In a glitzy black-tie ceremony in Doha last week, Ricardo Karam, the Middle East’s answer to Piers Morgan, and the striking Al Jazeera anchor Laila Al Shaikhil, unveiled the winners of the second Takreem Awards: a lofty initiative that seeks to honour Arabs in various fields.
The awards come at a perfect time. As the “Arab spring” unfolds, the laureates received their prizes in Qatar under the benevolent eye of its ruler – an astute choice given the country’s diplomatic drive and Takreem’s efforts to be taken seriously. “We want to be less like the Oscars and more like the Nobel prize,” admitted Claudia Berberi, its business development manager.
Takreem – which means “to honour” in Arabic – carries clout. Backed by heavyweight sponsors like Total and Nissan it boasts a prestigious jury that includes Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei, Queen Noor of Jordan and Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.
The outcome of the awards was not entirely unexpected. There was the obvious addition: a prize to “promote peace” awarded to the all-encompassing Arab youth movement. “This might seem obvious but it was in fact tricky to pick out individual people and we didn’t want to look like we were favouring one particular country,” explained Berberi.
There was also a slightly controversial prize dedicated to George Galloway, the British MP who received the Exceptional International Contribution to Arab Society award for his long-time support of the Palestinians and his stance against the Iraq war.
Perhaps more interesting were the awards given to lesser-known figures. The Young Entrepreneur prize went to the Jordanian Samar Muhareb, the founder of Legal Aid, an NGO that helps ordinary Jordanians and refugees with human rights issues. Souad Al Jaffali, a Saudi who has done a great deal for handicapped children in the kingdom through her Help Center, received the Philanthropy and Charitable Services award.
There was also an Environmental Development and Sustainability award that went to the NGO Nature Iraq, as well as an award for the Arab Woman of the Year. This went to the journalist and activist Souhayr Belhassen, the former head of the International Federation for Human Rights who is set to play an important role in the new Tunisia.
In the end, the awards went to people that would make “350 million Arabs proud” as Karam put it. While this figure may not have reflected the actual number of people watching the ceremony on TV, the award’s ambition and scope is certainly not lacking. After all, what the Arab world desperately needs right now are new role models.