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Saturday, 18 September 2021

An unforgettable day

Samir Sobhi looks back 29 years of the Al-Ahram Weekly

Samir Sobhi , Tuesday 25 Feb 2020

On 28 February 1991 at the bottom of the daily Al-Ahram’s front page there was a column-and-a-half-width advertisement reading “Al-Ahram Weekly today”. 

This day, marking the first issue of Al-Ahram Weekly, will always be a very special day. Of all the Arab newspapers published in English, the Weekly has managed to establish itself as a paper belonging to a distinguished school of journalism. It is a national newspaper addressed to the foreign reader, while still keeping an Egyptian perspective in covering the news. Since its first issue, the paper has been keen to maintain a balance between the government’s stance and other views without tilting towards either. 

Every week, the paper gives the world and the foreign reader details they need to know about Egypt. 

Prominent writer Abdel-Moneim Said, the chairman of the board of Al-Ahram from 2009 to 2011, praised the Weekly as the first of the Al-Ahram publications to be produced electronically. The French-language weekly Al-Ahram Hebdo followed in the footsteps of the Weekly just one year after its first issue.

We should express our gratitude to all the chief editors of the Weekly for their efforts in upgrading the paper, starting from its founder the late Hosny Guindy. Guindy was the first to lend the paper a sense of uniqueness and a commitment to accuracy. He taught reporters how to cover stories in depth and with a developed journalistic sense and how to deal with others in a quiet and respectful tone. For him, persuasion had nothing to do with speaking in a loud voice.

He also paid special attention to photographs, making this a distinctive feature of the paper. The Weekly thus had a large number of photojournalists, among them Randa Shaath and Sherif Sonbol. Guindy also paid great attention to caricatures. The Weekly’s cartoonists were names like Nagi Kamel, George Bahgoury, Gamil Shafik and Gomaa Farahat.

The paper also gave considerable space to leading opinion writers who enriched the paper with their analysis of political, economic and social issues. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Edward Said, Ibrahim Nafie, Mohamed Sid Ahmed and Salama Ahmed Salama were hosted in the opinion pages, helping the paper to establish itself as the leading English-language newspaper in the Arab world.

After Guindy’s death in 2003, then managing editor Hani Shukrallah succeeded him as acting editor. A noble character known for his journalistic skills, Shukrallah led the Weekly towards further success. Shukrallah had been a member of the 1970s student movement that had fought long and hard for political reform in Egypt. His colleagues at that time had included Mohamed Al-Sayed Said, Hussein Abdel-Razek and Salah Eissa.

Despite the success Shukrallah achieved at the Weekly, he did not stay long in the post as editor, and in 2005 the Shura Council appointed Assem Al-Qersh as the paper’s new editor. Al-Qersh, trained at Al-Ahram, took the helm of the Weekly at a time when the young generation of reporters had gained wide experience and journalistic maturity.

In 2012, Galal Nassar, the paper’s fourth chief editor, took responsibility for the paper at a critical time following the 25 January Revolution. In cooperation with Managing Editor Shaden Shehab, Layout Managing Editor Hani Mustafa and a distinguished group of journalists, Nassar did a good job, having started his journalistic career at the Weekly in 1990 with its five zero issues.  

During his tenure, the Weekly had its eye on the changes coming to Egypt since the end of former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, and the start of a new era in 2014. It was a period filled with major events, all of them reflected in the Egyptian press.

In 2017, Nassar handed the leadership of the Weekly to his lifelong friend Ezzat Ibrahim, the current chief editor. Ibrahim had previously held several positions at Al-Ahram, including as managing editor of the Al-Ahram daily and head of its bureau in Washington. 

The future of the Weekly is a pressing issue for many of the staff today, most of whom are of the same generation. They started work at the paper in their early 20s, and, lacking the current technology that saves so much time and effort, they had to work very long hours to finish their assignments.

To guarantee the continuation of the Weekly, the paper should start employing young journalists. However, the laws governing the national newspapers in Egypt disallow such recruitment because of the financial situation of the press as a whole. Moreover, the Weekly, as a print newspaper, has to be ready for the challenges facing all printed papers around the world. 

We live in a world of rapid change. Internet Man or the digital citizen is going to change everything we thought we knew, and artificial intelligence will likely lead such changes. The print press cannot stand aside from this technology, though it seems unlikely that printed newspapers will disappear. Instead, they will likely have a different look. 

When newspapers first came onto the scene, some felt that books would disappear, but subsequent developments proved them wrong. Books managed to survive, and the two worked together in enriching cultural life. Indeed, Mustafa Al-Fiqi, the director of the Alexandria Bibliotheca, has said that “he who does not read Al-Ahram in the morning will not have a successful day.”

Finally, I hope that the Weekly’s chief editor today will consider the idea of turning the paper into a shareholding company, with its assets owned by the staff. This company could be the first stone thrown into the currently still waters of the Egyptian press.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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