2015/04/17 Issue: 1 Page: 6
The Arab Weekly
Almost 10 years ago, our chairman and publisher, Dr Haitham El-Zobaidi, broached with me the idea of a regional newspaper with a different approach to the Arab world. I found the notion fascinating. There was a pressing need even then for a newspaper that could better explain the Middle East and North Africa to the rest of the world. But none of us at that time had any clue of how to transform that idea into a reality. The newspaper, which he tentatively called then “The Middle East Observer”, remained just an idea.
A few months ago, however, when Dr El-Zobaidi again proposed starting an English language newspaper about the Arab world, it was not just an idea anymore. This time around, his concept had all the requirements of a realistic project. It had the strength of a media publishing group with a long experience.
More than ever, there was merit in the vision of a newspaper that could shed light on the political, social, economic and cultural dynamics of the Arab world beyond the shortcuts and the buzzwords. I was humbled by his suggestion that I serve as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. I reached out to old friends with long regional and international media experiences, starting with Dalal Saoud, UPI’s former Middle East Bureau Chief. There was near consensus among us that the project was not only very timely but much needed.
As we enlarged the circle of discussion, many legitimate questions arose however. What would be the added-value of the new publication compared to that of other regional newspapers? What kind of audience would it try to reach? And then, finally, what is going to be the editorial identity of the newspaper?
The questions helped us clarify our vision to others and to ourselves too. Our publication will try to reach a global audience, especially English-speaking readers in the West. Developments in the Middle East and North Africa have drawn a lot of attention but there is still insufficient understanding of the dynamics behind them. The region’s own people have themselves been often mystified by manifestations of endemic turmoil and extreme violence. It was therefore not surprising that outside audiences would find it difficult to fathom developments in the Middle East and North Africa.
We also had to consider why very few people have been interested in launching new English language media in the Arab world. The unpredictable market for such a newspaper and the insufficient English language proficiency in the region could be daunting. In trying to identify local media talent, we realised ourselves how fluency in English is still lagging in the region. More than six decades after independence, the Arab world’s educational systems have yet to catch up in that regard.
Our mission would have to encapsulate both the privileges and the burdens of a newspaper attempting to report about the Arab world from within. While our publication cannot afford to become an actor in the region’s political maelstrom, it will not be an indifferent messenger. Our editorial line will be liberal, modernist and unapologetic about the region’s real problems and flaws. We will not condone extremism, whether religious or otherwise; neither will we consider modernity as the monopoly of the West.
After a trial phase which started last November, our project gradually began to take shape. We then all met in Tunisia in March. The strong determination and team spirit permeating the whole group were convincing enough to encourage us to set a launch date. Today, as we embark in this adventure, we will try to project our collective enthusiasm in the quality of our reports, viewpoints and analyses. Your support will mean a lot to us. But so will your scrutiny and criticism. Only with that kind of input will we move ahead and grow.
Oussama Romdhani is the chief editor of the Arab Weekly.