JEDDAH: Arab News recently said goodbye to Mohammed Rasooldeen, a senior reporter in its Riyadh bureau, who has retired after a journalism career in Saudi Arabia stretching back more than 30 years.
He first arrived in Saudi Arabia from Sri Lanka in 1987, when he joined the now defunct "Riyadh Daily" English-language newspaper.
“The newspaper was only two years old at the time, in its infancy,” said Rasooldeen. “It was a tough time for us to try to popularize the newspaper when Arab News had already taken deep roots.
“It was a great struggle to raise the profile of the paper but it became a popular daily among the expat and diplomatic communities. We drew them in with a page called ‘Diplomat's Corner,’ where we published stories and photographs of their diplomatic events.
“I also edited a weekly supplement in Tamil called Tamil Malar, which was a big hit among the Tamil speaking community in the Kingdom. Talaat Wafa and Dr. Saad Al-Bazei were the best editors in chief of "Riyadh Daily" I served under during the time.”
On Dec. 31, 2003, "Riyadh Daily" was closed down by its publisher, Al-Yamamah Press Establishment.
“No sooner had it ceased publishing than Khaled Almaeena, the editor in chief of Arab News, called and asked me to work for the newspaper,” said Rasooldeen. “Almaeena gave me more than enough support to carry out my duties at Arab News with ease and great satisfaction.
“It was an interesting job to work as a senior reporter in the capital. It was a great opportunity to meet foreign leaders, diplomats and distinguished visitors who came to the Kingdom. Since Arab News was well established, my reports reached a wider audience."
Rasooldeen’s native Sri Lanka was never far from his thoughts, though. He started working there at a young age as a freelance reporter for national dailies, eventually becoming editor of the Iqra newspaper, which was published in three languages — Sinhala, Tamil and English — through the Maligawatta Young Men’s Muslim Association.
The Sri Lankan government honored him with a national Best Journalist award. He was also principal of a government college in Colombo, of Darussalam College, and Kotahena Senior Secondary College.
“In parallel with the news reporting in Saudi Arabia, I was able to serve my Sri Lankan community as well,” said Rasooldeen. “I was one of those responsible for setting up the Sri Lankan Expats Society, for which I served as its president. I also served the community school as chairman of the board of directors.”
Rasooldeen has seen some remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia in the 31 years since he arrived.
“When I came to the Kingdom I was in early 40s and now I am over 70,” he said. “Riyadh has witnessed tremendous changes and developments in its physical structures.
“The new economic reforms introduced by the government have paved the way for more confidence among the Saudi young men and women.”
Although his time as a journalist for Arab News has come to an end, he believes the future is rosy for the newspaper.
“Under Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas I can see a bright future for Arab News,” said Rasooldeen. “He has not only given the newspaper a new look but also the content has been changed to deliver a wider coverage. The newspaper looks very attractive and readable, and is covering a wider range of stories."