Alef’s brotherhood aims for a better arab world in 2030: Interviewing Tarek Abdo

Alef is by far my favourite book club in Amman, I believe that I am their favourite author too. I had three great sessions with them last year; at the beginning of the year we discussed “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman) and had a successful public open discussion about homosexuality. Later in the year, they organised a book conference and invited me to present my new book “Janna Ala Al Ard”. A week after that, they hosted me for a first thorough discussion around the concepts of longevity, life and death and other philosophical matters I presented in the book.

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo is the founder of Alef. He is one of those young Jordanians who believe that change can happen and that it is within our hands to overturn the course of events that plagued our societies in the past few decades. He is set on a mission to change the Arab world into a better one.

Alef is not just another book club, it is a social movement that started a change and will make a change. I had the chance to talk to Tarek and asked him the following questions:

Fadi: Hi Tarek, as I said in the introduction, Alef is more than a book club, it is more of a social movement. In your words, you call it a brotherhood. Tell us more about Alef, what is it exactly? How did it start? And what’s your vision for it?

Tarek: Alef club is a non-profit service organization with a stated vision “A better arab world in 2030”, it is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or political preference.

tarek2Established in 2012 and organized multiple local events, and three conferences, in addition to special boot camp trainings, the members of ALEF club are known as “A” member.

Members meet every week to discuss books, movies or other subjects. Such social events help us realize our vision.

Alef’s primary motto is “Read to lead”.

Alef brotherhood it is a secret group of leaders that serve and organize our events, 
if you want to know more about them you have to become a member first.

Fadi: In the conference you explained the name Alef. Why Alef? Is it the first letter of the Arabic Alphabets?

Tarek: Yes Alef is the first letter of all alphabet languages. The letter aleph looks like the human being body however if you take a look on our logo you will see the fusion between the human entity and the letter aleph.

Alef logo

Alef logo

Fadi: We are also intrigued to know about Tarek Abdo. How old are you? What did you study? What are you currently doing? And what are your plans for the near future?

Tarek: I am 24 years old, finished my bachelor’s studies in Marketing from 
Amman Al-Ahliyya University and planning to pursue a master’s degree in Business administration. I am also working on my dream project “a public speaking academy”.

My next step in the next year is to grow with Alef and go global, starting from Dubai, Cairo and Morocco.

Fadi: Growing a book club must be a challenge in the Arab world. In my 3 sessions with you guys, I noticed a wide reach that I haven’t noticed in other book clubs. How do you reach out to people? Who are your audience? How many other people help you? What obstacles did you face in growing this book club?

tarek1Tarek: hehe this is one of our secrets Fadi. In the Arab world, the book has a nerdy stamp; readers are usually known as nerdy and boring. Here in Alef we break this wall, we carry the book to the entertainment department, we are cool readers, we do a lot of crazy things, we ask the forbidden questions, and we try to find an answer to it. We actually want to start the change .

Fadi: I have always said that what we need to do in order to revive the culture of reading in the arab world is bringing the cool factor to the books, thanks for helping in doing that! 

Do you see the popularity of the book growing among youth in Jordan? What do you think are the factors that still standing against a mainstream reading culture?

Tarek: I think yes the reading habit started to grow between the youth, because the main factor against this culture is the forbidden questions.

Nowadays there are a lot of young leaders who make the right decision to start asking. They seek the right answers where they can find it best – the book

Fadi: I really enjoyed most of the speaking sessions at the conference. It is an annual conference, right? Tell us more about it? Where did the idea come from? What do you intend to achieve with it? Is it easy to find support/funds for such important cultural activities?

Tarek: First of all, I would like to thank you Fadi for coming to our conference, This idea came from our team after 4 months of starting the club. We thought about a new step for Alef and looked into mass media. We decided on a yearly event to be a speech conference about reading culture and it actually worked.

me at Alef conference

me at Alef conference

Honestly it’s very difficult to organize such event, because there are little companies who are interested in supporting the reading audience in Jordan, but our team has found the way to persuade some companies and it also worked.

We also got the full support from Princess Sumayya University in the last conference.

Fadi: How successful was the conference this year? Give us numbers.

– 225 attendance (133 positive feed backs / 5 negative)
– 10 speakers (2 authors, 2 Writers, 2 book clubs founders, 4 Alef Members)
– 3 sponsorships
– 15 volunteers
– 15 social media volunteers
– 4 coordinators
– 25 trending the hashtag of the conference on twitter
– More than 100 signed copy sold for Fadi Zaghmout new book “janna ala al ard”

with Alef's team

with Alef’s team

Fadi: Haha, you helped me sell many books in the conference, thank you for that!

In one of the sessions at the conference you introduced Alef’s debate club. It reminds me of the debate you hosted for me earlier in the year around homosexuality. One thing that I admire about Alef is that you don’t shy of discussing any issue. You are always ready to talk about any topic no matter how sensitive it is culturally, religiously or politically. I see that a formula of success and a needed breath of air in the country. Tell us more about the debate club. When will it start? Do you have any policy in regards of topics planned to be discussed?

Tarek: It will be one of the most important achievements this year, it’s a world class club which discusses everything with no limits, and we call it ASPRDC: ALEF, SEX, POLITICS, RELIGION, DEBATE, CLUB, with a slogan says: “We Talk Up to the Sky”. But it needs more time because of the security approvals and other operational issues we expect to launch it on 1st of July 2015.

Fadi: I know what you are a big fan of Paulo Coelho. Did he help implanting the seed of believing in yourself and what you could achieve in your heart? Which of his books is your favourite? Any favourite quote for him?

tarek3Tarek: Oh, Paulo Coelho inspired me when I was down and flooded in fail and doubt, then one of my close friends recommended the alchemist novel to me. I found myself in that novel, I felt like I was Santiago, and Coelho was talking to me, it was such a miracle! Coelho was my guide to the road of success, his books makes me a better person, who loves life, and understand why I’m here.

“and when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” That’s my favourite quote!

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Fadi: That’s one of my favourite quotes too. Paulo Coelho has been a big inspiration for me as well. He planted in us seeds of dreaming big. It actually works for those who believe in themselves.

Who is your favourite Arab author? And favourite Arabic book?

Tarek: Najeeb Mahfooth, “Awlad Haretna or the Children of Gebelawi”

Fadi: What’s next for Alef?

Tarek; The Alchemist Trip 
reading the Alchemist Novel in:

1- The desert of Rum, Jordan
2- The pyramid of Giza, Egypt
3- Dubai Desert safari, UAE
4- Sahara Desert, Morocco

Stay tuned for more craziness reading ideas.

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

Fadi: You have already done the first reading of the Alchemist in wadi rum. How was it? tell me about the whole experience 

Tarek: hmmm it was an amazing experience. It’s one of our event types called novel stimulation witch is living the same atmosphere for the novel, which will makes the reader understand the message. It brings more inspiration and a chance to think and meditate about the idea of the book,

In wadi rum we followed santiago’s journey in check points reading stations and we put the readers in the same process that Santiago followed in the book (crossing the desert, stealing,  being kidnapped, finding real alchemists, learning the desert language, finding his destiny, and going back to his own treasure)

In addition to the spiritual and learning processes, we had fun. Wish you will be with us next time.

Fadi: I hope so! Thank you Tarek! I look forward for that. Best of luck to you and to Alef. Drastic times calls for drastic actions, with so many arab youth falling for religious extremist ideologies, it is good to see others with such passion to stand up and force a change. Alef might be what the arab world needs today. Best of luck!

"All men are equal" That Is Not True!

There are some values in life that you just take for granted, you never question, and you build your moral compass on top of it. You use it as a based to judge people and draw conclusions about life and people’s behaviour. With mostly everyone around you believing the same, you end up embracing these values to be the only truth out there with little to no chance to even think of otherwise possibility.

And then again, one day, and with a single line you read – a line that is formed of couple of few small words – you got hit with a clear fact that shatters your moral direction and send you in a twirl of thoughts trying to reassess your entire set of values, your perception of life, and your accepted code of behaviour.

That happened to me yesterday while reading “The Winner Stands Alone” book by Paulo Coelho. I was hit with a simple truth that left my mind occupied trying to process the implications of this truth and weighting its meanings and volume. Paulo has simply pointed out that “all men are equal” is a big lie that has been decided by a mad man and in which we all follow. In truth, all men are different.

For me, the line seems to carry a big deal of truth, but at the same time it challenges my core value of equality between human beings. Isn’t that what most of us are obsessed with at this stage of human evolution? Aren’t universal equal rights what we all aspire to and are vocal about? But then again comes the real question: How can you apply equal (same) laws on different entities? Is that even possible? and how fair that can be? I mean if you for instance apply a law of food portion onto two men, one who gets satisfied by an X amount of food while the other don’t and thus he breaks the law. We have the same law here, but it isn’t fair for the latter, is it?

Can we have then custom tailored laws for different people knowing that each individual of us is ineed different in a way or another? or does that mean that the notion of equality is overrated and the truth is that there is not – and won’t ever be – real equality in this unfair world? Will it matter when we embrace our indivdual differences and cater to our individual needs rather than what fits better to the majority of us?

Life is not fair, I have made peace with that fact long time ago, but have always also believed that we can try to make it more fair than it currently is. Today, I am reassessing my beliefs as it appears to me that while trying to inject more fairness in our lives by coming up with universal laws, we are hurting some others who are simply different and can’t abide with those laws.

Would the answer be in human compassion? It doesn’t sound like a good option to me with its current universal state, and while it has improved dramatically in the past decades as we evolved, it still needs time to come full in length to be able to stand alone and claim the answer for human equality. Untill then, the answer will remain: No, all men are not equal. We are all different.

Life can be a fairy tale… and more..


If people believed more in fairy tales instead of just listening to their husbands and parents – who think everything is impossible – they would be experiencing what she’s experiencing now, being driven along in one of the innumerable limousines that are slowly but surely heading for the steps and the red carpet – the biggest catwalk in the world.

Paulo Coelho – The winner stands alone

That is the power of dreams, the magic that sparks from the eyes of *some* people who we call *ambitious* and who do know more than anyone else that they are destined for glory.

Sometimes dreams do sound big and distanced, and sometimes life’s hardships cloud our paths, but then again, we do always hear about real fairy tales for ordinary people who dreamt, believed, and achieved.

So why can’t we -all- be Cindrellas and float in our own dreams? Life can be a fairy tale… and more..

10 normal things that people do or believe in

In “The winner stands alone” – Paulo Coelho‘s latest novel – there is a list of *normal* things that people do or believe in.

I have picked 10 from the list, some that I had break off, and others that I am working on:

1. Working from nine till five every day at something that gives you no pleasure at all just so, after thirty years, you can retire.

It is actually from eight to six for me! Long working hours – I know. That is something that I still need to do, but I won’t wait till my retirement. I will for sure find other doors that would change this (already working on it).

2. Retiring and discovering that you no longer have enough energy to enjoy life and dying few years later of sheer boredom.

I CAN’T let this happen, and I won’t! To be honest, I feel less energy now being in my thirties than being in my twenties or teenage. Maybe it is due to hectic long working hours, or maybe it is age. I am afraid that it is true that their won’t be enough energy for me when I retire, but who said that I need energy to enjoy life? ;). That is the beauty of being a lazy man – you never die of sheer boredom 😛

3. Believing that power is much important than money and that money is much important than happiness.

I see it everywhere, but I have never adopt it. Happiness always comes first for me. I know that pursuing money have ate from my happiness in the past year or so, but that is something I felt needed for more happiness in the future. I may be wrong, I will try to balance, and keep a smile.

4. Making fun of anyone who seeks happiness rather than money and accusing them of ‘lacking ambition’.

Same as in the previous point, but I know that people who do this, do it from sheer jealousy. Those who are happy are truly gifted. The truth is that no matter how we claim that money is everything, deep down inside, we all know that happiness is what really matter.

5. Waking up each morning to an hysterical alarm clock in the bedside table.

Akhhhh! You know what, the day I stop waking up to my phone alarm would be the day where I would declare that I have wonderful mornings.

6. Believing absolutely anything that appears in print.

I am a person who prefers to give trust rather than doubt, but I also have the ability to smell when something is fishy and when it is not. Unfortunately, I know many people who don’t just believe anything in print, but also they believe everything that hit their email inbox! (especially those related to religious myths)

7. Eating three time a day even if you are not hungry.

I eat 6 times a day and I don’t mind more! This is one of the beautiful things that people do.

8. Assuming the women don’t like football and that men aren’t interested in home decoration and cooking.

Strict gender roles! I have broken mine and do enjoy what ever make me happy. Cooking and home decoration do sound really more fun than watching football!

9. Blaming the government for all the bad things that happen.

People who do that really annoy me! I believe firmly in the saying: It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark.

10. Being equally convinced that aggression and rudeness are synonyms with having a ‘powerful personality’.

I feel sorry for people who believe in this and actually build their personality on it thinking that they do really have a powerful one where in reality it is just a stupid thing to do because deep inside they know that aggression and rudeness is just a form of protecting their fragile inner-self

How much you reflect of your self in your clothes?

I usually wear a trendy jeans with a colorful shirt. A couple of years before, at college time, my choice of shirts colors was limited in few dull colors. At that time, grey, black, and blue were the only common colors for men. Later on, when Bossini, Pull n Bear and Zara brought colors to our wardrobes, a lot of young men of my age were reluctant of picking up on the new found colors for dark dull ones were still part of the norms and percieved to be part of their masculinity. Men shouldn’t wear red or pink, this is still alive in the perception of many of us. For those of the new generation, the rebellious ones, who wanted to say that they don’t really stick to the norms of our society and follow the traditional intake of what we wear, colorful shirts became a trend.

Sometime it puzzles me trying to realize what really happened in the era between the late 70’s and mid 80’s. There has been a huge shift of people’s choices in terms what is acceptable to wear and what is not. The other day, a friend of mine posted her parents 70’s pictures on facebook. Her dad was wearing a light blue trouser with a pink shirt, her mother looked so stylish in different outfits. Both left me wonder of how beautiful that era of time must have been. Since when colorful trousers stopped being allowed for men? My dull jeans has been my only comfortable *cool* trouser for ages now! I certainly wouldn’t risk wearing any colorful trouser at this point of time and become the joke of people around me.

But what does our choice of clothes mean?

Paulo Coelho, in his new book “The Winner Stands Alone” that revolves around fashion (he publishes it directly on his blog), states that:

Fashion. Whatever can people be thinking? Do they think fashion is something that changes according to the season of the year? Did they really come from all corners of the world to show off their dresses, their jewellery and their collection of shoes? They don’t understand. ‘Fashion’ is merely a way of saying: ‘I belong to your world. I’m wearing the same uniform as your army, so don’t shoot.’

It sounds like a statement we issue to the world to define the attributes of our personalities. My trendy casual outfit seems to be a reflection my easy going character. Something I started taking good care of in my teenage at a point where I felt lost of popularity and a need to define where I belong.

Her cut is part of the equation, my friend has been chosing a short hair for more of her life. She is thinking of growing it now, and has been reading about why some women prefer a shorter hair. In her readings, she found out that some women who do so, tend to be rebellious one. It is like some women way to stand up for themselves and break the norms of their societies.

For me, as a man, my short hair is a pleasant choice over my couple of year back longer hair. It does give me a stronger feeling of masculinity, and a peace of mind for not having to fight people over a longer not popular hair style.

Our style and fashion communicates where do we want to belong to the world, some people develop a sweet addiction to the latest trends of fashion around the globe. Styloholic is a new fashion blog for style fans. Glamour seems to be the styloholic writer statement of belonging. I am usually not a fan of fashion blogs, but this one is quiet interesting. Check it out here.