Arab Showcase talents advise on the shift from 2021 to 2022

Masks, lockdowns and reinvention: economist Mohamed El-Erian, actor Youssef Kerkour and even Al Saqi Bookstore have shared their inspiring life stories and now offer thoughts for the coming year

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Creative powers

Issam Kourbaj, artist-activist

The word mask is interesting in itself; it’s a loaded word. We are using it in a very protective way at the moment but actually the essence of a human being is often masked behind many layers.

Sometimes I feel that it is more destructive than productive. What we are desperately in need of is to be able to breathe fresh air and not to worry about carrying masks anymore. The danger of our times is that there are too many masks.

I hope that, when we mix with each other again, we can take off these masks to reveal our true selves. As an artist, I am very happy to show my vulnerability.

I have been incredibly lucky in my life in that I have lived through my artwork. It is a huge privilege, but it is a huge responsibility too because you need to wake up the next morning and ask another question. For how many people is the present about finding the next place to stay, the next meal, the next breath?

My wish for the world in 2022 and beyond is that those of us who are scaling the dark find the light, and that it will be an easier, more welcoming place for them.

Shadia El Dardiry for Arab Showcase in The National. She is a new chair of the Shubbak arts organisation in London. Photographed at her hom in south London.

Shadia El Dardiry, chairwoman of the Shubbak Festival

I have always loved London for its vibrancy but also for its proximity to the places closest to my heart. It is, after all, an ideal place to be based in if you have family in Cairo, Rome and Montreal.

While I have been immensely lucky to have been spared the worst of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021 have been two long years of not being able to see my nephews turn into increasingly articulate little boys, of not being able to roam the streets of Cairo with my father, or take long walks with my mother along our beloved St Lawrence River.

My hopes for 2022? For it to be a year of global reunions, of (non-virtual) time spent with family, of safe and responsible travel.

For Shubbak, the amazing artists we work with and those we don’t, and our many partners, I hope it’s a year where we are able to spend a bit less time contingency planning and worrying about whether things will or won’t go ahead, and more time focusing on creating beautiful, disruptive art, and bringing to audiences in the UK, the Swana [South-West Asian, North African] region or elsewhere experiences they will remember for years to come.

Youssef Kerkour, award-winning actor

I'm now a father of two, hamdulillah, which means that when I think of the future, I'm filled with more dread and paranoia than ever before.

How can I ensure climate change doesn't turn the future to hellfire? How can I make sure they stay little children for ever and ever? How am I going to pay for EVERYTHING?

I wish for 2022 to be the year we finally move away from voting for slogans. Where the clowns will no longer be in power and real men and women of vision are elected to high office.

I hope the foot of Arabic artistic excellence can kick down doors on the world stage. And I hope I get to visit the UAE at long last, perhaps on a tour of the Middle East where I will eat all the knefe man has to offer.

Yazz Ahmed, jazz trumpeter and composer

My hopes for 2022 would be for everyone to love more and hate less. From the very start of the pandemic, the world became increasingly aware of the racial injustices that many people experience every day – from police brutality to problems that are systemic.

I hope that this has not been forgotten, swept under the rug, and that we all do our bit to educate, bring awareness and stamp out discrimination for good.

I also hope that 2022 will bring further developments in tackling climate change. Progress is agonisingly slow, but we must keep the faith and keep fighting to save the planet. I wish everyone a beautiful and prosperous new year.

Royal Jordanian, known as RJ, moto-vlogging internet sensation

Green list, amber, red … and maybe soon black. If this is to be the New Norm then we have to find a way to adapt to it so as not to break.

I, for one, will resume touring on my motorcycle with Mrs RJ. The last tour we did was in Costa Rica in December 2019 – and that's a very long time ago for us.

To be sure we’re in control, I have customised my KTM 1290 Super Duke R to be able to tour two-up, and we’ll set off from the UK and on to wherever the road takes us in Europe and beyond.

Lamees Ibrahim, food writer

"It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It's the hope that I can’t stand.” So said John Cleese’s calamitous head teacher in the 1986 classic film Clockwise.

My wish for us all in 2022 is to enjoy good health, more togetherness with family and friends, more ordinary days, casual meetings, and the freedom and spontaneity to go out whenever we want without the need for restrictions.

I spent my lockdown writing a new cookbook (The Vegan Iraqi Cookbook 2021) amid the obstacles of closed borders and remote working. I am so glad the book brought joy and comfort to those it reached.

Every day, I receive lovely messages of thanks and touching anecdotes from my readers around the world. One of my hopes for the coming year is that this continues, and that my book travels to all of the places I can't travel to myself, filling hearts and bellies with joy and memories of Iraqi cuisine.

A motivation for writing my vegan book was to encourage people to eat less meat. This will help us live more sustainably without destroying this precious planet. What if we all committed to eating plant-based for one day a week in 2022? What would the world look like then? We can dream of this.

Through his charitable organisation Pianos for Peace, Malek Jandali distributes brightly painted pianos to public places around Atlanta for people to play, before they are donated to artistically under-served instititutions. The aim is to make the arts 'accessible to everyone, no exception', he says. Photo: Malek Jandali  

Malek Jandali, composer, pianist, activist and philanthropist

Whenever a new year is around the corner, I reflect on the year that is just ending. I am thankful for the blessing of health and time with the ones I love, grateful for the opportunities to share my music, and excited about the endless possibilities in the coming year.

A new year is a time for us to “reset”, to ponder what is most important to us in our lives and contemplate what we can do to be better human beings on this planet.

In reflecting over the past two years, it seems that there is one thing we can all do to help our fellow humans. Something so easy, effortless and basic. It costs nothing but is priceless. It brings sunshine even on rainy days.

It is simply this: be kind. As we contend with numerous challenges on a global scale, let’s always remember that each of us has daily opportunities to share an abundance of kindness with everyone we meet.

As the great Dalai Lama once said: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Gala El Hadidi, mezzo-soprano

The pandemic cost most artists their livelihoods. However, it has made us realise how loved and appreciated we always were by our family, friends, fans and audiences.

Because of all the travelling for my art, I have frequently missed birthdays, weddings and private events. When coronavirus hit, I thought it would be payback time: me, stuck abroad and all alone.

To my surprise, I noticed that I was missing but never forgotten. The love, the Zoom calls, messages and letters I received were a hundred times louder than the silence forced on us by any restrictions. I was simply never alone. It was the most emotionally healing time of my life.

It is disastrous that people weren’t given a chance to defend themselves against an invisible foe, but to some extent I feel we are being given a second chance to be human again, to be kind, loving, forgiving, and reaching out. For that, I am grateful.

On an artistic level, I was also happily surprised by many opera houses and concert venues insisting on reimbursing their artists, with some even putting on shows for no audiences just to film them and distribute later. As the band Queen put it: The show must go on. And it will.

Spread the love and cherish each other. God bless to all from France.

Taher Qassim, leading public health practitioner and Liverpool Arab Arts Festival founder

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the globe. Many lives were lost and economic growth declined. Despite this, the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival managed to deliver a mix of virtual and face-to-face events throughout this difficult period.

The speed of developing digital technology made it possible for our arts programme to continue. I hope this technology will enable our young generation to use it creatively around the world, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Amal Khalaf at the Venice Biennale, Bahrain Pavilion exhibition. Photo: Art Select

Amal Khalaf, artist and curator of The Serpentine, London

Artists have historically documented moments of change, keeping time, giving language, form and images to a world constantly adapting.

The last couple of years have seen an overwhelming confluence of crises. The world is collectively grieving; grieving the loss of our ecosystems, people, and a world we once thought we were part of.

In the art world, and across many fields of practice, calls for change are getting louder. We have the opportunity to reimagine and practise different ways of relating and being together.

How can we work in ways that disintegrate the violent systems of oppression and harm we are escaping? How can we create new ways of working that won’t perpetuate the inequity, binaries, extraction and exhaustion that characterise contemporary life that are no longer sustainable?

The arts are known to push boundaries and open up discussions around difficult and often painful subjects with curiosity.

I believe that galleries and institutions will harness this unique moment to support artists and projects that are capturing this moment, and working across disciplines to offer spaces to imagine the world otherwise.

Attab Haddad, oud maestro

In this coming year, I hope that we can get a better handle on Covid and manage to live a more normal life than we have had of late. I hope that it will be a year when we get back to mixing normally and enjoying life like it was meant to be lived, without worry and masks.

On a personal level, the pandemic made it more difficult for my family to be together so I am hoping that we can spend more time together this year. I also hope to see friends who I haven’t seen since the pandemic started and travel without worry.

On a professional level, I would like to do more with the project that I put together this year, both in and out of the UK, and I would like to record my next album in Turkey before the end of the year if the travel situation normalises. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2022 and a better year for all.

An image taken in Tuti, Al Kharţūm, Sudan, and posted on Instagram by Asma Elbadawi with the caption: "My poetry is incoded Amongst the lines you create your perception But I exist between them." Photo: Asma Elbadawi

Asma Elbadawi, sports activist, spoken word poet, artist, dyslexia advocate

[This entry is verbatim from the author's submission]

My hopes for 2022 is to spend more time bringing the creative ideas i'v not had the chance to make, come to life. Over the last years I concentrated a lot on my spoken word poetry and advocating for more Inclusivity in sport. When i'v been creative it's been in a social media content creating kind of way, But my educational background is more fine art based. It's a slower paced practice that allows me to really understand and experiment with different ways of expressing my subject matter. There is a freedom and sense of joy in creating without knowing what the outcome will look/be like, and that's what I crave more of next year.

Business planning

Mohamed El-Erian, global economist

We enter 2022 with a tug-of-war in full force – between fear about yet another Covid variant (Omicron) and confidence that human ingenuity, better co-ordination and vision can deliver high, inclusive and sustainable well-being. Where we end up will ultimately depend on leadership at both the national and global levels.

Strong and credible leadership is critical for mobilising the collective action needed to overcome Covid while doing a much better job in protecting the most vulnerable segments of our population, domestic and international.

After all, the emergence of Omicron illustrated yet again that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

Such leadership is also key to avoiding the mistake the world made coming out of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Yes, we managed to win the war against a multi-year depression that would have devastated livelihoods. But we failed to establish the peace of high, inclusive and sustainable growth.

It is my hope that, through visionary leadership and better co-ordination, 2022 will be remembered proudly as the year we both won the war against Covid and secured the foundation for a fulfilling, prosperous and durable peace for all.

LONDON 20th February 2016. Tony Kitous at his Comptoir Libanais restaurant near the King's Road in London. Stephen Lock for the National  FOR BUSINESS  *** Local Caption ***  SL-kitous-008.JPG

Tony Kitous, restaurateur, founder of Comptoir Libanais

For me, 2022 starts in 2021 as I have to plan ahead and prepare for the new year. I am currently working on a few projects but the most important project is myself.

I need to make sure I am disciplined to train hard and eat super healthy so that I am mentally ready to face life’s challenges. I very much believe that if you start the new year fit, healthy and mentally strong you will deal much better with everything that comes your way.

Workwise, I always try to think about innovative ideas to stay ahead of the game, and focus on being creative. We are still in the middle of this pandemic and, although there is lots of uncertainty for the coming year, I remain positive and plan to explore as well as take advantage of opportunities, or create my own. In order to achieve, we must be obsessed about what we want.

I love what I do so much that it doesn’t seem like a job. I feel blessed that it’s something I’m truly passionate about – particularly with respect to our customers and making sure they have the most amazing experience in Comptoir Libanais, Yalla Yalla, and Shawa Lebanese Grill, and also with respect to our team that is my family. Lots of love and huge thanks to everyone who supported us in the past two years.

Mohamed Mansour, billionaire chair of Mansour Group, and former politician

My driving ambition for 2022 is more personal than professional. Next year, I want to continue to give back to a world that has given me so much.

These past few years have forced many to assess what is truly important to them. Our company, the Mansour Group, has a presence in over 100 countries. I’ve always felt that businesses truly succeed when they are rooted in and loyal to the communities they serve.

Philanthropy is something that has long been very important to me. I am looking forward to building on our social investing and philanthropic work over the past two decades, which began with the Lead Foundation.

In particular, I have found new inspiration from investing in a not-for-profit sporting organisation called Right to Dream which, as well as owning a Danish football club, operates amazing academies in some of the poorest parts of Africa. In 2022, we intend to open a new academy in Egypt where we are determined to discover the next Mo Salah.

Fahed Faisal Boodai, Chairman, Gatehouse Bank

From a business perspective, I’m excited to see how Gatehouse Bank’s activity in the UK Build to Rent sector develops during 2022, following the launch of a £500 million joint venture with TPG Real Estate Partners in August.

This sector continues to be a huge growth area in the UK, driven by consumer demand for newer, well-maintained and managed rental homes.

While many investors focus on urban apartments, Gatehouse’s proposition is centred around family homes with good transport links and local amenities. It’s a special sector and should be recognised as such.

The coronavirus pandemic has clearly had a significant impact on all of our lives, changing how we live and work, and I expect many of these changes will continue during 2022.

The global medical response to the spread of Covid-19 has been extraordinary and I hope that pharmaceutical developments will help in ending this crisis.

The hardships have caused many to reflect on what’s important to them, and while I expect more people will choose to return to the office, I believe hybrid or remote working will become the new normal and our use of technology will only further increase during the year.

The inspiration for the Farmacy venture came when Camilla Fayed was unable to find anywhere to eat out where sustainable farming and supply chains were as important as the flavour of the dishes. Photo: Farmacy London

Camilla Fayed, vegan restaurateur, leader in the conscious eating revolution

Looking forward to 2022, I hope that we can all change our perspectives on what’s important for humanity – moving away from materialism, and instead making health our first priority.

I would love to see more education around regenerative agriculture, with special emphasis placed on the importance of good soil health.

At Farmacy restaurant, we source the vast majority of our produce directly from our own Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm. I hope that local supply chains are given more consideration in the future, and that education and information platforms are built for people to access globally.

Khalid Dahbi, entrepreneur, celebrity chef, philanthropist

Despite the difficulties of the past two years, I continue to see our world with a positive and determined outlook with regard to opportunities for success and prosperity.

It gives me nothing but pleasure to wish every Arab in the world the very best wishes going into the new year. I know from experience that self-motivation is the key. When dreams are turned into visions and then visions into strategy, then I truly believe that success prevails.

We must not forget our responsibilities towards our planet and our fellow humans, particularly the next generation. Be kind, be kindred, invest in now and our future!

Tareq Hadhad, chief executive of Peace by Chocolate, philanthropist, refugee

If the last two years have shown us anything, it is that kindness can help us through some of the darkest times. This is why we must strive to promote kindness at every level of society.

As individuals, we can see the change that small random acts of kindness can make to someone’s life. As business owners, we must take care to promote our ROK, return on kindness, above our return on investment, and to see that what truly makes a difference is the health of the community around us, built on boosting each other up.

As the human race, we should look past colour, orientation, nationality, religion and all these barriers we have invented, to see a brighter future as one people.

The past two years were a chance for us to reflect and grow, to create a world based on inclusivity, compassion and honesty, to tackle crises we may face and to share in the peace that will always follow.

Lynn Gaspard, the daughter of Al Saqi founders Andre and Salwa, used to play hide and seek between the bookshelves with her sister as a child: 'Saqi’s my home,' she says. Photo: Al Saqi Books

Lynn Gaspard, publisher of Saqi books

First and foremost, my hope in 2022 is for Covid vaccines to be distributed to all who need them around the world, and not hoarded by the richer countries; I hope that we can minimise the devastation to human life and our economies wrought by this horrible virus.

I hope that people’s humanity and empathy is rekindled, and that this influences our choice of leaders. When there is such wealth in the world, it is unforgivable for people to be starving or dying of cold, whether in Lebanon, stranded at Eastern European borders or homeless on our London streets.

They all deserve our attention and help. I hope that like-minded souls can continue to come together to implement a kinder, more humane vision for our societies – and that this continues to be reflected in the wondrous works of art produced.

On a personal note, I hope that our book industry continues to adapt successfully to the ever-expanding challenges it faces (Brexit delays and bureaucratic stresses, paper/haulier shortages, price increases, to name but a few).

I hope that Saqi titles continue to reach, enliven and embolden audiences throughout the world. There is no better feeling than publishing a good book and hearing from happy readers.

And finally, I look forward to seeing my authors, our readers and our publishing friends again – whether at launches, events or book fairs. It has been too long.

Bandar Reda, chief executive of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce:

Looking ahead to the new year, we can anticipate that it will be an extremely important one not only for the chamber itself but for the entire Arab world and, in particular, for its dynamic relationship with the United Kingdom.

All parties are keen to strengthen their strategic partnership and make the most of the new opportunities for traders and investors that are opening up in the emerging sectors. These opportunities are almost limitless and would have been undreamt of by previous generations.

The UK and the GCC states are moving towards a new Free Trade Agreement in 2022, whose conclusion is certain to energise UK-GCC collaboration and boost trade and investment across the regions.

The ABCC has been entrusted by the GCC to assist in the co-ordination and support for the negotiating process towards the formal signing of what will be a landmark deal.

I believe the ABCC can be proud of its achievements over the past year. We retained and even increased our membership in the face of unprecedented global challenges. We succeeded in maintaining our core business services and delivered on our commitments to our members, clients and partners.

We have exciting plans for the coming 12 months and are eagerly looking forward to playing a more active part in building closer business relationships. You will be hearing much more about the ABCC in 2022.

Doctors' orders

This year, Norhan Bayomi quoted the film actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, the singer-songwriter and inventor Imogen Heap, and the designer and scientist Neri Oxman in a tweet wishing a happy International Women’s Day to “all the great ladies who inspired the world and more who will come”. Photo: Norhan Bayomi

Dr Norhan Bayomi, environmental scientist, architect, inventor, music producer, trance DJ

The past two years have been a desperate call for help, but I am optimistic that more and more people are acknowledging the challenges we are facing, whether climate-related or social.

As increasing numbers of people mobilise to protect our planet and its population, I strongly believe we have a chance for a more sustainable, equitable future. There is hope in action. I aspire to live in a world that is more vibrant, and accepting of, kind to, and safe for everyone. Blessings to all.

Dr Ahmed Hankir, an award-winning psychiatrist known as the Wounded Healer

Not much longer to go before we wrap up 2021. It has been an eventful year to say the least and I know that I have certainly been tested on numerous occasions on personal and professional levels.

I have learnt more about my strengths and limitations, and I have been reminded time and again about the importance of kindness and connections with others.

A highlight of 2021 was featuring in The National’s Arab Showcase series. It was deeply empowering and dignifying for my story to be chronicled and in such a poignant way. I hope that others can derive solace and comfort from my mental health recovery journey and my adventures (and misadventures!).

In the run-up to the New Year, I think about how best to prepare for 2022. As a Wounded Healer, mental health is foremost in my mind.

Of course, I will adjust, but what will remain the same in this era of uncertainty is to take it “one day at a time” or even “one moment at a time”, to embrace vulnerability and to reach out to our support network whenever we experience a “wobble”.

Seeking help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness after all. And as always, as we enter 2022, we must protect our hearts and our minds.

Prof Nadey S Hakim, surgeon, sculptor and musician. Photographed at his Harley Street practice and at an exhibition where he has a bust of President Trump as well as UK Prime minister Johnson on display.

Prof Nadey Hakim, pioneering transplant surgeon, sculptor, musician, polyglot

As an eternal optimist, I feel that 2022 will be a better year overall – healthier, prosperous, with an element of normality and full of new achievements. Positivity always wins and is the key to giving wings to our dreams. Everything comes to us at the right time!

I’m wishing for a true and lasting peace in the Middle East. End of conflict, and normalisation of relations with all countries, starting with the exploration of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Lebanon so that the country can at last resurrect. I can see no other way forward.

It has been bruised on several fronts, and this is the only way Lebanon can help itself without assistance from outside. The demarcation of maritime borders with Israel is a must.

Syria should ideally take back all of its refugees as it has become unbearable for the host countries. There is no justification any more for them to be outside their homeland. This will decrease pressure on Europe, too.

... and the kids are OK

Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary General, World Organisation of the Scout Movement

Against a backdrop of universal exhaustion, uncertainties and changing realities caused by or accelerated due to the pandemic, we should not lose sight of the powerful re-emergence of a global consciousness led by young people demanding a greener and more equitable world.

I hope that our countries will learn the hard lessons from the past two years and recommit to global co-operation, climate action, peace building and solidarity with the most vulnerable in our human family.

Ahmad Alhendawi, above with scouts in Malaysia, says global leaders need to learn quickly that young people are unexploited assets in solving the world’s problems. Photo: World Scout Bureau
Updated: December 29, 2021, 10:02 PM