Vogue Arabia looks to build bridges for ‘misunderstood’ Middle East

The first printed edition of Vogue Arabia hit newsstands on March 5. (Condé Nast/Nervora)
Updated 21 March 2017
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Vogue Arabia looks to build bridges for ‘misunderstood’ Middle East

DUBAI: Forget the UN and endless rounds of Middle East peace talks — there is a new player on the global diplomatic scene: Vogue Arabia.
That was, at least, the somewhat outlandish suggestion made by Tommy Hilfiger as the long-awaited regional edition of the fashion glossy hit the shelves on March 5.
The inaugural print edition of Vogue Arabia featured supermodel Gigi Hadid on the front cover, wearing what appeared to be a veil. The appearance of the half-Palestinian model on the magazine’s cover, Hilfiger told TMZ, could “increase the love” between the US and Middle East, with Gigi as a “conduit” to better relations.
It is somewhat unlikely that a fashion photo shoot could help solve knotty diplomatic disputes over issues like, say, the Iran nuclear deal or Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Shashi Menon — founder of Nervora, which publishes Vogue Arabia in partnership with US media giant Condé Nast — is the first to admit this.
But the launch of the title does have a scope that is broader than the latest haute couture creations or fleeting fashions.
Speaking to Arab News in the swish Vogue Arabia offices in the Dubai Design District, Menon spelled out a wider aim of the title.
“The Middle East is very clearly one of the more, if not the most misunderstood regions in the world. Part of what we hope to do is build bridges through conversation and dialogue,” he said.
Menon acknowledged that Hilfiger’s statement was “grandiose” and a little “over-the-top” — but said that the sentiment he expressed was a genuine one.

                   

                      Shashi Menon

 

“There is frankly no more important time for a publication like Vogue to launch in this region, and help to elevate authentic, original and positive stories about what’s happening here… and take it to a global level,” he said.
“That is a cultural cause and a mission that we feel that we want to participate in. We want to help create conversation and participate in that, which we think will be good for everyone.”
The launch of Vogue Arabia has been a long time coming.
Ten years ago Condé Nast had strongly ruled out licensing an edition of its flagship fashion title in this region.
Jonathan Newhouse, head of Condé Nast International, reportedly wrote in an email that the Middle East is too violent, claiming that it is incompatible with the Vogue brand given a “powerful fundamentalist, religious element, which rejects Western values.”
But such objections appear to have faded, with Condé Nast striking up a deal with Nervora to launch a Vogue Arabia website last year — through a rebrand of Style.com/Arabia — followed by the print version this month. Saudi royal Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz is the editor-in-chief, with both the website and magazine being published in English and Arabic.
Menon said it was an “unprecedented” move to launch a Vogue title online first. But while digital will be important to the title — it has commissioned special online video shoots, for example — the media executive sees a firm future for the print title in the Internet age.
“We see a robust future for Vogue in print,” he said. “There is nothing that can really rival the premium, luxury, fully controlled reader experience that you get with print.”
The magazine is available in major cities of the Gulf, as well as further afield in Cairo and Beirut. It is available through private distribution and partners in Saudi Arabia, which Menon said was a key market for the publisher.
“For us Saudi Arabia is very important,” he said. “It is an ongoing goal of ours to be more and more present in Saudi Arabia, not just through the magazine but also from the website and possibly through events.”
Menon said it is possible to combine what Vogue stands for with the Middle Eastern outlook in a “tasteful and culturally appropriate” way.
“We don’t want to come in and feel like just a Western-only brand that is coming in here and trying to project a Western identity. We really want to participate in that conversation organically,” he said.
And this conversation will hopefully give a boost to how the rest of the world sees the Middle East — although that is not something that will happen overnight, Menon said.
“It is not about making giant political statements… We want to just help create more conversation and dialogue,” he said. “Ultimately the goal would be to promote more cultural understanding.”

‘Not just another regional magazine’

Vogue Arabia, the 22nd international edition of the fashion title, is edited by Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz; a fashion-forward mother of three and Saudi royal who describes herself as “ambitious.”
“I don’t want Vogue Arabia to just be another regional magazine. I definitely want it to be a global one as well, especially in this political climate. I think it’s very important,” she said.
Through its range of features and shoots, the magazine attempts to cater to a wide and diverse audience of Arab women, whose varying takes on personal style and modesty cannot be defined by one trope or fashion statement.
While not intentionally provocative, there are images of women in backless gowns and skirts that end above the knee. There are also artful shots of women in headscarves.


Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters, says defense minister. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2018
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Israel targets rights groups with bill to outlaw filming of soldiers

  • Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military
  • A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Israel moved on Sunday to snap the lens shut on rights groups that film its troops’ interactions with Palestinians by introducing a bill that would make it a criminal offense.
Rights groups frequently film Israeli soldiers on duty in the occupied West Bank, documentation the organizations say is necessary to expose abuse by the military.
A video filmed by Israeli rights group B’Tselem in 2016 showing an Israeli soldier shoot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant drew international condemnation and led to the soldier’s conviction for manslaughter in a highly divisive trial.
The proposed law, formulated by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, would make filming or publishing footage “with intent to harm the morale of Israel’s soldiers or its inhabitants” punishable by up to five years in prison.
The term would be raised to 10 years if the intention was to damage “national security.”
A ministerial committee which oversees legislation voted to approve the bill on Sunday. It will now go to parliament for a vote that could take place this week and if ratified, will be scrutinized and amended before three more parliamentary votes needed for it to pass into law.
Yisrael Beitenu leader and Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, praised the committee and said: “Israeli soldiers are under constant attack by Israel haters and supporters of terrorism who look constantly to degrade and sully them. We will put an end to this.”
A Palestinian official condemned the move.
“This decision aims to cover up crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against our people, and to free their hands to commit more crimes,” Deputy Palestinian Information Minister Fayez Abu Aitta told Reuters.
The phrasing of the bill stops short of a blanket ban, aiming instead at “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organizations” which spend “entire days near Israeli soldiers waiting breathlessly for actions that can be documented in a slanted and one-sided way so that soldiers can be smeared.”
Naming B’Tselem and several other rights groups, the bill says many of them are supported by organizations and governments with “a clear anti-Israel agenda” and that the videos are used to harm Israel and national security.
The ban would cover social networks as well as traditional media.
B’Tselem shrugged off the bill.
“If the occupation embarrasses the government, then the government should take action to end it. Documenting the reality of the occupation will continue regardless of such ridiculous legislation efforts,” the group’s spokesman, Amit Gilutz, said.
B’Tselem’s video of the shooting in the West Bank in 2016 led to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria being convicted of manslaughter. He was released in May after serving two-thirds of his 14-month term. Opinion polls after his arrest showed a majority of Israelis did not want a court-martial to take place.