Tarek Ben Halim

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Tarek Ben Halim
Born 4 December 1955
Tripoli, Libya
Died 11 December 2009
Occupation Investment Banker and Philanthropist
Known for Founder of Alfanar
Spouse(s) Cynthia Oakes, daughter of John Bertram Oakes
Parent(s) Father: Mustafa Ben Halim, Prime Minister of Libya from April 1954 to May 1957.

Tarek Ben Halim was a successful investment banker who left banking in 2000 to pursue charitable work and promote justice and democracy in the Arab World. In 2004, he founded Alfanar the first Arab venture philanthropy organisation to introduce a more effective and sustainable approach to development in the Arab region.[1]

Tarek was born in Tripoli, Libya on 4 December 1955 to a Palestinian mother, Yusra Kanaan, and Libyan father, Mustafa Ben Halim. His father served as Prime Minister of Libya from 1954 to 1957 and Libyan Ambassador to France from 1958 to 1960.

After the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969, Tarek and his family were exiled, and moved to Beirut before settling in London. Tarek was educated at Atlantic College in Wales and went on to study Finance at Warwick University before receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School.[2] His education led to a successful and dynamic career in investment banking which included positions at JP Morgan, Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman Sachs, where he became a Managing Director. In 2000 Tarek was responsible for the $2 billion flotation of Turkcell, which at the time was the largest ever emerging market IPO.[3]

Exile from Libya taught Tarek early on about the perils of politics in the Arab world. Combined with the stories of his mother’s flight from Palestine, it had a strong influence on his belief in justice and democracy as necessary tools for improving lives and communities in the region.[4]

In a commentary piece published in The Los Angeles Times on 9 February 2003, Tarek criticised "self-serving, unrepresentative governments that have, with few exceptions, ruled the Arab world since the 19th century". Tarek hoped that changing the Iraqi regime in 2003 would cause similar changes in leadership across the region. He volunteered to work with the British forces and was appointed Deputy Director of private sector development with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). However, he soon became frustrated with the CPA’s approach. “He [Tarek] felt that the occupying force seemed more focused on quick gain rather than building a sustainable framework that would survive its departure.” He resigned after only a few months.

Tarek’s time in Iraq strengthened his determination to put into practice what Arab governments had long failed to do – improve livelihoods by responding to community needs. In 2004, he started Alfanar (which means lighthouse in Arabic) to promote a strong, vibrant, professional civil society in the Arab world. Alfanar aims to improve lives in disadvantaged communities throughout the region by fostering the growth of innovative, self-reliant organizations that effectively respond to pressing, long-term community needs.[5]

Tarek Ben Halim died on 11 December 2009 aged 54 after being diagnosed with brain cancer 14 months earlier. He was married to Cynthia Oakes, a Princeton graduate and daughter of iconic US journalist John Bertram Oakes.[6] She and their three children, Omar, Kais and Leila, survive him. His obituary in The Guardian describes him as “a man of high principle and humour”.[7]


  1. ^ Alfanar. "Our Founder". Alfanar's founder. Alfanar. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Tarek Ben Halim". Telegraph. London. 7 January 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Thomas, Gina (13 January 2010). "Tarek Ben Halim Obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Tarek Ben Halim Sought Arab Economic Unity". Archived Edition. Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Giving, Inspiring. "A guide to giving". Tarek Ben Halim. Philanthropy UK. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "Cynthia Oakes, Tarek Ben Halim". Weddings. The New York Times. 20 December 1992. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Odriscoll, David. "Tarek Ben Halim". talented financier who cared deeply for Middle East. The National. Retrieved 27 June 2011.