Oct 14, 2011
Speaking to a large crowd of Arab youths at an international development conference in Montreal, Canada, Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, the creator of The 99 cartoon, rushed enthusiastically through his ideas about the importance of self-image and the challenges facing Arab and Muslim identity.
"There are many levels of the story I am presenting," said Mutawa. "One of which is the entrepreneur who had an idea, raised money and set up this company and created almost a thousand jobs.
"That story, when people see it, they see that anything is possible," he added, referring to his project for which he has raised millions of dollars and found markets around the world, including major television networks in both the United States and the Middle East.
The Arab Development Summit - held as part of the Arab Development Initiative earlier this month - was organised by a group of 30 students from McGill university, one of the leading educational institutions in Canada.
It attracted more than 500 delegates in addition to entrepreneurs, speakers, partners and sponsors, including the World Bank, Harvard Arab Alumni Association and Etihad Airways. Speakers included the poet and political science professor Tamim Barghouti, the leading entrepreneur Dr Ahmad Ashkar, founder of the Hult Global Case Challenge, and Maryam Eskandari, an award-winning architect.
Award-winning architect Maryam Eskandari, who spoke about "designing space for social change", described how inspiring it was to create a mosque in Sudan that later became a place of worship for people of all faiths.
Eskandari, who is of Iranian origin, said her Muslim clients who wanted to build the mosque discovered they lacked financing. But then members of the Christian community agreed to give them money for the project and the Muslims decided to share the prayer space with other religions to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence in their own community.
Tarek Kanaan, one of the participants, said that such ideas and examples of economic and social development were exactly what Arab young people need to embrace.
"We know the challenges that are ahead of us and we know some of the solutions, but we needed to get together, discuss these issues and put them in an organised manner," he said. "We have spoken of economic change, civil society, minorities, pluralism, religious tolerance, self-image and political change among many other issues openly and frankly."