Eman Hylooz is a Jordanian Computer Science graduate and a successful young entrepreneur. The company she started in June 2012 is steadily growing and is expected to make a net profit of 114,108 Jordanian Dinars in its first year of operations.
Hylooz recalls that the idea for her business start-up first came about when she asked herself the simple question “How many readers are there in the Arab World?” Curious to find out, she did some research on the internet and discovered that there were 20 million Arabic readers online.
It was then that she decided to create a social network for Arabic readers, writers and bloggers. “I wanted to give them a platform where they could share opinions about books they’d read and suggest books that are worth reading,” Hylooz told attendees at the Global Thinkers forum held in Amman earlier this week.
That was the start of Abjjad.com, a website that currently lists 2 million Arabic book titles. Besides sharing the names of books they have read or would like to read, Arabic speaking readers also share book reviews on the web page and publishers use the page to advertise new books .
Like most entrepreneurs, Hylooz is both dedicated and passionate. While acknowledging that drive and motivation have contributed to her success, she says it would not have been possible to achieve her goal without the support of Oasis 500, a Jordanian early stage and seed investment company that helps ambitious young entrepreneurs in Jordan start their own businesses.
The company trains and gives mentorship guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs with creative ideas, providing them with the funds they need to start and expand their businesses.
Hylooz was one of several youth-entrepreneurs sharing their success stories with participants of the Global Thinkers Forum (GTF) which Founder and CEO Elizabeth Filippouli described as “a non-profit initiative aimed at creating dialogue and connecting current and future leaders to discuss such issues as governance, inclusion and progress.”
The theme of the GTF 2012 which I was privileged to attend was Women Leaders : Power and Creativity. “The meeting is timely in light of the social and political changes taking place in the region,” Filippouli noted, adding that “despite the revolutions that have swept across the region, we have not seen positive change nor the progress we anticipated.”
In her address to the GTF, Jordan’s Princess Sumaya Bint Al Hassan, President of El Hassan Science City (housing a University for Technology, a research centre and a national institute that sets science and technology plans and strategies) struck a more positive note, saying that “It is time to consign discriminatory attitudes to the dustbin of history and to acknowledge that women offer vast potential to create prosperity and transmit education, ambition and hope to the next generation.”
“El Hassan Science City has chosen to partner with GTF as both are committed to promoting equal rights for all , regardless of gender , creed or colour,” she added.
Several exemplary women leaders were honoured at the GTF award ceremony for their outstanding achievement including Jordan’s Queen Rania , who was paid special tribute for her efforts to promote the rights of women, children and youth in her country, particularly their right to quality education.
The GTF honourees also included Saudi Arabia’s first female biotechnologist Hayat Sindi who holds a PhD from Cambridge University and Sonja Lokar , Chairperson of the European Women’s Lobby and a former Slovenian MP who has been working to promote gender equality beyond EU borders
“Women must be fairly represented in government and in decision-making processes,” Lokar said in her speech after receiving the GTF Award for Excellence in leadership. She added that their participation “is critical for creating gender-sensitive policies and for promoting sustainable development.”
Her words made me reflect on the situation of women in Egypt, who despite their significant role in the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, continue to face cultural impediments that have limited their participation in the democratic process.
A statement released this week by Human Rights Watch warning that “the draft constitution (currently being written by an Islamist-dominated panel) poses a serious threat to women’s rights in post-Mubarak Egypt ” has deepened my fear that provisions linking gender equality with Shari’a Law in the new constitution risk depriving Egyptian women of rights they have earned through years of struggle and pain.
Meanwhile, major protests are being planned in Amman this weekend to demand “faster political reforms.” Emboldened by the rise to power of Islamists in the so-called Arab Spring countries, including neighbouring Egypt, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood is in turn seeking broader political representation in parliament through reform of Jordan’s electoral law .
As I boarded a Cairo-bound plane from Amman , I had one thought on my mind : the freedoms, democracy and social justice sought by pro-democracy activists in the countries that have experienced mass uprisings have yet to be attained.
A revolution in Jordan may bring the tide of conservatism sweeping the region to the shores of the Hashemite Monarchy. It is worrying to think that instead of bringing the promise of a better tomorrow, a rebellion in Jordan, like the revolts witnessed in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, may in fact mean dimmer prospects for Jordanian women, including bright young entrepreneurs like Hylooz.