Newspapers are not to be measured by how old they are rather by the impact they achieve. I believe no other Arabic newspaper has had the same impact as Asharq Al-Awsat since its first international issue was published. Its name, green-tinted pages, Saudi owners, location in London and inauguration which coincided with the Camp David accords drew anger, admiration and curiosity.
Asharq Al-Awsat is an animal that does not follow the journalistic herd. During the 1970s, newspapers resembled each other even if their political orientations differed. Therefore, when the green newspaper emerged it appeared to be a new species.
Instead of encouraging politicians and journalists to enter into competition, Asharq Al-Awsat was target of a harmful rumor-mongering. At the time, I learned much in the hard school created by these attempts at character assassination. This lesson prepared me for the future. In this atmosphere, I learned that you either be one of the sheep or a shepherd, and that you choose your own way.
Having just adopted the new technology of satellite transmission for simultaneous printing in a number of capitals across the world, Asharq Al-Awsat represented the new Arab world. The newspaper hosted refugee journalists who fled from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq. At the time, Arab waves of mass migration has doubled, from Gulf scholars and mass migrations from Lebanon to labor migration from the Maghreb. Asharq Al-Awsat reflected this openness and variety. Most figures of Arabic journalism were either Egyptian in Al-Ahram or Lebanese in Annahar. However, Asharq Al-Awsat was an Arab elite club where we learnt from the Egyptians Ahmed Bahaa Eddin and Ahmed Abbas Saleh, the Sudanese Tayeb Salih, the Lebanese Samir Atallah, the Iraqi Khalid Kishtainy, the Iranian Amir Taheri, the Lebanese Eyad Abu Shakra and other prominent journalists and men of letters. The variety of ideas, not just nationalities, made of Asharq Al-Awsat an advanced school of journalism.
Without vision Asharq Al-Awsat would not have become a bastion of journalism; rather, it would have remained a diwaniyah, an exclusive meeting. The secret of the newspaper’s continuity is in it being different, ever since it was first published, rather than being similar to many journalistic enterprises over the past 40 years.
Asharq Al-Awsat represented a marriage of reason, technology and money, the crux of any political and journalistic projects. The founders of Asharq Al-Awsat made sure that it could survive for many years. Having worked under Hisham and Mohammed Hafiz for more than 15 years, I witnessed the two brothers’ modern ambitions. Asharq Al-Awsat has begotten several newspapers and magazines; the company has engendered several distribution, advertising and research companies. Without these bodies Asharq Al-Awsat would not have succeeded in the face of fierce competition.
Hisham Hafez, may he rest in peace, had a creative personality and a daring vision. In our profession creativity has no value without bravery. I learnt from him the love of confrontation and his spirit of adventure. As for his twin brother, Mohammed, he was the engineer of the company who transformed abstract ideas into tangible projects.
Prince Ahmed bin Salman, may he rest in peace, the company’s first CEO, contributed enormously to the newspaper and the company by hiring several intellectuals and professionals whom the newspaper was lucky to have.
Contrary to what some think, Prince Ahmed is the one who transformed Asharq Al-Awsat from a private to a shared company. The prince brought the late Abdulmuhsin Al-Akkas, who became minister of social affairs but died early. One might not find much about him in the newspaper’s files; however, Al-Akkas, who was an intellectual and an economic expert simultaneously, left an indelible imprint.
After that Asharq Al-Awsat ceased to be owned by the prince and its two founders only; rather, the late Rafiq Al-Hariri, Alesayi, Al-Amouodi, Abdullah Kamel and others joined the owners. When the three owners became ten, I, who was the editor-in-chief at the time, became worried. However, Prince Ahmed promised us that the new owners would not interfere with editorial affairs. Later, we went through hard circumstances and Prince Ahmed fulfilled his promise.
Asharq Al-Awsat has never been an English, American or Saudi project; rather, it is an Arab journalistic and developmental project that helped brush the dust off old, poor and disapproving mentalities as well as the ones with regional agendas most of which have been exposed today.