Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Another year for the Weekly

The launch of Al-Ahram Weekly in 1991 serves as a reminder of the roles and responsibilities of the wider press, writes Samir Sobhi

The launch of Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 February 1991 reminds us of the links between newspapers and the state, since one of the roles of the press is to act as a link between the government and the citizens and vice versa.

History tells us that Egypt’s great 19th-century ruler Mohamed Ali Pasha once sent a message to one early editor saying that he “must be alert and insightful”, or accurate in everything. This is what journalism is all about. Mohamed Ali wanted the dialogue between the ruler and his subjects to be ongoing and unending. Since newspapers are a reflection of their era, the early newspaper Al-Waqaai Al-Masriya (Egyptian Chronicles) also unintentionally uncovered various secrets. Publishing news means revealing the unknown even though this newspaper was owned by the ruler of the time and acted as his mouthpiece.

Such thoughts were no doubt in all our minds when a group of Al-Ahram journalists walked into the office of Ibrahim Nafie, the former chairman of the board of Al-Ahram, to discuss publishing an English-language newspaper that would be Egypt’s ambassador to the world. It would be a liberal newspaper that uncovered the truth and objectively analysed events, we felt.

An editor in his late 40s was chosen from among younger journalists fluent in English, and he began contacting Egyptians working for foreign news agencies in Egypt. These included Maurice Guindy, Wadie Kirolos, Bahgat Badie and Mamdouh Al-Dakhakhni, as well as Morsi Saad Eddin, a former chairman of the State Information Service, and Luis Greiss, an alumnus of the American University in Cairo and editor of Sabah Al-Kheir magazine.

Hosny Guindy

Then the search began for those who could use English-language typewriters, only a handful at the time. There were several struggles involved in creating the new newspaper, since it involved bringing together younger and older Al-Ahram journalists, at first manually laying out the pages, finding proofreaders, and hiring layout editors to ensure that the new paper became a well-oiled machine.

The years have since passed quickly by, and now we hold in our hands a newspaper that has weathered the storms of journalism in Egypt and across the world. We have faced shortages of paper, economic crises, regional wars and the vicissitudes of world politics from Russia to the US to the Middle East.

The Weekly was launched during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991, and it succeeded in closely analysing this war and truly becoming Egypt’s ambassador to the world. The newspaper’s writers and political analysts included such important names as Roshdi Said, Osama Al-Baz, Amr Moussa, and Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, who called the Weekly the “first liberal newspaper in Egypt”. The distinguished journalist Salah Montasser was impressed by the accuracy of the newspaper’s coverage, layout, headlines, photographs and political cartoons by the likes of Makram Henein, Gomaa, Nagi Kamel, George Bahgoury and Gamil Shafik.

The Weekly had a distinguished look and character, although like other newspapers it was often challenged by how much space should be given to certain news items. In general, it chose its content on merit without regard for what those in power might think. This touches on a key problem for mainstream newspapers in Egypt, and it may be a key reason why some readers today are no longer interested in newspapers.

Newspapers lose their value when they do not provide an accurate picture of what is going on. They are a part of society, and they are affected by their surroundings. If society is living through sharp upheavals, conflicts, economic crises, or even violence due to tensions and fears, and the newspapers ignore these things, then they become a press that does not reflect society.

The Weekly’s first editor-in-chief was Hosny Guindy, a journalist then in his late 40s, and the managing editor was author and journalist Mohamed Salmawy who later became the editor of the French publication Al-Ahram Hebdo. Guindy viewed the Weekly as a liberal and nationalist publication, not state-owned and not in the opposition. For him, it was an Egyptian newspaper in English in which the Egyptian citizen was the protagonist and the audience was both cultured and intelligent.

Guindy was at the helm for 13 years, followed by Hani Shukrallah, who was promoted from managing editor to editor after Guindy passed away. Shukrallah headed the newspaper for three years until 2005, when he was succeeded by Assem Al-Kersh, a former deputy editor of Al-Ahram, who was there for seven years during the tumultuous years of revolution, the toppling of the regime, Muslim Brotherhood rule, and the army holding the state and society together.

Al-Kersh was followed by Galal Nassar, one of the Weekly’s own staff who had joined the paper after graduating from Cairo University with a journalism degree in 1991. Nassar was chosen by the Supreme Press Council and remained as editor for five years at a time when the Weekly and all other Egyptian newspapers faced difficult challenges. It was a unique experience for Al-Ahram, since Nassar was one of the institution’s youngest editors.

Nassar was succeeded by his classmate and colleague Ezzat Ibrahim, a veteran journalist who had been Al-Ahram’s correspondent in Washington, New York, at the UN, and then managing editor of Al-Ahram before being chosen to lead the Weekly. Ibrahim came in during the new era of online publishing, and he was also chosen as editor of Ahram Online the English-language news website produced by Al-Ahram.

I believe this successful experiment of the Weekly will now be followed by other newspapers, particularly as the press today is saturated with publications still shopping for readers.

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