New Levant Initiative Conference

Thursday, March 1, 2018
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Family Theater

The conference will highlight the many shared cultural areas that give rise to the Levantine identity, including Levantine art, music, food, architecture and more.

Panelists who share Levantine heritage will examine its influence on their careers and lives as well as give testimony to the uniqueness of the Levantine identity.  The program includes a discussion on economic integration and challenges ahead for the unification of the Levant.

This invitation-only, one-day program will be followed by an evening concert performance with an original composition, Levantine Symphony N°1, by Ibrahim Maalouf.

*Conference attendees will be offered complimentary tickets to this performance.*

Registration will open on January 10, 2018


Agenda and Participants are subject to change. Additional Participants will continue to be added.

8:00 a.m. – Registration and Light Breakfast

9:00 a.m. – Conference Programming Begins

Levantine Symphony N°1

Heralded by The New York Times as a “virtuoso of the quarter-tone trumpet,” distinguished trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf will open the conference with a portion of his impassioned composition for the New Levant Initiative, Levantine Symphony N°1.   Members of the National Children’s Chorus will join Mr. Maalouf for the performance.

The Past for the Future: Lessons from the Levant

Robert Worth, New York Times correspondent and former chief of the New York Times Beirut bureau, interviews Philip Mansel, renowned historian and author of several books on the Ottoman Empire, including Levant:Splendor and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.

Robert Worth, Journalist
Philip Mansel, Historian and Author

Levantine Cities Through Space and Time

This discussion will center around the shared design and overall aesthetic of Levantine architecture both from a historical perspective and contemporary architectural designs. It will focus on the role that architecture can play in the construction of a new Levant – the role it has played in the past, the role it plays today, and the role it will play in the future.  Panelists will explore the concept of the “Levantine city,” and urban design over the course of time.

Fares el-Dahdah, Professor of Humanities and Director of the Research Center for Human Sciences, Rice University

Amale Andraos, Dean, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
Rodolphe el-Khoury, Dean, School of Architecture, University of Miami
Hashim Sarkis, Dean, School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An Economic Case for Integration in the Levant

Presented in association with the World Bank, this panel will present the tangible benefits of integration for the people and countries of the Levant.  It will highlight the World Bank’s Over the Horizon report, include a discussion of a promising effort at regional integration prior to 2011, and present a vision of an inter-connected energy sector that is linked to international markets.

The Levantine Diet: A Regional Culinary Tradition

This discussion will focus on how contemporary chefs have been influenced by the Levantine cuisine of their childhoods, from its ingredients and flavors to its recipes, and how the Mediterranean diet and the Levantine diet are one in the same. They will also discuss the diverse elements of Levantine cuisine that have come together to create something larger than the sum of its parts.

Pinar Tremblay, columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse and a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Poopa Dweck,first generation American Syrian-Jew, cookbook author and authority on the cuisines and customs of Aleppo, Syria
Barbara Massaad, Lebanese-American cookbook author, photographer and TV host

Sounds of the Levant

Simon Shaheen, violinist, oudist and Professor of strings at the Berklee College of Music, will moderate this discussion highlighting the commonality of Levantine music, establishing the shared Levantine identity that crosses borders and brings Levantine people together.

Simon Shaheen, Palestinian-American oud musician and composer, and Professor at Berklee College of Music 


Layth Al Rubaye, Violinist, Composer, Director of the Arab Music Ensemble at Tufts University
Karim Nagi, Arab Musician and Folk Dancer
Dr. A.J. Racy, Performer, Composer and Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California at Los Angeles
Kareem Roustom, Composer, Professor of the Practice, Tufts University Department of Music

diverseLevant: A Diachronic and Iconographic Atlas of Coexistence

Presentation by Prof. Fares el-Dahdah

The goal of diverseLevant, Professor el-Dahdah’s diachronic map created for this conference,  is to create an online mapping platform that illustrates the urban evolution of a Levantine city, such as Beirut, over its entire history as well as across its social, cultural, and religious diversity. The project consists of an online cartographic platform that illustrates the urban evolution of Beirut, over its entire history as well as across its social, cultural, and religious diversity. Primary archival sources, such as views of the city, historical maps, archeological surveys, and architectural projects will be located, in time and space, while their associated visual and geographic data will be integrated across many databases.

Fares el-Dahdah, Professor of Humanities and Director of the Research Center for Human Sciences, Rice University

The Evolution of Levantine Art

Contemporary  artists and experts reflect on the past and present of Levantine art as well as the Levantine identity and how it informs their practice. This panel will also address the shared artistic heritage of the Levant region and the cities that came to symbolize this cultural integration (Mari, Babylon, Palmyra, Petra, Baalbek, Damascus, Baghdad, Aleppo, Tripoli, Jerusalem). The panel will also address the Levantine identity as it exists today in modern visual art: the ambiguous relationship between text and image, tradition and modernity, East and West.

Michael Jeha, Managing Director and Deputy Chairman, Christie’s Middle East  

Ghada Amer, Egyptian contemporary artist, represented by Gagosian Gallery
Saleh Barakat, Beirut gallerist and expert in Levantine art
Sara Raza, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa

5:00 p.m. – Conference Ends

8:00 p.m. – The New Levant Initiative Presents: Ibrahim Maalouf, Levantine Symphony N°1.

About the Symphony

The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center is located on the bank of the Potomac River at 2700 F St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20566, at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, NW, and Rock Creek Parkway. It is accessible by Metro (via the subway and bus lines), by taxi, and by car.

Getting to the Kennedy Center

Hotels Close to the Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center


The New Levant Initiative (NLI) aims to promote peace and prosperity through economic integration and cultural discourse among the peoples and countries of the Levant.  The NLI will pursue initiatives designed to rekindle and reclaim the Levantine identity, which is rooted in a vibrant historical tradition of cosmopolitanism, commerce and the free exchange of ideas.

The NLI will also engage key governments, international organizations, academia, and other constituencies, especially in the United States, which have an interest in peace and prosperity in the Levant.  A shared vision in which the governments and peoples of the region have an equal stake will offer hope and help to heal a divided region.


Jamal Daniel
Jamal Daniel
Jamal Daniel is President and Chairman of Crest Investment Company. An entrepreneur and innovator, Mr. Daniel has over thirty years of experience managing investments in high technology, media and film, mining, manufacturing, oil and gas, real estate and telecommunications. Through Crest Investments, Mr. Daniel has founded several companies including the award-winning global news organization Al-Monitor; Levantine Films, where Mr. Daniel was an Executive Producer on the Academy Award nominated Hidden Figures and the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation and Fundamentals of Caring; and the highly regarded Levant Foundation, a private, non-profit organization committed to furthering the knowledge of Levantine culture and history in the Middle East, as well as the relationships among the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Mr. Daniel is also the founder of New Levant Initiative which aims to promote peace and property through economic integration and culture discourse among the people and countries of the Levant. On March 1, 2018, he will host a day-long conference in Washington, DC, to discuss the distinct Levantine culture that exists today and has existed throughout history as well as commonality of the Levant in art, film, literature, etc. Panelists who share Levantine heritage will examine its influence on their career and life as well as give testimony to the uniqueness of the Levantine identity.

Mr. Daniel was born in Tartous, Syria, and moved to Lebanon when he was five years old. After completing high school in Lebanon, Mr. Daniel and his family moved to Geneva, Switzerland where he attended the University of Geneva. Mr. Daniel has a degree in business from Pepperdine University and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.

Michelle Upton
Michelle Upton
serves as the Chief of Staff for the New Levant Initiative. Previously, Michelle lived in Iraq where she served as an advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government. She has also worked in the international practice of a premier strategic consulting and government affairs firm in Washington, DC and served as a press aide to a Member of Congress. Michelle is a graduate of Cornell University, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
Puneet Talwar
Puneet Talwar
serves as Executive Vice President of the New Levant Initiative and the Chairman and President of Crest International LLC since November 2015. Previously, Puneet served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs in 2014 and 2015. As the Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf States at the White House National Security Council from 2009 to 2014, he played a central role in crafting strategy toward Iran and launching talks that led to the Iranian nuclear deal. Prior to working in the White House, Puneet was the chief Middle East advisor to Vice President Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also served on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff in the second term of the Clinton Administration.
Jenny Urizar
Jenny Urizar
serves as the Vice President and Director of Programs of the New Levant Initiative. She was most recently the Senior Advisor in Secretary Kerry’s Office of Global Partnerships at the Department of State. Prior to that, she spent five years on the National Security Council in the White House, including as the Director for Strategic Planning and the Director for Global Engagement where she worked closely with President Obama in designing a number of global education, entrepreneurship, and economic development initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa following President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech.
Valerie Voci
Valerie Voci
serves as Vice President and Director of Media Engagement of the New Levant Initiative and is based in Washington, D.C., responsible for directing all media engagement and outreach activities for the Initiative. Val has extensive experience in marketing, communications and engagement, with senior roles at top media companies including The Washington Post and The Economist Group. Prior to joining the New Levant Initiative and Al-Monitor, she was the Chief Marketing Officer for OWNZONES Media Network, an innovative over-the-top video demand service provider. Val studied Engineering and Business Administration at the George Washington University.
Daria Daniel
Daria Daniel
serves as Vice President and Director of Engagement of the New Levant Initiative. Daria is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service where she majored in International Politics and recently received her Masters in Journalism from New York University where she studied Cultural Reporting and Criticism. Daria has experience at the UN Development Program and International Labor Organization in Geneva and has worked as a culture writer for Al-Monitor and Artnet News. Daria is also a member of UNICEF’s Steering Committee in New York, focusing her efforts on the Syrian refugee crisis and UNICEF programs in the Middle East.
Shelly Bressler
Shelly Bressler
serves as the Vice President and Director of Legal and Business Affairs for the New Levant Initiative. Since 2012, Shelly also serves as the Associate General Counsel for Crest Investment Company. Shelly is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business.
Phil Calabro
Phil Calabro
serves as Executive Coordinator for the New Levant Initiative, supporting operations as well as special events. Prior to working with the Initiative, Phil spent six years at the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., where he served as an advisor to Chairman Hochberg, working closely on outreach with executives of the private and public sectors. Phil is a graduate of Stonehill College, and a native to the D.C. area.

The New Levant Initiative (NLI) aims to promote peace and prosperity through economic integration and cultural discourse among the peoples and countries of the Levant.


Email: contact@new-levant.org
Phone: +1 (202) 830-2900

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