Rouse in Profile: Bassel El Turk - from Beirut to Dubai
I had always assumed that Bassel, a senior IP litigation lawyer in our Dubai office, was Turkish. I thought, in a vague untutored sort of way, that he looked rather Turkish - and assumed that, with a surname like ‘El Turk’ (the Turk) he was unlikely to be anything else. I was wrong! Bassel is Lebanese, with a deep love of his country. The El Turk surname came about not because the family was Turkish, but because, it had, for generations, had close legal and trading ties with the Capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Bassel comes from a long line of distinguished Lebanese lawyers. His father and uncle were both lawyers in the family firm in Beirut (his father still has his own practice there; sadly, his uncle was killed in a car bomb during the Lebanese Civil War); his grandfather a well-known lawyer and judge, and his great-grandfather a prominent lawyer and one of the founding members of the Lebanese Bar Association. Interestingly, despite the strong family tradition, Bassel says he never felt any pressure to become a lawyer, it just seemed the natural thing to do – and it seemed just as natural to marry a lawyer! Bassel's wife, Mira, now works in-house for one of Rouse’s Dubai based clients involved in retailing luxury watches and jewellery. It’s much too early to tell whether nine month old daughter Lana will continue the family tradition, but I, for one, wouldn’t be at all surprised if she did.
Bassel was born in Beirut in 1981, one year before the Lebanese/Israeli conflict, and grew up in a war-torn city. He attended the prestigious American school, International College, one of the best schools in the country and one of the safest places to be; but even there, classes were regularly interrupted by the sound of bombing. When the bomb seemed particularly close, the children would be transferred from classroom to basement and parents telephoned to come and collect them. Most of the time the phone call wasn’t necessary though because radios were constantly tuned to a news station. No-one, it seemed, ever listened to music: always and only news. Bassel says one famous programme, which seemed to be on all the time, has never left him. He can still hear it in his head. It was a programme that reported which streets were safe and which were not: first, the name of the street, followed by its classification: ‘accessible/safe’, ‘accessible/unsafe’, ‘inaccessible/safe’, ‘inaccessible/unsafe’
While studying law at the La Sagesse University in Beirut, Bassel applied to Glasgow University to do a Masters degree. He chose Glasgow largely because his older brother had obtained an MPhil in International Finance there and was enthusiastic about it. But it was a good choice and Bassel duly obtained a Masters in International Commercial Law. A bound copy of his thesis on Maritime Oil Transportation now resides on the shelves of the Rouse library in Dubai.
After graduating, he returned to Beirut to work in his father’s firm, and provided legal advice to the many clients of his brother’s financial consultancy who were setting up business in the region. One day, out of the blue, he received an email from a recruitment agency whose Dubai-based client was looking for an Arabic speaking UK law graduate who knew the region well. Things moved fast and before he knew it, he was being flown to Dubai and interviewed by just about everyone in Rouse’s Dubai office, as well as other Rouse Executives who happened to be visiting. It was a daunting experience, but an offer was made immediately and Bassel went off to discuss it with his family.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but now, ten years later, Bassel is convinced it was the right one. “I think I am better placed here to build on what my family started than I would have been had I stayed in Lebanon”.
He is, however, still deeply attached to, and connected with his country. Apart from family, every single person he was close to during his early childhood years, including best friends and neighbours, now live in the Emirates and he meets with them every second weekend.
Somehow, I’d always had the feeling that Bassel’s talents weren’t limited to the law, so I wasn’t at all surprised to find that he writes both poetry and prose. His poems, written in Arabic on a wide range of topics, and in a variety of poetic forms, have been published in various newspapers and journals and a commentary on the Lebanese Civil War was published in a leading newspaper. It took the form of an open letter to the Lebanese leaders, based on the experience of a five year old boy living in Beirut during the war, and asked whether the country wanted people to experience that again. It was an attempt to make those who had not lived through the war understand what war meant, and a call for serious national dialogue. On the day the article was published, the Lebanese President telephoned Bassel to tell him he was touched by the article and would do his best to convey this message to other political leaders.
The article was also a message to Bassel’s father, saying “I understand why you stayed and I respect it. But you were not five years old. I love my country, but I don’t want my children to grow up in a warzone”.