The unusual march of Asharq Al-Awsat
With the release of its issue on Wednesday, Asharq Al-Awsat began a new year after celebrating its 45th anniversary the day before. Over four and a half decades, the journey of the first Arab daily newspaper to rightfully gain its international status has not been an ordinary one. The internationally recognized professional term “pan-Arab” truly applies to it.
The statement “it was unusual” is not just a rhetorical creation, and I am not only mentioning it here as a journalist who worked within its family, but also as an observer of the phenomenon of Arab journalism in London during the 1980s. Therefore, it is objective, whether from a journalistic perspective that sets aside any biases, or by the standards of the significant events that the Middle East region and its surroundings have witnessed, as well as its global reach. Asharq Al-Awsat has had to deal with events in a way that balances the requirements of journalistic work with sensitivities that may not apply to any other newspaper.
Why? Simply because it is Asharq Al-Awsat. Repeatedly, from a contemporary position of that era, I heard, saw and participated in several discussions that revolved around its release before I joined the team working on it. I can say that dealing with most senior officials in most Arab capitals regarding how it covered every major event was viewed as reflecting the position of Saudi Arabia as a state. This interpretation was not accurate at all, but it happened. It is important to note that, in this context, both Hisham Ali Hafiz and his brother Mohammed, the publishers who laid the newspaper’s foundation, did not intend that at all, nor did anyone who worked with them or came after them, sitting on a chair bearing the burden of responsibility for sailing Asharq Al-Awsat as the flagship of the largest Arab international publishing institution in the midst of waves of fierce competition.
There are many aspects of distinction in the journey of Asharq Al-Awsat. They start mainly from the idea of publishing in London, with the aim of printing simultaneously in the British capital and many Arab and other capitals, allowing it to reach several markets. This means it has been received by a wide audience, with varying tastes, different backgrounds and orientations. All those cities, capitals and villages have become accustomed to receiving it every day, starting from the morning of July 4, 1978.
Not a single year has passed without Asharq Al-Awsat introducing new initiatives to activate the genes of constant renewal that are in its nature
At that time, this achievement was sufficient to impress the professional segments of different languages and cultures. Few among the world’s leading newspapers had succeeded in achieving this distinction. In Britain, for example, only The Guardian had reached this level, as it was printed in London and Manchester, then also in Berlin, at the same time. However, as is always the case when contemplating human nature, in addition to the admiration of major international publishing institutions, the success of Asharq Al-Awsat from the beginning of its journey stirred feelings of jealousy and envy, specifically and unfortunately among the Arab press, both inside and outside of Britain.
Forty-five years have now passed and not a single one has passed without Asharq Al-Awsat introducing new initiatives to activate the genes of constant renewal that are in its nature. Many were mistaken at the beginning and have continued to be mistaken throughout the years, as they attributed its success solely to the factor of money. No, the success of major newspapers is not achieved by money alone, but by adopting the principle of “institutionalism.” From its inception and throughout its different stages of development, the newspaper has been managed with an institutional mindset.
The late Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz realized the importance of this and laid the foundation when he established the Saudi Research and Marketing Group in 1987. His brother, Prince Faisal, the current governor of Madinah, continued the mission and the presence and impact of all the institution’s publications increased in various publishing circles, both Arab and international. The editorial teams of each publication have been striving to achieve exceptional success with their team spirit.
Happy birthday to the entire Asharq Al-Awsat family and to all the editorial teams in its sister publications everywhere.
- Bakir Oweida is a Palestinian journalist who pursued a professional career in journalism in Libya in 1968, where he worked at Al-Haqiqa newspaper in Benghazi, then Al-Balagh and Al-Jihad in Tripoli. He has written for several Arab publications in Britain since 1978. He worked at Al-Arab newspaper, Al-Thadamun magazine and the international Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. He has also worked as a consultant at Elaph online newspaper.