Ziad Haddara: Bringing the Middle East Closer to the Rest of the World

BEIRUT, LEBANON – Since my last two entries on visiting the Middle East in the midst of the “Arab Spring,” I've been posed many questions about our trip. So today, I feature Ziad Haddara, founder of My Middle East, the online travel consultancy company that Mohan and I used to plan our eye-opening honeymoon in Egypt and Syria. While normally not one to opt for a middleman to arrange my travels, being neck-deep in planning a large-scale, weekend-long wedding while wrapping up my final month in grad school, I needed help and asked Ziad and his team to step up.

“It’s not your average tourist-bussed traveller or overly cautious type who comes to us,” says Ziad.  “It’s the sort of people who typically would be very comfortable designing their own trips but either don’t have time to plan it or want someone from the region to enhance their experience by giving them that local flavor. We approach this business like you are going to a new country and you have a friend in town.”

Born and raised in Lebanon during the 15-year civil war, Ziad now calls Egypt home after relocating to Cairo in 2006 for a position with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Despite switching from development work to the tourism business, Ziad’s belief in incorporating social responsibility and community building into his profession remains intact. I chatted with Ziad via Skype from his company’s headquarter in Beirut and ask him about his vision for My Middle East, thoughts on tourism in the region, and analysis of current events in the Arab world.

 

 
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Our Honeymoon (Part II): Syria

DAMASCUS, SYRIA – Much is being said of Syria in the headlines lately that I’ve been delaying posting this, holding my breath for an awe-inspiring Egypt-like turning point to happen here. (President Bashar al-Assad may be replacing his cabinet, but protests continue.) Shortly after January 25th, there was talk that the country would face its own people-powered democratic revolt, with a Facebook page calling for exactly that – Syria’s “Day of Rage.”

That day, however, failed to materialize.

 

 
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Our Honeymoon (Part I): Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT – We returned home this past week from our honeymoon in the Middle East. Our journey back was an emotional one, and we both yearned to stay longer. We knew this was no ordinary trip. Mohan and I had witnessed something historical. In many respects, it was the perfect moment to be in Egypt. As an International Affairs graduate student specializing in post-conflict security, I was able to witness first-hand a new democracy in the making. As a tourist – nay, traveler – visiting the ruins, it meant experiencing these prerequisite sites with no crowd and little hassle.

 
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