Runaway Spoon

Talking The Talk; Walking The Walk: Establishing A Dialogue With The Arab World

November 28, 2012

Egyptian mega-investor Shafik Gabr hosted an impressive forum/reception at the Mellon Auditorium Tuesday to advance his hopes of creating a better dialogue between the Arab world and the West through art and face-to-face conversations.  His fabulous collection of Orientalist art masterpieces was the visual draw to get people together in person – not just communicating via smartphones and the internet.

Art from the Shafik Gabr Collection (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Art from the Shafik Gabr Collection

First announced in London on Nov. 15, the Shafik Gabr Foundation will soon provide exchange programs for emerging young leaders (ages 24-30) in the arts, sciences, sports and civil society to travel the world to gain a clearer understanding of one another’s way of life and thinking.

At the inaugural event in the UK, former Prime Minister Tony Blair was on hand to underscore the importance of the international initiative.

At the D.C. event on Constitution Avenue, Gabr said his initiative – East-West: The Art of Dialogue -- wants to “inspire young people to talk to each other, and not at each other.  Reality, he said, “is not determined on your Blackberry…reality is determined when you are there.”  

“In today’s world, we have instant access to immediate global communications of every type, but even so we don’t understand each other,” said Gabr.  “As a result, I’m afraid we are on a trajectory that can lead to more conflict than resolution. I hope that by giving emerging leaders in the Arab world and the West the opportunity to know each other, and talk to each other, rather than at each other, and collaborate in joint projects that this can create better bridges of understanding….

HRH Princess Michael of Kent (left) & Nini Johnson (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) HRH Princess Michael of Kent (left) & Nini Johnson

“I am worried that with our fast communications, many times we don’t take time to understand the issues.”

Among those participating in the forum were Sen. Joseph Lieberman; Rep. Darrell Issa; Admiral William J. Fallon, former commander of U.S. Central Command; Kemal Dervis, vice president and director of Global Economy and Development at Brookings Institution; and Hussein Ibish, senior fellow for American Task Force on Palestine.

Sen. Lieberman (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Sen. Lieberman

Actor Hussein Fahmy, also a panelist, said that too often, films and the media stereotype cultures. For example, he said Mexicans are portrayed “as lazy” and Iranians as “all assassins…we have to be more tolerant of each other and stop this stereotyping….”

Asked, if given the opportunity, how he would advise Barack Obama, Sen. Lieberman conceded that the President “missed opportunities” and the U.S. government was “much too quiet” during the Arab Spring. “The president has a second chance now…empowered by this election mandate,” said Lieberman, who is retiring from the Senate at the start of the year.

Praising the new Gabr initiative, Lieberman said: “As good as the internet is, there’s no substitute for an actual exchange of people.”

Aniko Gaal Schott (left) & Mrs. Roosevelt (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Aniko Gaal Schott (left) & Mrs. Roosevelt

As a young man in Egypt, Gabr recalled the day his father forced him into the world. “My father came into my room and told me I had received my last allowance.”  So, Gabr said, he started a messenger service on a bike. In the 1980s, he came to the states as a “struggling entrepreneur” and traveled the America’s Midwest to build his business and establish lifelong friendships.

Among the several hundred invited guests at the evening reception were Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent, political activist Ralph Nader, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese, protocol ambassador Mrs. SelwaLucky” Roosevelt, retailer Iraklis Karabassis, interior designer Aniko Gaal Schott, (who is decorating Mr. and Mrs. Gabr’s house in DC), and Walter and Dede Cutler

The Egyptian Ambassador (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) The Egyptian Ambassador

A number of guests in the young adult demographic that Gabr is targeting also attended the morning forum.

Masterpieces from Gabr’s collection of Orientalist traveller painters of the 19th and early 20th centuries were on display at the Mellon Auditorium.

“When I look at these paintings, I find a certain dialogue,” said the actor Fahmy, “These were the first newsreels coming back to Europe and the West. You could see the body language; you can look in their eyes; you could see the salesmen selling carpets on the street. It was the first dialogue between the East and the West.”

Actor Hussein Fahmy (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Actor Hussein Fahmy

Gabr plans similar conferences in New York, Paris, Istanbul and Cairo. He is chairman and managing director of the ARTOC Group for Investment and Development.



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Cleopatra Would've Bought Into This Collection

November 16, 2012

A slice of the Nile washed up on the shores of the Potomac in the form of Egyptian treasures presented at an exquisite jewelry show at the Four Seasons.   Wasn’t it Elizabeth Taylor who wore such wonderful stuff in Cleopatra?

Sylvia Ragheb and Randa Fahmy Aboul-Nasr (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Sylvia Ragheb and Randa Fahmy Aboul-Nasr

Syra Arts, owned by Sylvia Ragheb and her business partner Randa Fahmy Aboul-Nasr, invited several hundred of the well-heeled set to this opening fashion scene Thursday night.

Featured was an Egyptian collection of Azza Fahmy necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets and other pieces of such classic styles that brought back memories of the Queen of Sheba, the Age of Pharoahs, and the awesome columns of the Temple of Philae.  Young, lovely models gowned in flowing white scarf-like dresses and adorned with Egyptian jewelry, swayed dreamily on a raised stage in the center of it all.

Come Fly With Me Jewelry (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Come Fly With Me Jewelry

Guests included Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik, many embassy staff -- and it was all filmed by Egyptian Al Hurr-A-TV.

Throughout the evening, scores of women tried on the glowing, sometime legendary, sometimes vintage-in-concept, but all of it beautiful, daring and eye-catching pieces of jewelry.

Perfect timing for New Year’s Eve or the Presidential Inauguration in January.

Ragheb, whose husband is Egyptian, resides in the D.C. metropolitan area, and works from a Georgetown location on 31st Street.

For more information, visit Syra Arts or contact

Trying on the jewelry (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Trying on the jewelry
Georgetown's Alla Rogers shows off Egyptian necklace (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Georgetown's Alla Rogers shows off Egyptian necklace
Al Hurr-A-TV's Alain Dargham & Luis Minos (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Al Hurr-A-TV's Alain Dargham & Luis Minos

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Abuse On the Ropes

November 4, 2012

Can the lively Moulin Rouge early 20th-century spirit blend with a strong dose of modern-day technology?

That melding enveloped the annual Knock Out Abuse Gala at the Ritz-Carlton, WashingtonThursday night.

Male model mingling (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Male model mingling

Some 750 women balanced their champagne glasses with one hand and with the other poked at hand-held gadgets supplied by the party planners to bid on auction items.  In olden times (last year and the years before), there were friendly sheets of bidding papers on the tables to write one’s bid down; they also offered a glimpse at who bid on what items.

But that’s so last century.

Several guests wondered what would happen if a visually challenged bidder mistakenly poked in an extra zero or two in the dimmed lighting. Ouch.  Rumor has it that is exactly what occurred at other events, where panic ensued among the hot-fingered bidders.

Anyway, moving on. 

Gina Adams of FedEx Corp, the Hope Diamond sponsor (main) & Jill Sorensen (on left) (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Gina Adams of FedEx Corp, the Hope Diamond sponsor (main) & Jill Sorensen (on left)

Red was the preferred cocktail attire, as the invitation said, “Think 50 Shades of Red,” of course, playing off the now-famous erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The decor carried out the cabaret theme of Moulin Rouge, which is French for red mill. There was red everywhere, feathery things and extravagant flowery ceiling hangings. Male models on display wore red feather boas and masks.  Even the dessert cake was topped with chocolate wind mills.

Hurricane Sandy left DC relatively unscathed so the high spirits could also be seen as a sign of relief for the partygoers, noted several speakers, including the emcee, newswoman Andrea Roane of W*USA 9.

Two top-hatted, bare-chest charmers (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Two top-hatted, bare-chest charmers

Supermodel Carré Otis, the 2012 honoree and guest speaker, spoke of her troubled marriage and personal history, which she detailed in her book Beauty Disrupted.  “It takes balls to be up here,” she said, speaking briefly of her oft-troubled past lifestyle. 

Nineteen years ago, Knock Out Abuse Against Women started when co-founders Cheryl Masri and Jill Sorensen were at Cafe Milano in Georgetown and dreamed up the idea of doing a charitable event to benefit domestic violence victims.

It also was a way to party it up on the same night as the men smoked cigars and drank hard stuff at the Fight Night Benefit across town at the Washington Hilton.

If the women were going to be left alone, than by golly, they were going to get dressed up and have fun, too -- all for a cause.

Tania Paira, Jana Al Marashi, Pauline Habr, Claudette Settle (Photo by: Natalia Janetti) Tania Paira, Jana Al Marashi, Pauline Habr, Claudette Settle

Over the years, this sold-out one-night event has raised more than $6.5 million to restore the lives of abused women and children in the D.C. metro area, and this year was no exception, raising over $600,000.

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