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Monday, 06 July 2020

Republished: Al-Ahram remembers the Tekla brothers

The office of Al-Ahram's founders, the Tekla brothers, has been recreated at the newspaper's headquarters in Cairo

Amira Noshokaty , Saturday 13 Jun 2020
Al-Ahram
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Views: 14816

An old calculator the size of a typewriter greets you from the late 19th century desk and invites you to step back in admiration.

The exhibition hall in Al-Ahram's new building captures the essence of the newspaper through an elegant display of the desk and belongings of the newspaper's founding fathers, the Tekla brothers.

“When Beshara Tekla (1852-1901) and Selim Tekla (1849-1892), both of Lebanese origin, first came to Alexandria in 1875, they were not keen on starting a newspaper. They wanted to create a publication about economic news and the stock market because they were merchants,” explained Shoukry El-Qadi in a column published in Al-Ahram daily commemorating the brothers in 1985.

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The small publication sided with the people against foreign interventions and imperialism, and the Tekla brothers were arrested soon after the launch of Al-Ahram weekly newspaper in August 1876. Five years later they transformed the weekly into a two-page daily newspaper.

Al-Ahram was not the first newspaper in Egypt. But it was the first independent one because the rest were affiliated with political parties. It even published columns by nationalist figures such as Mustafa Kamel.

Beshara Tekla was in charge of editorial affairs and Selim was focused on management. Soon the two-page paper became popular.

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According to Tarek El-Daba, who wrote for Al-Ahram on the occasion of its 100 years of journalism, "The first Al-Ahram issue was well received by people in Alexandria who were happy to find a local paper focusing on their issues."

The paper allowed advertisements priced at one franc per line. Among the topics that the paper focused on were the obituaries of high profile people. They covered them as news. One year later, Al-Ahram had its first paid obituary. Since then, its obituary section has been very important, to the extent that people say, "Whoever does not have an obituary in Al-Ahram is not officially dead."

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Courtesy of  Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)

The Tekla brothers were known for their hardwork and thoroughness. They borrowed ideas from western media, such as publishing short stories and having special supplements. They also created a weekly publication called Sada Al-Ahram (Echos of Al-Ahram) in 1876, which mainly focused on trade affairs.

Aiming to make it a cultural hub, Beshara Tekla opened the doors for renowned poets and literary figures to contribute regularly. Poets like Khalil Mutran, Amin and Selim Haddad, Ahmed Shawki, thinkers like Gamal El-Din Al-Afghani, leaders of the enlightenment like Sheikh Mohamed Abdu and many pioneering thinkers that helped build the cultural scene in Egypt and the Middle East.

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Courtesy of  Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)

In 1899 Al-Ahram issued its first Cairo edition parallel with the Alexandria one.

Now the old wooden desk, the typewriter and the giant calculator are elegantly on display, along with a statue and a photograph of the Tekla brothers. It is a gracious reminder of their exceptional vision and the journey of the two-page newspaper in Alexandria that grew to document the history of a nation for over a century and counting – and for that we are grateful.

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Courtesy of  Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)

*This article was originally published on 29 April 2014 on the occasion of the opening of the Tekla brothers exhibition at Al-Ahram new building. 


 

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