In its last issue, the prestigious Lebanese periodical Al-Adaab said its final farewell to its readers and announced that it would cease after 60 years of publishing, thus ending a rich life loaded with cultural battles for freedom of creativity and expression and openness to all thoughts and currents.
The slogan used by the magazine, 'Arab Cultural Magazine,' wasn't taken for granted, for, although established in Beirut and published and printed there until its very last issue, it was able to play the role of an Arab magazine; able to attract the most important Arab writers owing to its serious mission and commitment to freedom.
Al-Adaab has without doubt played a role, for example, in supporting modern poetry throughout the Arab world ever since its first issue in 1953. At the time when this new movement was taking its first steps against the current, the magazine sided with it in the face of the established armoury of old traditional poetry, thus siding with freedom in its broadest sense.
It was established in 1953 by late Lebanese writer and critic Sohail Edriss upon his return from Paris, who served as its chief editor until 1991. Edriss was famous for this first novel, 'The Latin Quarter,' which dealt with the cultural shock that hit a number of writers and intellectuals who studied in the West and discovered the extent of development and freedoms there; similar to the novel by renowned Egyptian writer Tawfiq El-Hakim, 'Bird from the East,' and the one by Sudanese writer Al-Tayeb Saleh, 'Season of Migration to the North.'
Dar Al-Adaab, the publishing house, was established three years later to join its predecessor in playing a truly leading and enlightening role throughout the Arab world. Not only have the two establishments received most acclaimed Arab writers and critics, but they have both also stood by the side of freedoms at a time when Beirut was the home of the Arab regimes' battles that attempted to establish tens of magazines to defend their views. Almost all of these disappeared except Al-Adaab, which remained immune to ownership by any of them.
Starting in the 1960s, Al-Adaab establishments preached existentialism and absurdity, popular back then, yet at the same time stood by Arab nationalism and Marxism, fighting for all of them fierce battles for freedoms. Arab cultural life witnessed some debate and exciting recovery due to Al-Adaab's role in translating newly-written material from the West.
In 1991, Samah Edriss, son of Sohail Edriss, took over the magazine, and wrote the very last editorial, explaining that the reason for stopping the periodical was the high costs, especially that they clearly refused any external funding.
He stated: "There's no meaning in producing a cultural, progressive magazine that opposes all Arab regimes and doubts all non-governmental organisations' motives and agendas, to be funded by money from one or the other." With painful honesty, he added: "No true culture can be produced from funding with the smell of oil, oppression or external agendas, for funding decides choices of writing and strategies of focus, exclusion and inclusion."
Throughout the 12 years, Samah Edriss noted the financial bleeding to an illogical extent, reaching the absurd conclusion that more losses meant greater freedoms. In addition, a number of Arab countries banned Al-Adaab material altogether, and it has intentionally closed its largest market in Syria where everyone now can write what they wish without censorship.
Edriss stresses that Dar Al-Adaab is the single and last funder for Al-Adaab magazine, and as one of the most important publishing houses in the Arab world, can continue to fund the magazine for another 60 years. Yet the number of readers has dwindled, same as number of readers for all independent cultural productions, and thus it forces the question: What is the value of producing while readers aren't reading? Is the insistence on publishing it an act of heroism or a waste of effort?
Is there a future for a paper-based cultural magazine? Edriss moves to question whether a publication that is "independent, activist, free, contentious and angry can go unpunished into the kingdoms of oppression and the republics of killing."
The editorial ends with the confirmation that no matter how long Al-Adaab will cease to exist, it is only temporary, for it may return in electronic form that "tricks censorship and spreads wider to reach the era where we can re-issue its paper version again."
In any case, whether Al-Adaab ever returns or not, its end is a true loss at a time when Arab culture is retreating enormously… farewell, Al-Adaab magazine!