Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Twenty-Five Years of Al-Hayat | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Algerian men look at national newspapers at a newsstand in Algiers in this January 2013 file photo. (Ouahab Hebbat/AP)

Al-Hayat newspaper celebrated twenty-five years since the publication of its first edition from London yesterday. This is truly a suitable occasion to express congratulations, and to pen a few words about the newspaper. The current version of the newspaper was re-launched by Jamil Mrowa, a man known for establishing successful projects, only to then look for another project to promote and make successful.

The original Al-Hayat was published in Lebanon; it was the first non-domestic Arabic newspaper in both the professional and political sense. That newspaper was founded by Kamel Mrowa. He came to Beirut from Berlin, where he had been working on behalf of the Palestinian cause with Hajj Amin Al-Husseini. At the time, the majority of newspapers being published in the country had a Lebanese or Levantine focus. Al-Hayat changed all that. Kamel Mrowa attracted senior Arab writers to the newspaper, and Al-Hayat was the first comprehensive Arab pulpit to exist outside of Egypt. The newspaper quickly outstripped An-Nahar newspaper, which at the time was being edited by Ghassan Tueni. For his part, Tueni admired Al-Hayat and adopted Kamel Mrowa’s style. Indeed, he liked to boast—or so it is said—of following in Mrowa’s traditions both in editing a newspaper. Mrowa and Tueni were both pioneers in the industry, and no sooner had one taken the lead than the other would catch up and seek to outdo him.

The new Al-Hayat in London managed to achieve something the old version of the newspaper in Beirut failed to do: it bought together journalists and writers from across the Arab world and became—along with Asharq Al-Awsat—a shining image of Arab journalism abroad. New writers made their name with Al-Hayat, securing their place alongside more established names. I personally made sure not to miss the weekly articles of Salim Nassar published every Saturday. We did not read Al-Hayat just for the great articles and tasty opinions, we also read it in order to learn from it. Al-Hayat remains top of the class in terms of areas, particularly relating to creativity and innovation.

Al-Hayat editor-in-chief Ghassan Charbel famously writes on Mondays. He is the testing ground for Arab politics. Charbel has not met any official or decision-maker without trying to secure an interview. I have never known an editor-in-chief as well-travelled as Ghassan Charbel. He is a living compendium of history. He is the consummate professional who does not wait for events to come to him, but takes the first step himself.

It is hard to pick and choose, but let me also make reference to cartoonist Habib Haddad, whose feather-light pen is an instrument of true expression. His intelligent satire highlights humanitarian depths. Political cartoons are the hardest of all the arts, though journalism is no less difficult. Competition is the best feature of the media. Competition between print editions may soon be a thing of the past, but competition between writers and their views will remain as indelible as ink. Whenever a great Arabic newspaper is published we must feel satisfied, not just about the future of the profession, but also the future of our readership.