Filmmaker: Nasser Farghaly
Over decades, millions of people from the Arab world have emigrated – some driven by conflict and persecution, others for economic and family reasons. They have settled in Europe, Australia, the Americas and Africa.
But media coverage tends to focus on refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution, often at the start of their treacherous journeys. These stories can sometimes be stereotyped and incomplete.
In the Arabs Abroad series, Al Jazeera World profiles the lives of migrants long after their initial journey. We meet people who have built successful lives away from their Arab homelands, while remaining connected to their roots – each in their own way giving something back to the region of their birth.
The Canadian-Lebanese Politician
Faycal el-Khoury’s journey to the highest levels of civic leadership, as a member of parliament in Canada, has been nothing short of remarkable.
Of Lebanese origin, with family connections in South America, he arrived in Canada as an immigrant in 1976 – speaking virtually no English.
But soon after, he enrolled in college and quickly mastered the language, before completing a degree in civil engineering. This led to a career running a successful construction company where he oversaw several major building projects in Montreal.
“My journey was tough but you can achieve anything if you try hard enough,” he says.
El-Khoury felt a deep need to contribute to his new country, as a way to give thanks for welcoming him. So he turned to politics, stood for election in a constituency in the province of Quebec, and won by a large majority.
“I wanted in some way to repay Canada and also to honour [Lebanon], the country where I came from. So I decided to work in politics,” he says. “When you serve people you try to make them happy. When you help people achieve their rights that is a big bonus for me.”
As an MP, he supports his constituents while at the same time forging links between Canada and Lebanon, including the creation of a Lebanese-Canadian friendship committee in parliament.
Based in the Canadian capital Ottawa where he is married with three daughters, el-Khoury says he has little time for relaxation. But when he does, he writes elaborate love poems to his wife Georgette, whom he met when he was 18.
Germany’s Syrian Inventor
Syrian Dr Adnan Wahhoud arrived in Europe in 1971 as a young man – a penniless weaver filled with dreams of creating a new life abroad.
In Vienna, he learned basic German and distributed flyers, using his earnings to pay for language tuition. He then moved to Germany, studying by day and delivering newspapers by night.
His diligence paid off and he drew on his experience working with textiles in Syria to gain a PhD on the workings of mechanical looms.
“My professor has a nickname for me, ‘the Father of All Looms’,” he recalls. “He began to consult me closely and trusted my judgement. I started to earn a global reputation.”
Despite job offers from across Europe, Wahhoud chose to remain in Germany where he believed his skills would be most in demand. Over the following years, he invented several machines used to create a range of fabrics.
His father, who had taught him his basic weaving trade, once visited him in Germany and was astonished at his son’s inventions. Wahhoud later realised that a worker operating just 50 of his new looms could weave more in a day than his father had produced in 40 years.
In 2011, Wahhoud retired, only for a new chapter to begin in his life because of the Arab Spring protests and the start of the conflict in his homeland Syria.
“I wanted to help my own people in Syria … I realised that medical care was extremely poor,” he says. So in 2013 he opened a medical centre near Aleppo, which he named “Lindau” after the town where he lives with his family in Germany.
Four years later, Wahhoud’s operation had grown from one to seven medical centres. In 2017, they treated some 10,000 patients – most of them children.
Source: Al Jazeera