7 years passed, still a best seller – Aroos Amman (The Bride of Amman)


Yesterday, an old time friend of mine, took a photo for “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman” that shows the book in the best selling section of DNA Lifestyle Store in Al Abdali Mall.

I was happy to receive the photo and rushed to share it on all of my social media channels. The fact that “Aroos Amman” keeps on appearing in best selling lists after 7 years of its release, speaks volume. This is not the first time or place for it to be a best seller, in fact it was one of the top best selling books on Jamalon in 2012, the year it got released. It continuously appears in the best selling books section in the famous Jordanian bookstore “Reader”. It has been a best seller and a “recommended to read” at Virgin megastore for months. The audio version, made it to the most listened books list on storytel and the ebook is part of Abjjad’s all time most read books!

In Virgin Megastore Amman

The book been translated and published to English in 2015, and currently is getting translated into the French language, planned to be released next year.

Jamalon best selling list 2012

It has opened so many door to me, including securing an MA scholarship from the British Council to study in the UK in 2012. Invitation to different conferences and events in global cities from London, to Berlin, Salzburg and Pune

I have always wondered about the reason behind the success of this book. Why it ticks with so many people? It was my first to write, even before doing my MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking. It wasn’t perfectly crafted, and critics would point out the simplicity of its language or the shortages of the plot. Yet, it keeps generating strong reactions that surprises me till today, not just from my fellow Jordanians whom I mainly address in the book, but also from Arabs and foreigners from different countries.

For me it was a work of activism and I am more than happy to see it reach such heights. I wanted the voices of my characters to be heard, and they got heard. I wanted to give our youth hope, and for many I did. I remember a gay guy once told me that he keeps the book with him all the time, and place it next to his best when he goes to sleep as he feels protected by having it close by. That’s something I am so proud to hear. I remember a young woman once sending me a long letter stating how empowered she feels after reading the book and promising to stand up for her self and her rights. That’s also something I am so proud of. Even yesterday, after posting the photo of the book in the best selling list, I received a message from a guy who said it is his favorite book ever and that he remembers how he skipped his university classes and stayed home super excited to read it.

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Readers Bookshop

I don’t know what the magic in “Aroos Amman”. Maybe it has to do with giving a voice to a gay man that hasn’t been heard of in our society before, or hearing a Jordanian woman standing up to her body rights and sexuality, or maybe its magnifying our issues of gender and heavy social heritage, and showing how they have been affecting our lives negatively. I always say, I wrote it from my heart, and maybe that’s what made it tick. And I guess, thats what others see in it, like what a friend commented yesterday on the Instagram image, stating that it is successful because it is “honest” and “different”.

Thank you for all of the honest and different people who supported me and supported this book into such success. Hopefully we will seeing it reaching more people and maybe soon we will watch it as a movies on the big screens.. fingers crossed!

London launch for The Bride of Amman

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doodle by fido and mlabbas bringing you a line of custom cute kids tshirts


Anyone been with me in a meeting or workshop or any training must have seen me doodling on a paper or a napkin. It has been a long time habit that I love. Just give me a paper and a pen and you’ll see me coming up with different weird shapes topped with dotted eyes, smily faces, chaotic hair, and lines of arms and legs.

It is something that I loved to do since school days. And in my mind, I always thought of how to make something out of this and thus I started last year an instagram account for my doodles (@doodlebyfido). But they were still paper doodles without colors. I wanted to add more life to them and for a long time was thinking about trying digital art. I never got myself to get any digital painting tool until recently when I got my ipad pro and downloaded procreate. And since then, I have been having so much fun, coming with a different colored doodle almost every day. They look livelier with colors and more attractive.. I think.

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One of my doodles on a Mlabbas tshirt

And yet, I was thinking to myself, how can I turn these doodles to something of more value, since people are loving them. So in my last visit to Amman, I decided to approached Imad Al Shawwa, founder of mlabbas (a tshirt store gone wild as stated on their website). I have always been a fan of them and their work and a regular customer of their Jabal Amman branch. They offer local designer a platform to print their work on tshirts (mainly) but also a list of other items. I thought why not contacting them, and I messaged Imad asking him if we can work together on this project. Thankfully, he welcomed the idea and was very helpful in setting up a channel for doodle by fido on their website.

It is an exciting project for me and I am very happy to work with mlabbas on this. I look forward to see many kids wearing those cool doodles and be happy with the good vibes they project.

So far I am pleased with the reactions and thankful for all of your support.

To visit my channel on mlabbas website and order tshirts for your kids click on: http://doodlebyfido.mlabbas.me/

A happy Palm Sunday long time ago


It is Palm Sunday today. Family celebrating in Jordan and I am here in my office in Dubai. Not complaining here. I haven’t celebrated Palm Sunday for many years now and to be honest, seeing the weather conditions in Amman today, with the heavy rain and hail, I’d rather be in Dubai – sorry folks!

But going down memory lane, maybe 30 years back. I see myself all dressed-up, in proper SHORTS and cute t-shirt, as I recall it has always been *sunny* Palm Sundays with a nice warm springy weather back in the days.

To complete the image of that little boy sitting on the balcony of our second floor apartment in Al Webdeh, and watching the crowd leaving nearby Churches after Sunday Mass while getting into their cars. I’d most probably be sitting on that swing we had, which me and my sister used to fight over with her getting the upper hand often (she was socially smarter than me and always knew how to get things her way – love you Juj).

I’d be happy on that day because mother would be off work. She used to work on Sundays whereas we had Sundays off at school. Without her Sundays were boring. But the day was special with her in house, and also because we usually had a feast on the day (if I recall correctly), with dad coming earlier for lunch and grand parents showing up.

I see that little boy extremely happy for the sight of his Sido Abo Ryad getting into the building. My favorite grandparent who left us early. He usually showed up with a bag of surprises as he used to own a nearby mini-market. And now I just realize how lucky we were to grow up in a neighborhood with grandpa’s mini-market right across the street! I know the street was an obstacle in that young age (there was a time where Juj tripped over her face and heavily bruised it – took months to heal), but hey, it was a place full of goodies, and grandpa was generous! That’s not the only reason I said he was my favorite though, but it makes realize how happy my childhood was. No wonder with such loving parents, beautiful sister, and sweet grandpa, I had it all.

Today I celebrate that Palm Sunday and relive in my memory.

Happy Palm Sunday everyone!

Theeb is off to the Oscars: Interviewing Producer Nadine Toukan


When they announced the short list of The Best Foreign Film for Oscars this year, a national euphoria hit Facebook. It was one of those moments, when everyone felt proud. “Theeb” reached the Oscars, a Jordanian film that has been gaining praise world wide, winning awards here and there and demonstrating how far the film industry in Jordan has gone.

We can make quality films, Nadine Toukan believed, and she delivered. Jordan’s film industry is still in its infantile stage. It was started merely 10 years ago with a governmental plan to establish “The Royal Film Commission”, which was part of a national strategic plan to create a creative industry that would build on the energy of the young population in the Kingdom. Nadine joined “The Royal Film Commission” at the time with a mandate to search and develop local talents in the film industry and she did an amazing job; Today there are hundreds of Jordanian talents carving their way in an industry that is yet to mature. Nadine didn’t only that, but also topped herself by showing everyone that it is possible to make a Jordanian film and pioneered the scene by producing the much loved “Captain Abu Raed” in 2008, followed up by “When Monaliza Smiled” in 2012, and finally the globally celebrated Oscar nominated “Theeb”.

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I am so proud of have the chance of interviewing Nadine and ask her the following:

Fadi: You are going to the Oscars! How does it feel?

 

Nadine: Theeb is off to the Oscars. And don’t forget the BAFTAs tomorrow in London. Exciting. Rewarding. Confusing. So what. How cool. A melange of many feelings, and a good time for deep reflection and taking stock. 

 

Fadi: You believed and you delivered. I remember that you once told me that what triggered you to produce “Captain Abu Raed” is that you wanted to show people in the film industry at the time that we can. Today, you are proving that we can’t only make films but we can also make quality films that can be admired worldwide. I would like to know more about what motivates you? was it your passion for storytelling or your love to your country and your people?

 

quotes3Nadine: I’m generally fed up with a few things: “We can’t, it won’t work, there’s no money, who cares…” Having our stories owned by others, and us almost always bothered at how they end up being told. Defeatist attitudes. Entitlement. Waiting for Godot. I’ve always lived to the tune of, “you want it, go will it into existence”. So in part, the power of imagination pull. Not driven by a major strategic plan, rather through a series of serendipitous events and situations.

 

 

Fadi: I have met you for few times only, but I have always read a side of you that I can’t help not to admire and point out, which is your willingness to help people realize their dreams. I don’t forget the time you tried to help me find a new job in order to be able to publish “The Bride of Amman”, and I remember when I first approached you for an interview on my blog, you wanted to give the spotlight to other people on the crew, like the first assistant director, Yanal Kassay.

 

quotes1Nadine: Listening to your plan for the book and that you needed a job, and reacting in trying to connect you with opportunities, is the result of my built in producer skills. That’s just how I’m wired. Filmmaking is one of the most collaborative industries. There’s no industry without the tribe. We’re used to having directors, actors, producers, and at times cinematographers, front it, but none of us would get far without line producers, ADs, PAs, coordinators, art directors, and the long list of people needed to be able to go the distance, including our generous backers and investors. It’s easy to get caught up in the hero syndrome. I find that scary, and it stops us from understanding through the necessary wider lens. In this industry, there are no heroes, there are heroic collaborations. On Theeb, Naji stood on the shoulders of giants to be able to direct the film this way. We are indebted to each and every single person who said yes at any given stage of this production. Theeb is possible thanks to many people who came together to raise the bar, and simply didn’t settle.

 

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Nadine Toukan with the star Jacir Eid

Fadi: Looking at Theeb’s cast, you gave the starring role to the young bedouin Jacir; that in itself is a fairytale story. You are taking this young man to the Oscars! How rewarding it is being the person behind the success of many others?

 

Nadine: Jacir owes this big break to his father, Eid, whose lazy planning led Bassel and Naji to find Jacir in front of their camera. And then there was magic. I don’t agree with the notion that anyone is behind the success of others. Rather, it’s our continuous motion, and intersections of people and their actions. Speaking of serendipity: One evening while camping at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp in Beidha, a visitor from the area stopped by and sat with us over tea and small talk. Half way through, he stood up and gave me a piece of his mind: “You, all of you with your cameras, the makers of these bedouin TV series we see on the satellites, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Year after year you make one series after the other about our bedouin culture and stories. None of them are accurate, we don’t live that way, nor speak that way, nor do we socialise the way you fantasise. Yet you keep making them about us. And here we are. Still alive. Still living here, but you never come by to do your research right, nor do you speak to us. And you still keep making those silly bedouin series”. While I had never been involved in any of these productions, I knew very well what he was referring to. It was painful, and a much needed wake up call. Representation was broken, and that had to stop.

 

Back between 2003-5, I served on the committee working on Jordan’s submission to the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity program, under the title: The Cultural Space of the Bedu in Petra and Wadi Rum. It was a challenging feat that ended up being proclaimed in 2005 and ratified in 2006. One of the recommendations of the action plan was to create programs that would support the communities in these areas own their culture and oral heritage in their own way, in their voice. Then one day, some of the least likely suspects collaborated on the making of Theeb. A story owned and performed by the community itself, simply because we were open to listening to the situations we found ourselves in, and decided to break free from anything that had been before us. We followed our instinct, and paid attention to opportunities that presented themselves to us. Then took a series of risks and leaps of faith.

 

Fadi: I watched “Theeb” at Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year, and had goose-bumps seeing the theatre full of people who all stood up at the end and clapped. Did you foresee its success?

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Nadine Toukan and Naji Abu Nowar

Nadine: A lot of hard, good work went into the film by a large group of extraordinary people. I knew we had something special. The backstory of which is even more special. When Bassel pitched the project to me back in 2010, it was “a bedouin short film”. I remember looking at him curiously, smiling, wondering where this may go. Then he said he had passed it on to Naji for script notes. Bigger smile. Two remarkably talented and interesting people were about to collaborate. The beginning of an excellent equation. And when we started making creative decisions on how we were going to approach the production, it was clear we had something authentic.

 

Fadi: As you know, the Jordanian film industry is still in its infantile stages. There are many challenges that we have to overcome. Having a Jordanian film showing in cinemas in other countries is a challenge in itself. How did you do that?

 

Nadine: Through expensive sales agents and distributors.

 

Fadi: What are the biggest challenges that you think is facing the Jordanian film industry?

 

Nadine: Writing. Waiting. Distribution.

 

Fadi: Making films usually requires big budgets. There are only few cinemas in Amman and I would say, like the publishing industry, distribution channels are limited. How did you overcome that? Did you make profits for “Theeb” yet?

 

Nadine: No. Sales agents and distributors take a huge cut for the work they do. We’ve had limited distribution. We are back in some theatres around the Arab world this month post the nominations, and we hope the long tail of the life of the production may eventually pay off. I think I’ve heard the questions: “Is it on YouTube or any of the torrents?” and “When will Hammoudeh be selling it?” more than: “When can I buy a cinema ticket?”

 

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Fadi: The Royal Film Commission has done an amazing job in training young Jordanian talents in the past decade and facilitating and help funding local films but it was hit by the global financial crisis and the tough situation that Jordan has been facing after the Arab Spring. It is still playing an active role in helping the industry but not as strong as it used to be. How do you see the RFC support for the industry?

 

 
quotes4Nadine: The RFC has done some excellent work over instances, but no where near enough. I say this as someone who once worked there when it first started, and say it with a lot of love. I don’t think the global financial crisis is a valid excuse. Sounds like a good cover. This is the time to be brave and aggressive, and think of new types of collaborations for growth. I’m grateful to the RFC for giving us a loan from a modest fund they had, to make Fadi Haddad’s feature, When Monaliza Smiled, the year we planned. That enabled us to get on with it without delays. It was produced on a shoestring budget, and ended up resonating with diverse local audiences. Prime Cinema, Amman, kept the film showing for over 9 weeks. The best kind of cinema partners a local film could hope for. Sometime ago, Ruba AlAyed (now with MBC) handled marketing for the RFC, and one of the slogan’s she worked within back then was: Anything’s possible in Jordan. I’d like them to deliver on that. It means getting unstuck. The RFC may have to step way out of its comfort zone, and radically change the way they’re doing the work.

 

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Nadine Toukan and Fadi Haddad

 

Fadi: You raised the bar so high, do you see other Jordanian films following Theeb’s steps and achieving such success in the near future?

 

Nadine: I hope they go ever further. No reason not to.

 

Fadi: What was your wildest dream at school?

 

Nadine: Depends what stage of school. I had many that changed a lot. Never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don’t. Next time we talk, ask me about my wildest dream tomorrow.

 

Fadi: What’s your next step after the Oscar?

 

Nadine: You mean after Theeb. Always on a quest towards identifying my next screen production. I’m also spending this year working with the Doha Film Institute on a wonderful program for emerging Qatari filmmakers. DFI is doing meaningful work, and in line with my own philosophies for the needs ahead for an Arab renaissance. It’s a place and program where a generation of Qataris are busting to see and tell things for themselves as they experiment with the cinematic arts. A beautiful exchange where I get to give of my experiences, and they give me of their dreams. What an honour.

 

Fadi: What’s your motto in life?

 

Nadine: Screw it. Let’s do this!

 

Fadi: Screw it. Let’s do this indeed! Let’s bring our stories to the world! Thank you Nadine.. best of luck tomorrow in the BAFTAs and later this month in the Oscars.. You make us proud! 

 

The Arab Observer interviews Mutasem Subeih: “Ana 197” and the issue of identity


If there is one measurement that would predict the success of a person in a certain field, it would be his/her passion. Mutasem Subeih is one of those people, who along with his writing and creative talent, shows a strong passion and perseverance towards carving a career as a writer. We met first time last year in Sharja’s book fair at the launch of “Janna Ala Al Ard”. He came to support me for my second book, and told me about his ambition (a work-in-progress at the time), a promising story titled “Ana 197” of a young man going through out of body experiences in his dreams.11079615_1066278080056966_42229702336390685_n-2

The book came out few months ago, and I had the chance to get my copy in a book signing Mutasem organized in Dubai. It was published by Arab Scientific Publishers who won Sheikh’s Zayed Award as the best Arab Publisher earlier in the year and it shows a beautiful cover of a man trapped in a bottle. The concept is creative, and the story is crafted well.

I had the chance to interview Mutasem and ask him the following:

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Fadi: I have experienced it myself, it is not easy to find a decent publisher for your first book, especially when you are a new writer. How did you manage to secure a publishing contract with the best publishing house in the Arab world?

quote2Mutasem: Indeed it’s quite a struggle to find a publisher as a new writer. However, I never gave up. I was persistent. I applied to somewhat 10 publishers and all of them refused publishing my book. Then luckily, three months later, ASP contacted me saying read and liked my book and hence approved to publish it.

 

Fadi: How was your experience with ASP? In terms of book quality, distribution, and publicity?  

Mutasem: I’ve had a pleasant experience with ASP up to date. They are genuine and have been helpful. I believe they are trying their best to help me get the publicity needed. They are also willing to participate my book in all upcoming book fairs in the region.

 Fadi: Why didn’t you publish your book with a Jordanian publisher?

quote3Mutasem: Unfortunately, Jordanian publishers didn’t believe in my book. I tried with two reputable Jordanian publishers, and yet both refused my book with invalid reasons, I believe. After ASP accepted to publish my book, one of them called back saying they were sorry that they have not actually read the book. They then mentioned that I could publish with them the book at any time. Of course, I have already have signed the contract with ASP back then. Six months later, I learned that the Jordanian publishers do not participate in all book fairs. For instance they have never participated in the Al-ayam Book that began in Bahrain on the 2nd of October.

Fadi: I know what it feels like holding the first copy of your book when it first arrives. It is quite an accomplishment. How did it feel?

Mutasem: Super exciting!  I cannot put it down in words. I’m very grateful.

Fadi: I read the book two months ago and loved the concept of it. The idea of coming out of your body and living the lives of others is intriguing. How did the idea come to you?

Mustasem: Funny enough,  I was actually playing this game on PlayStation and I was quite astound by the main character of the game. I found myself wondering what it would be like if my soul travelled into his body and lived by his experiences? How would that feel? The idea captivated me and triggered me to write about it.

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Fadi: There are interesting moments in the book where the soul of the main character argues with him. It fights with him, conspires on him, and terrifies him. The idea poses some important questions about identity, thus the name of the book has the pronoun “Ana”, correct? But what do you think really form our identities? Who am I? Am I my soul, my body, my nationality, my sexuality, my experiences, a sum of all of that? or what?

Mutasem: Precisely. You’ve summed it up pretty much! I think everyone has a different interpretation for that. Personally I think we are the sum of everything you mentioned combined.

Fadi: You have certainly wanted to explore the issue of identity in the book. There is another dimension where you tackle that in setting Malik (the main character) who is Jordanian in London. How did that helped you in shaping your story and developing the storyline?  

Mutasem: As you mentioned, Malik’s mother is Arab, his father is a mystery but he was born and raised in London.  Like many Arabs that live in the west, they find themselves lost between the east and west. Malik too is unsure where he stands, he goes on many journeys to discover who he really is physically mentally and spiritually..

Fadi: I liked the amount of the imaginations in the book where you can’t predict whose the next person Malik’s soul is gonna live in? That required a good research from your part taking us into different times and culture. But I can also see the issue of gender identity here, especially when Malik finds himself in a woman’s body. Knowing the importance and sensitivity of the matter to the Arab reader, you must have terrified your audience! What would you do if you wake up one day in a female body?  

quote4Mutasem: Funny that I have thought about this often! I always try to put myself in a woman’s shoe to try and see her perspective. I feel many women suffer vastly when trying to express their inner emotions and thoughts to men. I think it will be an embarking journey if I woke up in a woman’s body! They are so fragile emotionally and yet  so patient and they can be stronger than a mountain.

Fadi: I don’t think that women are fragile emotionally but anyway. The book has been out for several months now, how was the reactions to it?

Mustasem:  I’m quite grateful from all the feedback I am getting so far. It definitely is more than I ever expected. Ilhamdilah.

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Fadi: What did you do to promote it?

Mutasem: Its a struggle to promote books in the Arab world general.  However I have to admit that I am blessed to be working in the media field. My colleagues have generously helped me reach out my voice.

Fadi: Where is it available?

Mutasem: In Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, KSA, Bahrain, and soon in UAE and rest of GCC. It can also be found in every Arabic book fair.

Fadi: Are you working on your second book? What is it about?

Mutasem: I began writing a novel for a few months about the future. However I couldn’t presume with it as I felt there was so many unspoken issues are going on now.  So I am still working on the idea, but the idea revolves around a Jordanian girl suffering with endless obstacles in her hard life.

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Fadi: I love seeing Jordanian talents emerging in all creative fields. Unfortunately, we barely have established industries that support such talents and help refining them and lifting them. The publishing industry has never been strong in Jordan, same for Film, Drama, Art, etc. Yet, we see young Jordanians carving their way into these industries trying to position themselves and the country in the map of the Arabic world. How do you see the state of the industry in Jordan? and what do you advise writers who are looking into entering this field and publishing their first book?  

quote1Mutasem: Honestly, I see a bright future for our and the coming generations.  We are on the right track. We are trying our best to catch up with developed countries. We have so many hidden talents and I feel they are starting to raise their voices.  My advise for new writers, is never to give up on hope. If one is truly passionate about writing, then they will keep writing and never give up on getting it published.  The world is big enough, there’s so much room for new writers.

Fadi: Thank you Mutasem. I wish you the best of luck. And I look forward to reading more for you. It is always good to see a young Jordanian talent determined to succeed.. 

The silent majority are no longer silent: Dr. Dala’een case


I have been observing the growth of a strong online network of voices in Jordan that champions individual freedoms and human rights. This is a positive indicator that shows a u-turn in public opinion and a stronger passion from what we used to call as “silent majority”. This “silent majority”, with the help of Facebook and social media,  seems to seize being silent anymore, they now stand firm against oppressing traditional voices that has always used the agency of religion and local traditions to hold us back.

We had a good win yesterday when Dr. Dala’een, an ex parliament member and opposition leader was pushed to issue a statement denying the misogynist comments he posted on his Facebook page a week ago attacking the new appointed Minister of Telecommunication, Majd Shawikha. On his page last week he posted a photo for her (most probably taken from her Facebook account) in a night dressing gown. He added a comment saying that in the past such profane scenes had a place in pornographic magazines for perverts to look at, but today these women are appointed to rule against us! He got a few supporter to his post and many likes, but then hours later, the tide change, and angry people started flocking to his page, attacking him for his sleazy comment, and standing up for the minister. A day later, someone started an online petition on change.org, a call for the public attorney to take actions against Dr. Dala’een. The petition gathered 2276 supporter so far. It has triggered some newspaper columnist to address the issue and stand up for Dr. Dala’een. It may also be what prompt him to issue a statement yesterday and claim that it wasn’t him who posted that on Facebook, but a hacker that took over his account.

Whether he is lying or not about the hacker is not the point, we could be nice and give him the benefit of the doubt and believe his story. The point is that Jordanians are forming an organic coalition online that will no longer stand silent for misogyny or discriminative discourse.

Few months ago, the same Jordanians stood up for Kharabeesh, a video content website, for posting a homophobic video for an immature standup comedian calling for burning gay people. The reaction was strong, fast, and organised. People showered Kharabeesh with emails and FB comments and messages, forcing them to issue and apology and delete the video carrying the hate speech from their youtube channel.

In the same line, Jordanians stood up before to both Amjad Qorsha, a religious leader, for his offensive posts against christians. And also Abdul Hadi Raji Al Majali, a popular columnist, for his hate speech against Iraqis in Jordan. Both of them seemed to be tamed these days after witnessing the hard reactions.

One could consider Dr. Dala’een retreat as a win for women and women rights. I see it more of a public statement and endorsement for individual freedoms and human rights at large. With all of the negative aspects that social media brings, this one is a positive welcomed social change that brings hope for a better future.

Happy women’s day!

Let’s talk about success stories: Interviewing Eman Hylooz


We are used to hearing inspiring success stories of people who dream big and achieve their dreams. Jordan has many young energetic talents, young men and women who dream big. I have started a series of interviews to highlight and support Jordanian young talents, my focus was the film and video production industry but I also realised that there are other stories that need to be told as well.

Abjjad is the biggest community for Arab readers, the website hosts pages for more than 120K Arabic books, 12K+ book reviews and more than 60K registered users.

Eman Hylooz, Abjjad’s founder, quit her job as a Marketing & Knowledge Management Senior Officer at KPMG 2.5 years ago to pursue her dream. She believed in herself, in the country’s promise to young digital entrepreneurs, and in the wide limitless promise of the internet. With a dream to create the biggest and only network for anything related to Arabic books Eman set herself up onto one hell of a journey.

1976900_10154998587600529_5282153144855872836_n copyIn 2011 World Economic Forum, I listened to Osama Fayyad, the chairman of Oasis500 (a seed investment company for the ICT sector in Jordan), telling the audience a story about how King Abdullah dared him to copy the success of Maktoob and create another 500 hundred success stories. At that time, I am sure that many of us had doubts, but today, we can witness many success stories growing through that Royal challenge. Three years down the road, and in spite of the turmoil in the region, Abjjad, is definitely shaping up to be one. Osama Fayyad must be proud.

I ran into Eman at Sharjah’s book fair in November and asked her the following:

FZ: Eman, it is good to catch up with you, you have been running around like a bee from one publisher to another, what are you up to?

EH: Good to catch with you too dear! Yes I have been meeting and talking to more than 200 publishers in the book fair all around the Arabic region! We are introducing a new product for the publishers, where each one of them can have his own page on Abjjad. They can sell their digital books on the platform too as Abjjad’s readers have been asking for this since the debut of the website. We decided it is time to launch this product and we did!

FZ: How many publishers where you able to sign with?

EH: We currently have digital books from 19 publishers and in the final talks with more than 40 publishers.

FZ: Do you think this is the best business model for Abjjad? how do you see it affecting the Arabic literature scene?

EH: The best thing is to introduce digital books inside Abjjad’s network, Abjjad1which will help in having Arabic copy righted digital content. This is something that has been missing in the region. This will definitely affect the Arabic literature scene dramatically, as there are millions of Arabic online users from all over the world who cannot reach to the Arabic literature because of living in different countries with limited access to Arabic books.

I believe there is a huge invisible segment of Arabic readers available online that publishers cannot reach via book fairs or paper books distribution among the Arabic book shops.

FZ: When I met you two years ago, you were just starting. Lots have changed since then, and Abjjad grew to be a huge success. How was the journey? Tell me more about Abjjad’s success I am eager to know.

EH: Oh… The journey =) It was very exciting sometimes and very harsh other times! Running an online business is crazy! As you need to be really fast to be able to compete. In addition to that, you need to seek investors and convince them to believe in you and invest in the online business field which is well known to be very risky!

I have been through a lot of experiences that made me tougher and more focused to reach the goal. Abjjad was only an idea in my head 2.5 years ago, now it is getting more than 700,000 page views every month and 200,000 visitors. As a company Abjjad has reached a valuation of $1 Million. Abjjad is ranked 3,864 in Egypt, 5,647 in Saudi Arabic, and 2,850 in Algeria. Abjjad is now recognized to be officially a book rating system by Google. It has a global rank of 88,525. Abjjad was able to get an investment of $240,000 from 45 investors all over the world, part of the investment was done through an online crowd investment campaign, where we got 134% over funded in 88 days!

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FZ: I am sure that only few people know you took a huge risk in quitting your full time job and investing your savings in Abjjad. You had no backup plan. I remember when you started you told me that you either succeed or succeed. You left yourself with no options to run away from achieving your goal. How did that go? How did it help in pushing you more and more and energize you to do all the hard work that got you here?

EH: This was a very hard phase, and keeps getting harder along the way! It pushed my limits in a very surprising way, whenever I get some flash back of some certain challenges I have been through, I still feel surprised of how did I survive?! It made me know myself better, and discovered that my abilities and much bigger than I thought.

FZ: I know that Oasis500 have been giving you much help and support but it was mainly your hard work that made this platform a success. Tell me more about your beginnings, how did Oasis500 help?

EH: Oasis 500 helped A LOT! When Abjjad was only an idea in my head, they helped me sculpturing it to show the business model behind it, test the market, and measure the potential growth. Afterwards, they helped in giving in cash and in seed investment where Abjjad became real and a potential product where I can grow it and seek for further investment. They provided mentorship and introduced me to a huge network that I would have never reached without them!

After 1.5 years, they actually reinvested again in Abjjad and helped me close my first round of investment too!

FZ: You know I am a big supporter for women rights and gender equality. When I see a young woman this successful my heart blossoms with happiness. I know that gender consideration was there in the beginning in Oasis500 strategy of supporting young entrepreneurs. But as a woman, how do you think it affected your journey with Abjjad. Did you face any challenges because of your gender? How did you tackle that?

Abjjad2EH: Hmmm… I get this question all the time, and I really have a problem answering it ☺ I believe that an entrepreneur life is full with so many challenges, your gender will never make it easier or harder, we share the very same headache! But to be fair, the programs that tackle women entrepreneurs are growing, and maybe this is adding some benefits to me in terms of getting some sort of sponsorships to attend global events, or some more highlighting in the media. Otherwise, I cannot see the big difference. I would add to this my own findings in this specific area, which really would create more challenges I believe is the marital status, because being an entrepreneur means barely seeing your family, so I really cannot imagine how hard it would be to have kids for example. This might create a huge difference.

FZ: What’s next for Abjjad?

EH: We are working on introducing the digital books, which means having more publisher on board, with more ebooks, which will need more technical work in terms of having mobile applications for those ebooks, and having Abjjad functioning well on the different kind of tablets and smart phones. This is 2015’s big step ☺

FZ: I know the sky is the limit, but what’s your vision for Abjjad?

EH: To be the biggest and only network for anything related to Arabic books! Combining all the readers, writers, publishers, and digital books in one place!

FZ:  Following one’s passion is a great thing, having a successful business must be very satisfying, topping that with a noble cause (building an Arab reading community) is something out of this world. How do you feel about that?

EH: When you say it this way, it makes me feel very proud! Yet, it scares me whenever Abjjad gets bigger every day, as that adds more and more responsibilities to meet people’s expectations! Books are great, and working for this cause makes the journey worth taking!

FZ: Amen to that Eman Hylooz, we are so proud of you.. wishing you and Abjjad all the luck in 2015 and beyond. Arabic literature has a future champion, a daring young woman entrepreneur.