|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
2 - 8 August 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
My first memories of Al-Ahram go years back, to the days when my grandfather piled up copies in his study. Those copies have long disappeared now, pushed out by a proliferation of children and grandchildren, but I grew up literally surrounded by Al-Ahram.
My relationship with Al-Ahram made its first qualitative shift from walls of paper to a source of knowledge as soon as I learned to read. Since that time, over 50 years ago, my relationship with the paper can be described only as intimate. Yet, on the occasion of Al-Ahram's 125th anniversary, as I sat down to profile this venerable mainstay of Arab journalism, I found myself faced with an amazing journal -- its dimensions more complex than meets the naked eye. I viewed the institution as one would regard a person. There's the full-face, frontal view (Al-Ahram, perhaps, as it would like the world to see it); then there are the twin profile views (is the frontal centerism actually the synthesis of a right and a left?); and finally there's the back of the head (how much does the reader guess about what it takes to produce the daily and dozen other publications, let alone the host of other related and unrelated jobs undertaken by this giant of a publishing house?)
It may seem that 125 years is quite a long time, but as far as papers go Al-Ahram is still young. Born in the late 1800s in Alexandria, Al-Ahram emerged as one of several papers that mushroomed during that era, when newsmen and publishers from the Mashreq (the eastern part of the Arab world) were drawn to Egypt's young democracy. Papers like Al-Baseer, Al-Hilal and Al-Ma'ref also appeared around this time. The news then was a chronicle of this burgeoning democracy and Egyptian journalism flourished -- in sheer size, if not always in content.
The advent of the British occupation ended this era and Egyptian journalism was given a new mandate as the voice of Egypt's struggle against its occupation, bringing forth the slogan "Egypt for Egyptians." This history is kept alive in Al-Ahram today, particularly with the publications of the Al-Ahram History Studies Centre and the weekly Diwan chronicle of the centre's head, Yunan Labib Rizq.
In my years with Al-Ahram, I have learned that being a journalist is not too far from being a doctor: you take the temperature, the pulse of a people and you break it down into cause and effect. You know what reactions your words will bring and you monitor those results, nursing a cause or a message. Keeping an account of events and tales is a vital piece of our heritage.
Selim Taqla, Al-Ahram's founding father, was known to dispense some no-nonsense advice -- "Only bestow titles on those who deserve them. Stay away from derogatory words" -- but he was also inspiring: "Renewal is a part of nature. The sun will always dawn and we must fold back any black pages. Justice is our guiding principle."
Al-Ahram has always spoke loud and clear, and its forceful voice was the vanguard of forging a new style of written Arabic, that blends classical and colloquial Arabic to suit the needs of journalistic style. This mix has become a standard of television and radio programmes and has permeated institutions beyond Egypt's borders in the Arab world.
We also worked hard at moulding our letters into the iron of the print machine. In the early 1920s, the Al-Ahram organisation spent LE4,000 on the purchase of an Intertype. It was also Al-Ahram that first introduced the classified ad now so common in Arab papers. So too with the format of the obituary; Al-Ahram's are the most sought -- a mention on these pages are the last rites of respect owed to the dead. What used to be a small section of the paper is now a multi-page section.
The development of Al-Ahram has been guided by the knowledge that success is built on innovation -- the quest for bright new ideas, every year, every month and every day. All of those who work at Al-Ahram are special -- they work with the word, and the word is sacred.
I try once again to pull it all together and paint a picture of Al-Ahram. But then again, I try to do this every day, with every new issue, and every morning, I find something new.
Clockwise from top left: The 1919 Revolution is first reported on page 22 of the paper -- the Crime Page. Al-Ahram applauds the student demonstrators but regrets the rioting of the "rabble"; (6 May, 1936) Al-Ahram fronts the news of King Farouk ascending the throne. At the bottom of the page the famous terriers of Black and White Scotch whiskey playfully advertise their ware; (12 May 1948) three days before the state of Israel is declared, Al-Ahram's front page leads with King Farouk's determination to prevent the establishment of a Zionist state; ( 6 May, 1951) King Farouk marries Nariman.
Clockwise from top left: Countdown to the July 1952 Revolution: (26 January, 1952) Al-Ahram, which now costs 15 milliems, reports the murderous attack a day earlier by British occupation forces on the Egyptian police barracks in Ismailia; (27 January, 1952) banner headlines report the Cairo fire and the declaration of marshal law and a Cairo curfew from 6pm to 6am; (28 January, 1952) the King seizes the chance and dismisses the Wafd government headed by El-Nahhas Pasha. Ali Maher Pasha is charged with forming a new government; (24 July, 1952) Al-Ahram's banner announces: "The army undertakes a peaceful military movement." For the advertising department of the paper it was business as usual and, on the bottom left of the historic front page, El-Shourbagy advertises the "best shirts in the most beautiful colours"
Clockwise from top left: (27 July, 1952) the revolution consolidates and King Farouk abdicates. A front page photo shows the royal yacht, Al-Mahroussa, on which the King would be sent to exile; (10 June, 1967) the Revolution's triumphal march comes to tragic halt as Al-Ahram's banner announces the resignation of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, following Egypt's defeat in war with Israel; (7 October, 1973) the banner conveys long-awaited good news: "Our [military] forces have crossed the [Suez] Canal"; (29 May, 2000) the paper now costs 50 piastres and the banner encapsulates basic tenants of President Hosny Mubarak's policies: "The Palestinian State will come ... the privatising of the Egyptian economy has not slowed down ..."
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