation, they will be much happier.”
He used to say. “As long as you can tolerate yourself, you don’t need a surgeon.”

While his private clinic catering to the elite, he also took an interest in those at the other end of the spectrum. In 1960 he opened a charity wing at Santa Casa, where he and his team used to perform, every week, free reconstructive surgeries on needy patients who suffer from birth defects or have been deformed by accidents. The team also performed cosmetic operations—from calf implants to breast augmentations—at low cost for middle-class people who could not otherwise afford them. In Rio, where the sun shines about 300 days a year and people practically live on the beach, such operations are viewed almost as necessities. Called the “philosopher of plastic surgery, he always repeated that “beauty is well-being. To be happy with yourself is by no means a superficial desire. My operations are not just for my patients’ bodies. They are for their souls.”

After our TV interview in 2003, he invited me to visit his private island “Ilha dos Porcos Grande” (Big Pigs Island) and his own ecological sanctuary not far from Rio where we flew by helicopter and had a couple of caipirinhas.
We met again Gstaad, Paris and London on several occasions.

Pitanguy’s death came one day after he carried the Olympic flame at Rio’s Maracana Stadium on Saturday, while sitting in a wheelchair.

Speaking about life and death, he once said: “Life teaches me every day. I believe that the sad thing about dying is to stop feeling this desire to always learn a bit more”.
He will always be remembered for his outstanding skills, his generosity, his smile and definitely for one of his signature surgeries which earned the nickname the “Brazilian butt-lift”.

My two cents on middle eastern politics

Below is the clip and transcript of a radio interview that I gave to Bloomberg Boston last week. It deals with my views on the Middle East, and TAKREEM’s place in the seemingly big mess that is our region. One thing that might stand out for you is my optimism. You might even call it a romanticization of our state of affairs. Yet, in this case, ignorance is not bliss. To know the region is to love it, is to believe in it. I hope that my interview here portrays that. Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing your comments!

Bill Frezza: We’re pleased to talk to Ricardo Karam, talking to us via Skype from Kuwait. Ricardo is the Charlie Rose of Lebanon, a long-time television host, producer and talk show host on a mission to change the Arab world. Ricardo, welcome to show.

Ricardo Karam: Thank you.

BF: Ricardo, I asked you on because there are so few voices of reason reaching America from the Arab world. Everyday the news reinforces stereotypes of Arab brutality. I’d like to open the conversation by reading a few sentences from a piece you wrote about the TAKREEM awards.

“The Arab world is bleeding.

It is time to say, enough is enough. Our sacred soil is saturated with the blood of too many innocent victims.

Is it not time to ask ourselves why we, as Arabs, cannot live in peace?

Is it not time to live in prosperity and joy like other developed nations?

Is it not time for us to stop killing one another in the name of religion, sectarianism and ethnicity?”

Ricardo, who are you and why are you on this mission?

RK: It’s a very complex question. I think the answer won’t be very easy. But I’ll try to summarize it as much as I can. I’m a Lebanese citizen born in Venezuela, in South America, two opposite countries in the values they carry and in the politics they follow, and in the patterns compatriots usually adopt in their lives. Since I was first aware of what was happening around me, I witnessed wars. And I only witnessed wars and bleeding and people dying. In my long memory, I remember young people carrying coffins around me. So I’ve always dealt with that and I’ve always put a plan in my mind that I want to give hope to myself, and to give hope to the people around me, to trigger a change to the community I belong to.

BF: And Ricardo, your chosen path has been through media. First as a talk show host and then later with television.

RK: Everything was a twist of fate. I cannot say it was a stroke of luck. Because nothing in my academic background would have eventually put me where I am today. I was about to be a chemical engineer. This is what I studied. And I was so fond of music. I used to spend all of my pocket money buying LPs. At that time, we did not have CDs, if you recall well. And I was a radio broadcaster. I was 16-years-old and I loved the music world. I loved the radio world. I loved the contact, the live part with the audience. And the radio put me on a path I never thought I would be pursuing. I had an offer to do a TV show and I was 21 years old. The beginnings were awesome. I love those beginnings and I recall them very fondly. But they were primarily my school and they were my college. I pursued my college degree, but at the same time, I started doing those TV shows. TV became my life. Everything revolved around TV.

BF: You’ve built a pretty big following in the Middle East. Most of your shows are in Arabic so we haven’t seen many of them here. And along the way, you’ve interviewed all sorts of people and personalities from your region.

RK: Not only in the region. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve interviewed the Dalai Lama and Haram Salla, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. I’ve been to the states and interviewed so many people from Luciano Pavarotti to Mike Tyson to Celine Dion. I’ve been to Brazil where I met Paolo Coelho and Pele etc. So I’ve been all over and I’ve always been interested in human nature. I’ve always been tempted by this chemistry with the other. And I guess my studies in chemical engineering has enabled me to perform well, and to ignite a positive outcome and a prosperous chemistry with the other. So this is why the human being was my main target. And this is why I have met so many personalities from different backgrounds. And I owe them everything. Because I am what I am because of those encounters.

BF: Ricardo, let’s take that perspective and perhaps, go on a tour of the Middle East. Let’s start with Lebanon. Perhaps best known for exporting talented people escaping endemic political dysfunction. I just got back from a visit there, and in truth, Lebanon should be a paradise. Is the country cursed?

RK: I don’t believe in curses. I believe that people create a nation and build it up. And I guess the Lebanese, instead of being fully committed to their country, are spread over different communities they belong to.

We have in Lebanon 17 communities. Can you imagine? And each community follows its leader. Whether a political one or a religious one. And usually politics and religion are mixed up. There’s —I wouldn’t say an osmosis—but there’s a similarity. And they back up each other. So this is why people are scattered. They are divided. Everyone loves Lebanon, but they love it differently. So this is why there is this division that many people feel. If you go to the south of Lebanon, you experience a different pulse than you do in Beirut. It’s the same in Mount Lebanon or the Bekaa valley etc. So each part of Lebanon has its own specificity. This is the peculiar thing about Lebanon. This is the interesting part of Lebanon. Cursed? No, I disagree. We’ve been for years and decades a great platform for other Arab countries to fight each other.

BF: Proxy battles.

RK: Yeah, and with a lack of funding and bad economy in Lebanon, the political money that has always been injected in Lebanon to the different political parties has helped in igniting or reinforcing the civil war and the different battles in Lebanon. Now with what’s happening around us, we have no more money being injected. We have a war in Syria, Yemen, in Iraq…in Palestine, in Egypt. We have different parts of wars, if not persistent wars then partial wars. You’ve got explosions, you’ve got suicide bombers. We’ve got ISIS. You know, it’s a different era.

I don’t believe in curses. I believe that people create a nation and build it up. And I guess the Lebanese, instead of being fully committed to their country, they are spread over different communities they belong to.

BF: Let’s zero in on the current bleeding hot spot which is Syria. Aleppo was the most recent city to be reduced to rubble and despite half-baked ceasefire efforts, there appears to be no end in sight. Are there any paths open to peace in Syria?

RK:I don’t know if it’s only a civil war in Syria. I wonder if it is more an international decision to make this war happen and develop and not to end. We all wonder where those weapons are coming from. And who is taking part in that war.

Is Turkey part of it? Is Iran part of it? Is Russia part of it? Who is behind ISIS? Is there any decision to eradicate this fundamentalist movement. Did they really issue a decision to get rid of it. Do they want to reinforce it, to make it better? So this is why I beg to differ with you on the term Civil War in Syria. I don’t think the civil society or Syrians want this war to continue. I think this is a very big decision. Syria is at the heart of the Arab world and by destabilizing Syria, you are completely dysfunctioning the balance of the Arab world.

BF: So the people there are more like pawns in the great game.

RK: Definitely.

BF: Saudi Arabia’s clearly one of the key players in the region. And along with oil, Saudi Arabia’s main export is Wahhabism, said to be part of a year the ruling family made years ago to consolidate its power. Is this likely to change as power passes down to Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman?

RK: I strongly believe that Mohamad bin Salman is embracing the future. He is a very promising prince. And the changes that have been implemented within less than a year are tremendous. The beginnings were so fearful. And everybody was skeptical. This is my own opinion but I think he is projecting the country into the next 20, 30 or 100 years. The young prince is a very promising one.A very smart guy and I commend him on what he is doing. I have full confidence in the new era that is coming now in the KSA.

I strongly believe that Mohamad bin Salman is embracing the future. He is a very promising prince. And the changes that have been implemented within less than a year are tremendous.

BF: There’s a lot of talk of diversifying the Saudi economy away from its dependence on oil, using its massive sovereign wealth fund. Does this risk turning Saudi Arabia into a rentier state with the rest of the populace depending on welfare?

RK: KSA cannot remain as it is. KSA should definitely look beyond the oil they have. They have to look at the future and they have to take with them the many Arab countries that are under their umbrella. We should not forget that especially the Levant region’s populations work in Saudi Arabia. They work in the Gulf but especially in Saudi Arabia. It’s a rich country and it has to remain as such. And by taking it 20 years ahead they are taking with them all those small countries living on the support of Saudi Arabia. Levantines have got no gas. No oil. No natural resources. The only they have is their minds. Their spirit. Their willpower. And the willingness to be productive. The Gulf is a great platform for that. I’m not afraid, on the contrary. I think that the coming years are going to be really optimistic and prosperous for the whole region. I need to reiterate, these are personal opinions.

ricardo dalai

BF: Ricardo, one of the biggest success stories of the Middle East has got to be Dubai. Sheikh Mohamad Bin Rashid al Maktoum has been described as the region’s most enlightened despot. The economic miracle he’s pulled off in Dubai, pursuing a policy of free trade, low taxes and English commercial law is obvious for everyone to see. How relevant is that model for other Arab countries?

RK: Dubai is not only a model for other Arab countries. Dubai is a model for the whole world. Imagine creating a paradise in a desert, where people come from all over. People now are coming from Switzerland, Germany, UK, France, USA, Russia, and several parts of the world. They come, they settle, they make businesses. Sheikh Mohamad along with a professional team of experts, have created a remarkable model. They have made the lives of 100s of thousands of people easy. Dubai’s airport has more traffic than Heathrow airport. Can you believe that? People love to be there. It’s a safe place. And their services are remarkable. And everybody enjoys what he or she does.

BF: Did Lebanon miss its chance to become Dubai?

RK: I think Lebanon is different from Dubai. Two different identities. Two different histories. And two different platforms. What Dubai is, Lebanon cannot be. What Lebanon is, Dubai cannot be. A long time ago, the former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel said, “Give us peace, and we will surprise the whole world.” Give us peace, and I think Lebanon will do miracles. Lebanese all over the world have transcended and been remarkably acclaimed on all levels. Humanitarian, social, economic, environmental, scientific… They have always been in top positions in different organisations and companies and hospitals etc. Imagine if we had peace and were using those different human resources to make out of our country a paradise. And we can do it.

I don’t know if it’s only a civil war in Syria. I wonder if it is more an international decision to make this war happen and develop and not to end. We all wonder where those weapons are coming from. And who is taking part in that war.

BF: Peace in the Middle East requires an accommodation with Iran, and of course, Iran isn’t an Arab country, it’s a Persian country, with a history and culture that’s very different. If you look back, Iran was once a paragon of Western values before Ayatollah Khomeini took power. Do you ever see Western values returning to Iran?

RK: I’ve been to Iran and I believe that the life patterns in every home is a Western pattern. Forget about what you see outside. This applies to Saudi Arabia and to different Arab countries, where what you see is women wearing chadors etc but you go inside and you see people living the way you live, the way I live. Iran is a beautiful country. Of course, whenever there is a change in the regime, there is a transition period. And I believe that reform will be implemented soon. And in the coming ten years, we will be witnessing a new Iran. Maybe, better than before. Maybe not like before. But of course, not like the Iran of today.

BF: Your optimism, of course, I hope becomes infectious. A country that can certainly use it is Egypt. Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country. The Arab Spring fizzled out there, leaving only a corrupt military junta behind. Must Egypt always be ruled by tyrants or is there an alternative?

RK: I disagree with you. Egypt has not been run by totalitarian regimes. Even under the regimes of Mohamad Hosni Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has always been a democracy. People have always said whatever they wanted. There was a freedom of the press and media. And people demonstrate. They say whatever they want to say. And actually, they were the ones who triggered a change in the regime. What makes Egypt different is this cohesion between the different communities when it comes to their country. You forget about Sunnah and about Coptic Christians. They all glue together for the sake of keeping their country united. This is what has changed Egypt, because if it had deteriorated, I guess that it would have been one of the biggest civil wars in history. But look, of course, we’ve seen hundreds killed and thousands injured. A lot of demonstrations and strikes were happening. But Egypt was saved. I believe that now, under the leadership of Sisi, even if not a lot of changes are being implemented, what matters is that safety is here, security is here, and I am optimistic. I don’t know why! I’m optimistic about the different parts of the Arab world, unlike many people who are seeing the worst happening. I guess you could say it’s an organised chaos. But this organised chaos will trigger stability in the future.

BF: Speaking of an opportunity for optimism, we look back at the three great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They all share the same jealous and vengeful God of the Old Testament. All three have a history of violence. Yet only Islam has yet to experience a reformation,

RK: This is a very tough and complex question. I don’t know. I don’t know for how long the religion will continue ruling politics and leading political patterns in the different Islamic countries. I truly hope that religion and politics will separate. Because if religion continues to be involved in politics, then we will remain where we are, and things will continue to be stagnant and latent. I believe that God gives believers the power. And I believe that courage is not the absence of fear, but a triumph over that fear. The three religions all want peace. They all want to live in a prosperous environment. In a healthy one. I am optimistic, and I want my kids to grow up and live in the Middle East and not to have to leave. We are French, we have French citizenship, we have a house in Paris. This is not the issue. We want to live in Beirut and this is what anybody says: whether they are Saudi, Emiratis, Palestinians, Jordanians…they are want to live in their respective home countries. I pray everyday that politics will be spared from religion. If this is the case, I think the future will be a positive one.

BF: Ricardo, you’ve focused on highlighting the successes of entrepreneurs and other leaders in the Arab world. Tell us about the TAKREEM awards.

RK: As you’ve mentioned in your introduction, in the last two decades, I’ve witnessed events that have tarnished the image of the Arab world. I was the first one on TV to introduce the success stories spread all over the world. People got to know Nicholas Hayek, the guy who initiated the Swatch Watch. They got to know Paul Orfalea the guy who founded Kinkos. People got to know Zaha Hadid, the famous architect, through my TV shows. And I always believed that I could create a platform that would be more sustainable. So in 2010, an idea stemmed out of my TV shows. And that idea was TAKREEM.

TAKREEM was established with a fundamental perseverance to counteract these sensitivities and to change the region’s misconceptions by exposing to the outside world different areas of talent. So, every year we try to spot different achievers from different fields, and we try to give hope to the youth by telling that youth, look at these examples. You can make it as well. We are nurturing them with hope. I believe that we must all commit to finding solutions and these cannot always be military and security solutions. TAKREEM is an inspirational model to encourage new generations, and to portray a positive image of the Arab world. I want to have a Lebanese passport and to be able to travel and to go from one airport to another without being looked at as being from a third world country’s citizen. I want people to look at me as a normal human being. Because I’m like you. We share a lot of similarities. And we definitely have a lot of differences. I hope that this platform will reach its goals, will grow, and will attain the objectives I have set since the beginning.

TAKREEM is an inspirational model to encourage new generations, and to portray a positive image of the Arab world.

TAKREEM … a step on the path towards enlightenment in the Arab world

The Arab world is bleeding.
It is time to say, enough is enough. Our sacred soil is saturated with the blood of too many innocent victims.
Is it not time to ask ourselves why we, as Arabs, cannot live in peace?
Is it not time to live in prosperity and joy like other developed nations?
Is it not time for us to stop killing one another in the name of religion, sectarianism and ethnicity?
Is it not time to unite and free Palestine? Is it not time to eradicate fanaticism and destroy Isis and other terrorist organizations?
Is it not time to cease the repetition of the massacres of Assyrians, Chaldeans, Yazidis and Kurds?
Is it not time to say enough is enough when we see broken families, tearful mothers, orphan children, desperate refugees and displaced persons?
Is it not time to give the whole world a better image of the Arab world?


We are 350 million Arabs. These numbers are powerful but they only tell part of the story. We must be realistic. As we reflect on the state of affairs across the Arab world, what do we see? Where have we reached?
Divided, individualistic, war ravaged, badly perceived by outsiders, lacking any effective lobbying. In brief – weak and troubled.

There is a leadership gap across the Arab world. State institutions, aside from security, are often weak or poorly managed. In the absence of leaders and institutions, we are facing war, violence, displacement, poverty, unemployment, disease, illiteracy — in some places a complete breakdown in civil society. Corruption is endemic. And yet, Arabs have excelled in many fields. The enormous Arab Diaspora is one symbol of our contributions throughout the world and local performances have also been numerous.

We have to admit, however, that the successes we can point to have rarely been properly underscored so as to enhance the Arab image and propel Arab societies forward.

Our challenge is not necessarily envisioning the future and what sort of world we shall leave for our children. We should be focused on defining and implementing policies in the here and now that will demonstrate that we can manage this world today for the benefit of its current inhabitants.

TAKREEM was born as a step on the path towards enlightenment in the Arab world. Its aim is to insure that in the midst of our agony, we can survive, produce and move on. We embrace creativity, freedom of thought, human rights, entrepreneurship, advanced technology, gender equity and the potential of Arab youth. By inspiring these young people, we also tell the world that we Arabs are doers.

For six years, we have been fortunate to identify inspirational but unsung heroes, and to put them through a highly competitive process that made the selection of laureates very difficult.

And here we are in Dubai…
Dubai has always been a place of welcome for visitors from all over the world; it has built bridges between different cultures.
May we ensure that those bridges lead us to a brighter future in the Arab world!

Ricardo Karam,
Dubai, 2015

وداعاً وداد بيدس

رحلت وداد بيدس، زوجة يوسف بيدس ، مؤسس بنك إنترا، الإمبراطورية المصرفية في لبنان زمن الستينيات التي أدهشت العالم و كلّفته أحلامه وعائلته وحياته.
حاورت وداد في ٧ يونيو من العام ١٩٩٩ في منزلها في لندن وغصنا معاً في الماضي البعيد.
تحدثّت وداد عن اللقاء الأول والحب والزواج وبداية الصعود فالعز حتى وصلنا إلى أيامه الأخيرة في سويسرا.
أذكر كم كان يوسف حاضراً في كل كلمة وكل حادثة روتها، وقد ذابت فيه في غيابه تماماً كما احتجبت خلفه في حياته .
في ذلك اللقاء، تحدّثت وداد عن شهادة شارل ديغول في يوسف حين قال “انه شخص مذهل، أتمنى لو كان عندنا وزير مال في فرنسا بعقله وذكائه” أما كمال جنبلاط وفي برقية تعزيته لها كتب قائلاً «المؤامرة السياسية كانت غيمة سوداء فوق انترا. الدولة هي المسؤولة عن ضرب بنك انترا، أما يوسف بيدس فنحن نعتبره الرجل الذي بنى أكبر مؤسسة عرفها لبنان الحديث في تاريخه القصير. ستمر السنون ولن نرى في لبنان شخصاً يوازي ما فعله أو ينجح كما نجح”.
روت لي وداد قصتها مع نهاد حداد التي عرفتها من خلال الإذاعة فأحبت صوتها وزارتها في بيتها الفقير المتواضع في زقاق البلاط قبل أن تقترن بعاصي الرحباني.ومذ ذاك لم تفترقا. رافقت وداد فيروز في معظم جولاتها.
أعطت فيروز إسم زياد لولدها تيّمناً بزياد بيدس، ابن يوسف ووداد.
قرّرت وداد ترك العاصمة البريطانية في منتصف ال۲۰۰۰لتتنقّل بين بيروت والقاهرة ولتمضي السنوات الأخيرة في بيروت.
كانت تتصل بي باستمرار وكنت أراها من وقت إلى آخر حيث كانت تعيش في كليمنصو في شقة صغيرة ومتواضعة، هي التي شُيّدت القصور لأولئك الذين عملوا لدى زوجها.
منذ بضعة أشهر، اتفقنا نضال الأشقر وأنا أن نزورها غير أن الوقت داهمنا…
عشية الأعياد، قررت وداد أن تستريح.
لم يتخطَّ عدد المشيّعين، وأنا منهم، العشرين شخصاً في كنيسة مار متر.
أحبّت العائلة أن ترتّل لها فيروز في وداعها الأخير…
قصة وداد هي درس مهم من دروس الحياة حيث الإنكسار والجحود والنسيان لكن أيضاً العز والعزة والتناغم.
رحلت وداد وفي بال كثيرين بقيت صورة المرأة العذبة وصاحبة العنفوان الذي لا يخفت.

My beloved son Nadim

10632603_848363568521252_5395966822239519665_nMy beloved son Nadim- 3 years old- was diagnosed with leukemia with no prior symptoms.
With a very low level of red cells and platelets, hence a non-existing immunity, we were unable to travel.
A call for blood was therefore imminent for his blood group is very rare, O negative. Social Media was the best tool; the response was prompt.
Many blood donors came from very far; I can never forget a widow who came along with her son, crying and telling me : I want your child to live…
We now have a list of potential donors who will be needed gradually.
We then started sending the tests to the major clinics and hospitals worldwide, on the board of which several close friends of ours sit. It was agreed unanimously, American and French opinions separately, upon a specific protocol we are currently following in Beirut.

We have been living a nightmare, to say the least.
There were no more tears to drop, I once told a close friend of mine.
It took me time to figure out that I ought to be the source of strength and reassurance for everyone around me.
I therefore had to find again my rational thinking.

My thoughts go to each and every one of you; your support was and still is admirable.
The pilgrimages to holly places of all communities, the thousands of believers united in the chains of prayers, the celebrated masses, the tons of mails, messages and calls from all over the world … deeply touched us.
It was impossible for us to answer; however we are more than grateful.

A lovely young girl who worked as a waitress in a hotel where we usually spend a week-end every year wrote on my wall: “I have met you with your lovely family especially your amazing kids. I ask our Jesus for a healing touch on Nadim. I believe that everything is possible with God. This is what the power of God is all about : healing, giving strength and bringing inner peace and joy … A peace that the world cannot give “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. I wrote you this because I met your kids and loved them so much. I hope I can meet them again, the 3 of them. I will be praying for Nadim…”

A huge thanks goes to my brother Jose who has been a backbone to me and whom I never thanked.
All my love and admiration go to my wife Youmna, mother courage, who impacted each and everyone. You are my pride!

Indeed, Jesus is the Healer, isn’t HE who said to the parents of the girl-Luke 8:50″ Don’t be afraid; just believe,and she will be healed”.
With our unwavering faith in Him and His immense love to us, we should make it although the battle is at its beginnings.

All my of fears, worries and concerns are oppressively real.
But my kids look at me as the sun above their clouds and the steel covering their backs.
I once promised Nadim to be the wind behind his back; I owe him that.
I need to believe as I always do, insist and persist. Nothing else.

Helen Thomas (1920-2013)

helen-thomas-3For over 50 years, she had the honor of opening and closing presidential press conferences in the White House, a destiny that her parents, who emigrated from Lebanon in 1890, would never have thought of.
Helen Thomas, who covered every U.S. president John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, is gone.
But who is that lady who made a difference in history?

Her father, Gergios Touma and her mother, Marianne Rawadi, came from Tripoli and could neither read nor write. They first settled in Kentucky where they opened a grocery store and have set in Detroit. They had nine children they have pushed to advanced studies. Helen attended the University of Wayne where, by supporting the drafting of the Gazette of the campus, she decides she will become journalist. After graduation, she started to tackle Washington. In 1961, she becomes the UPI correspondent in the White House and gets the privilege of asking the first question to the Head of State during his press conferences. And the statement “Thank you Mr. President” whereby which she was to close the sessions, became famous.
Nevertheless, this honor had never prevented her from grilling all heads of state, without exception, including George W. Bush about whom she said “ he was the worst American president”. And President Bush ended up not answering her questions. Still, her reputation, personality and strong character were not affected in any way; her beliefs were not either.
Helen Thomas did not hesitate to ask hard-President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, just after she was praised for being the first woman head of the UPI office near the White House. She was also the first woman to be accepted to the prestigious Gridirion Club exclusively reserved for men, after President John Kennedy had refused to attend the annual dinner of the club if it continued to exclude women.

Her omnipresence in the “press room” of the White House earned her the appellation of “Seated Buddha” and the “First Lady of the press”.
However, even in the absence of strict security measures, there was a gentlemen’s agreement for journalists to keep secret “presidential escapades” she always said.
Helen Thomas did not spare neither her fellow journalists, those who supported the war against Iraq after September 11 nor those persecuting Bill Clinton on behalf of the extreme right. She never ceased to have a sharp tongue, pushing itself to cause her resignation in May 2010, in response to a question about Israel, in conjunction with a celebration at the White House; she had said that the Israelis were to be “out of Palestine”.
“Remember that these people (the Palestinians) are living under occupation and that it is their land,” she said. “They (the Jews) can go home, Poland, Germany, the United States or elsewhere.”
In 1971, she married a colleague from the rival agency, AP, Douglas Cornell, who died in 1982.
An icon of American journalism and a proud Arab American, Thomas has written hundreds of columns and five books.
She had to retire from life at the age of 92 on July 20, 2013
We have honored her at TAKREEM in 2011 where we still recall the standing ovations.
To her memory we bow for she impacted our lives…

I lost a friend

camilleVery few are familiar with the name of Camille Aboussouan although it echoed with tunes of high education, artistic sense, love of culture and philanthropy.

Camille Aboussouan carved his path with class and knowledge.

First and in 1944, he organized with a group of friends “The Persians by Aeschylus” play in the temple of Bacchus in Baalbeck, taking the role of Coryphaeus himself, thereby laying the foundations of what would be eight years later the Baalbeck International Festival.

He later  founded the PEN Club of Lebanon along with 24 writers. In the same year, he established the cultural magazine “Les Cahiers de l’Est” gathering the essays of the key personalities from the cultural scene. The publication was a tremendous success which was worthy of the French Academy Award in 1948.Camille Aboussouan was the ambassador of Lebanon to UNESCO between 1953 and 1972.

Moreover, he and a bunch of other people; enthusiastic about culture of Lebanon, founded APSAD “Association for the Protection of sites and old houses in Lebanon” in order to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Lebanon. To him, construction had two faces; human and earth. His work was two faced as well; he strived to fight against addiction and various social problems, at the same time he believed in the beauty of earth and nature and persevered to conserve them. When human treasures and natural graces are protected, ideal duality emerges.

A big intellectual, he had one of the largest worldwide libraries with a collection of books, prints and sculptures dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Among his generous donations, was a portion of the library bequeathed to Robert Mouawad Museum; it included a Koran printed in Hamburg in 1692, a large polyglot Bible, the trip to Beirut Lamartine wrote… He also offered his Oriental Archaeology (nearly 1400 pieces) in 2000 to the Museum of Fine Arts in Agen, the third largest Museum in France in the field of oriental archaeology after the Louvre and the Museum Lyon. Aboussouan started to acquire objects on the art market, mainly from Lebanon, Syria and ancient Mesopotamia from a very young age. This collection marked by the double origin of the donor (French by her mother, a native of Fleurance in the Gers, and Lebanese father), recalls the historical ties between the East and the West.

In 1956, he published the first French translation of “The Prophet” by Gibran Khalil Gibran.
Elected curator of the Museum of Art Nicolas Sursock, he organized 43 exhibitions including the discovery of the icons of the quadrilateral Arabic inscriptions Syro-Mesopotamian – post-Byzantine art – known since under the name “Melkite icons.”

Camille Aboussouan was my friend. I interviewed him years ago; he wrote the foreword of one of my books.

Almost one century old, he remained the young and dynamic Master of discussion. Camille left us at the age of 93. He lived long enough to witness-with pain- from his Parisian exile the fall of what he always incarnated: the values of our beloved Lebanon.
Goodbye Camille; greetings to your friends Alia El Solh, Raymond Eddé, Juliana Seraphim and Khalil El Khoury. They are dearly missed.


TAKREEM : that’s a wrap

logo takreem vectorsWhen I first thought about establishing TAKREEM, I never imagined that it would grow as quickly as it has in such a short time.

TAKREEM was created to portray an alternative image of Arabs – one that speaks of hard work, productivity, creativity, success and excellence. TAKREEM’s inception happened to coincide with turbulence and tension in the Arab world where by people are demanding freedom and better economic conditions. This made us even more determined to pursue our goals.

This year, TAKREEM Ceremony was held in Manama, Capital of Arab Culture 2012; a Ceremony we were anticipating but fearing at the same time.

Yes, we were afraid to face disturbances and upheavals in a precarious and fragile region that would prevent us from going onward

Luckily, with hundreds of people coming from all over, we were able to celebrate the achievements of unsung heroes, those who believe that Education and Human Rights, Arts and Sciences, Technology and the Environment, values that we need to nurture and safeguard for a bright and prosperous future.

The Award for Philanthropy and Charitable Services was awarded to the NGO Sesobel – Lebanon for 35 years of work for the well-being and support for children with physical or mental disability. The Scientific and Technological Achievement Award returned to Nagy Habib, a great Egyptian physician and researcher on liver cancer.
A.M. Qattan Foundation – Palestine won the Innovation in Education Award. Founded in 1993, the NGO through three programs, is responsible for developing culture and education in Palestine and the Arab countries, with particular attention to children, teachers and young artists. The Environmental Development and Sustainability Award has been delivered to the Biosphere Reserve Chouf – Lebanon. 50,000 hectares are protected with 520 rare plant species, 24 villages and 70,000 people living around. The reserve was recognized by UNESCO in 2005. The Jordanian Samia Zaru won the Cultural Excellence Award. Multi-talented, this painter, sculptor and designer is a founding member of the Jordanian National Museum. Magda El Sanousi, Sudan, has been selected Arab Woman of the Year for the Arab Region Gender Equality Program, to promote equality between men and women.The Young Entrepreneur Award was won by the Lebanese Habib Haddad; Haddad has created, a startup that has enabled the Arabic language to develop on the web. The remarkable Saad Abdul-Latif- Palestine won the Outstanding Corporate Leadership Award. Abdul-Latif is currently CEO of PepsiCo Asia, Middle East and Africa. The TAKREEM Award for Exceptional Contribution to Arab Society was presented to Actes Sud-Sindbad – France for their efforts in favor of a cultural mix of the East and the West.

A special tribute was made in memory of the late Anthony Shadid, correspondent for The New York Times and originally Lebanese, who left us this year at the age of 43, for revealing the real spirit of Middle Easterners and for dismantling the Western stereotypes of the Arab world.

A special distinction was awarded to former USA President Jimmy Carter for his work in advancing human rights and his endeavors in establishing peace in the Middle East.

The Lifetime Achievement Award, established to acknowledge inspiring individuals whose pioneering spirit and lifelong dedication have had a significant impact on society, was given to His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan the United Arab Emirates Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

When I looked up at this panel of Achievers on stage, I was so proud of my identity.

When I look back at every single moment I witnessed during our Bahrain Event, I cannot be but gratified with the outcome.

A whole year of hard work, dedication and perseverance ended up in a magnificently successful Event where all the components had been carefully ensured.

Allow me to thank every single individual, colleague and  institution who made it happen. You were all amazing!

Today, here we are set to tackle our TAKREEM 4th edition.

Our world is currently witnessing violent and unpredictable events. Some believe this is due to sectarian conflict; others attribute it to social and political inequality and oppression. However, we would like to add ignorance to these factors.

Ignorance has always been our fiercest foe.

We need to fight it on all fronts with determination and strong will power.

2012 is coming to the end; we are all rushing to get the gifts, organize dinners, meet up family members and friends “coming home for Christmas”.

Let us join our wishes with hope, promises and compassion.

Only by tolerating our differences, admitting our shortcomings and assuming our proper rights and duties, can we hope to move towards a better future, a peaceful one-inshallah…

May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year!