The Saïd Foundation’s annual dinner was held on Saturday 7 May at the Wallace Collection, London, to celebrate the achievements of the Foundation’s scholars and alumni. For over 25 years the Foundation has been granting scholarships for postgraduate studies in the UK to talented young men and women from the Middle East and it now has over 500 alumni.
Wafic and Rosemary Saïd with current scholars and Foundation staff
Before awarding the prizes Wafic Saїd spoke of the Foundation’s mission and the challenges it currently faces. He said: “As many of you know, the Foundation’s mission is to contribute to positive and lasting change to the lives of children and young people of the Middle East…. Our vision is a Middle East in which all children can realise their full potential. Although the Foundation is, of course, non-political and non-sectarian, we cannot but be affected by the wider events in the region. And at times like this, with the terrible violence taking place there, I feel, sadly, that our task is becoming ever more challenging and that we have even more work to do to achieve our vision.”
Wafic Saїd went on to talk about Syria: “I am devastated by what is happening in my country, Syria, and strongly condemn all violence. Many innocent people have died and been injured. I pray for them and for their families. And I pray, as I am sure we all do, that this tragic and deplorable situation may be resolved in the interests of the Syrian people very soon.
When I feel despair at the situation in the Middle East I think of the great courage that has been demonstrated in recent months in the region, particularly by young people, and their determination to create a better future. I think also of our students and alumni and all the children the Foundation has helped since its creation over 25 years ago, through our education and child development programmes – these young men and women represent our region’s future and, as ever, that gives me great hope!”
Wafic Saїd awarded prizes to Ahmad Al Kasir from Syria and Amer Shomali from Palestine, joint winners of the Alumni Achievement Award for 2011.
Ahmad was granted a Foundation scholarship to study for an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at Oxford University. On his return to Syria, he became project manager on the Modernisation Programme for the Syrian Water Sector, an important initiative to modernise the water supply and sanitation, a vital issue for the region.
Amer received a Foundation scholarship for an MA in Animation at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth. He established the Multi-Media Diploma Programme at Birzeit University in Palestine, has written his first animated documentary film and is working to preserve Palestinian poster art through an online archive. He has been hailed by a Georgetown University academic as: “The best thing to happen over the past year to the effort to conserve contemporary Palestinian visual culture”.
Julian Gore-Booth, Ahmad Al Kasir, Wafic Saїd and Amer Shomali
Wafic Saїd then introduced Professor Fawaz Gerges: “Back in 1985, the Foundation awarded a scholarship to a young Lebanese to complete an MSc in International History at London School of Economics followed by a DPhil in International Relations at the University of Oxford. That man is Professor Fawaz Gerges. He has taught at Oxford, Harvard and Columbia universities and is currently director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. He is a leading researcher and commentator on Islamist movements and jihadist groups and on American foreign policy towards the Muslim world. He is the author of numerous acclaimed books including Journey of the Jihadist which was on best-selling lists for months. Professor Gerges is the recipient of MacArthur, Fulbright and Carnegie Fellowships and is frequently on our television screens giving his expert opinion on events in the region.”
Professor Fawaz Gerges and Wafic Saïd
Wafic Saїd honoured Professor Fawaz Gerges with the lifetime achievement award for those alumni who have made an outstanding contribution in their field. He said: “I cannot think of anyone more deserving than our final prize winner this evening…Professor Gerges, we are immensely proud to have you as a member of our alumni group.”