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Museum of Civilization, Ottawa, Ontario (June 17, 2013)


The Grand Hall of the Museum of Civilization provided a superbly dynamic venue for the first Arab Ambassadors’ Awards Gala, honouring the stellar contributions of Arab Canadians.  This sold-out event, held on June 17, was a source of pride to many, and an absolute revelation to others, in its capacity to bring to light the outstanding, world-class calibre of excellence to be found among Canada’s beloved Arab community.

In essence, the evening’s objective was to pay tribute to those who have made outstanding contributions in one of seven basic categories:  Politics; business; arts; science; expertise; charitable contributions; as well as youth who have achieved success in one of these major categories.  The selection was conducted by two committees created for this purpose, who faced an enormous challenge due to the overwhelming number of impressive, well-deserving nominees.   Five finalists for each category were pre-selected, but only one from each group would win the Arab Ambassadors’ Award known as “The Arabesque”, designed by the renowned artist, Pascal Demonsand. All finalists however, were presented with a special “Award of Distinction”.

The setting for the event was magical – the majestic Grand Hall,  framed by soaring 40 ft aboriginal totem poles,  native Indian house facades and images,  conjured up a powerful atmospheric overview of the culture of Canada’s native peoples.  On Monday evening, it was further enhanced by the hauntingly beautiful flavours of Arabia – its colourful music, song, dance and its extraordinary people, whose ancestry can be traced to the beginnings of civilization.   This diverse intermingling delivered an enlightening visual that spoke volumes to the powerful enhancement that cultural integration bestows. 

The evening began with Master of Ceremonies, Michael Qaqish ushering in a stunning performance by virtuoso oudist, John Shadeed. This was followed by the National Anthem, presented by sensational mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah.  The Dean of the Arab Ambassadors, HE Smail Benamara gave an energetic welcome on behalf of the Council of Arab Ambassadors, who joined him on stage; this was followed by remarks by the Honourable Jason Kenny, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multi-culturalism, giving high praise to the many contributions of Arab Canadians to Canadian society.  Remarks were also delivered on behalf of the Selection Committees by Dr. Abdullah Obeid, Chair of Arab Studies at Ottawa University, and the Hon. Gar Knutson, former Minister of International Trade,  and Secretary of State for the Middle East.

A musical recital ensued as the audience was treated to a remarkable classical rendition by youth nominee (and eventual category winner), Ghazi Mehdi Billal.  He was then joined by Julie Nesrallah who delivered an uplifting operatic vocal from Carmen.

Once concluded, the evening’s presentations began with the first three categories - politics, business and arts.  Each group consisted of 5 nominees and was accompanied by a Canadian parliamentarian and an Arab Ambassador.   

Senator Noel Kinsella, Speaker of Canada’s Senate, was joined by Ambassador Khaled Bahah of Yemen, to present the award for Politics.  The Speaker, a great friend to the Arab world, delivered a heartfelt speech and pronounced the award winner as the esteemed Senator Pierre de Bane, a former Cabinet member and first person of Arab descent elected to Parliament.

The Business award was presented by Minster Jason Kenny, accompanied by HE Nouzha Chekrouni, of Morocco.  The winner was Mr Abdo Ibrahim El Tassi who is the CEO of Peerless Garments in Winnipeg.

The award for Arts was presented by The Hon Denis Coderre, former Minister of Immigration, together with HE Ali Hussain Al-Sammak, of Kuwait, and that award was won by the evening’s stupendous mezzo soprano, Julie Nesrallah.

A fabulous display of rousing music and lively dance was performed by the Montreal Andalusian Troupe and the Palestinian Dance Band prior to presentation of the final categories of nominees:  Science; expertise; charitable activities; and youth.

MP Deepak Obhrai, accompanied by HE Wael Aboulmagd, of Egypt presented the award for Science to Dr Mona Nemer, the noted professor and scientific researcher in cardio-vascular disease.

The award for Expertise was presented by HE Basheer Zoubi of Jordan.  This award was won by Dr Mamdouh Shiukri, the President and Vice Chancellor of York University in Toronto.

MP Helene Laverdiere together with HE Riadh Esid of Tunisia presented Dr. Mohammed Baobeid with the award for Charitable Activities as Executive Director of the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration in London, Ontario.

And last but not least the award for outstanding Youth was presented to Virtuoso pianist, Ghazi Mehdi Billal, and judo medalist Sarah Myriam Mazouz;  by Geoff Regan, MP from Halifax,  and HE Micheline Abi Samra of Lebanon.

The evening’s festivities reluctantly drew to a close, finishing on a distinctly high note with a musical performance by Moroccan Songstress and Jazz-Singer Leila Ghouchi, and the incredible dance ensemble, Lebanese Group Zaffeh.

The Arab Ambassadors’ Awards evening was a night of distinction, not just for the nominees, but for the entire Arab-Canadian community from coast to coast.  It was a superlative event that literally redefined the degree of excellence within the Arab community. It also verified Canada’s sincere commitment to embrace and encourage multi-culturalism and its dedication to reward the principles of professionalism and hard work, but, and perhaps most importantly, this event was an inspiration to us all that, while excellence may seem illusive, it is within the reach of all of us.

Excellence is not a skill…it is an attitude!

Video link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZ4sDqq-ips


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