28 February this year was the 30th anniversary of the first issue of the Al-Ahram Weekly, first published in 1991 with the phenomenal Hosny Guindy at the helm. He was chosen by the late Ibrahim Nafie, then chairman of the board of Al-Ahram, to be the Weekly’s founding editor-in-chief.
This was when I took my own first steps as a journalist-in-training during the entire year when preparations were underway to launch the newspaper, including appointing staff, training, deciding on format, content and layout, and looking at news production around the world to decide on the character, policies and look of the new publication.
This was all before its launch into a market that was hoping to see an Egyptian newspaper in English that would cover events in Egypt and the region from an objective and Egyptian perspective. I wrote the full story of this journey five years ago during the Weekly’s silver jubilee, and it can be found at http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/188608/Opinion/AlAhram-Weekly%E2%80%99s-silver-jubilee.aspx.
The Weekly was the response provided by Al-Ahram, which issued various publications in Arabic, to the call of the Egyptian state, including official and non-government institutions, political parties and intellectual circles, for a publication that could communicate with the rest of the world in the world’s then top language. The idea was to build bridges and correct misconceptions and to present the Egyptian perspective among the many others being reported.
While international press coverage lacked a full perspective, the opposition press in Egypt reported from one angle alone and the national press gave the priority to the official line. The Weekly threw a pebble in still waters. It adopted high professional standards to achieve credibility, and it used a formula that had long been absent on the media scene: to report on all viewpoints and express the entire political and intellectual spectrum of Egyptian society.
A group of Egyptian, Arab and foreign writers and reporters came together, fusing Egyptian expertise with professionals from some of the world’s major news agencies, and this was joined by promising fresh graduates and several foreign nationals to maintain the newspaper’s sophisticated language standards.
The Weekly plunged into many issues and raised the standard of reporting from one issue to the next under the protection of maintaining professional standards. For many years, it was praised in the annual report of Egypt’s Higher Press Council, written by experts and academics, as being a newspaper that maintained professional standards, respected the reader, clearly separated advertising and reporting and conveyed all viewpoints objectively.
The dynamic Egyptian domestic scene was the top priority of the newspaper’s coverage, along with the regional scene with all its upheavals including the Palestinian cause, the repercussions of the Kuwait invasion, the wars on Iraq and Lebanon, and the tremors of the Arab Spring and its aftershocks. The newspaper always had the reader in mind, upholding professional and humanitarian standards, civil rights and freedoms including the rights of women and children, human development, the need to address climate change and the importance of protecting heritage and culture.
I worked as a reporter at the Weekly for 27 years until I became the editor-in-chief in August 2012, leaving the position on 30 May 2017. Before becoming editor-in-chief, I was the managing editor of the newspaper for eight years beginning in 2004.
The newspaper’s professional integrity was sometimes on the line during my years in the top job due to events in Egypt at the time, especially after the 25 January 2011 Revolution when the Weekly was the only Egyptian newspaper that did not apologise for its editorial policies before the revolution or change its policies based on events and developments. This was because the newspaper’s objectivity and credibility had shielded it from any need to shift its positions since it had never practised evasion or sought to deceive readers.
Then came the harder test, at least for me as chief editor at the time, during the events that took place during the one-year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood beginning in June 2012 and continuing until the 30 June 2013 Revolution and its aftermath. Our decision at the Weekly was to align ourselves with citizens and readers in line with the professional values instilled in us since the newspaper’s inception.
We opposed the Constitutional Declaration issued by then president Mohamed Morsi in November 2012, and we covered the activism against it on the streets and in the country’s syndicates and political parties, presenting all the viewpoints on the issue. We conveyed the heated debates and weekly protests on Fridays demanding the overthrow of Brotherhood rule and the violence used against the Egyptian people by Brotherhood groups and militias before and after 30 June 2013.
There were escalating events on both the domestic and regional scenes between 30 June and the 3 July 2013 Declaration due to the tremors of the Arab Spring and contradicting stories about events in Egypt during the interim phase. The Weekly was a key source of information on what was going on inside the country, with the newspaper continuing to uphold its values and maintain its credibility with readers.
We maintained these standards until I left the Weekly and my good friend Ezzat Ibrahim took over the reins. He has carried the torch and upheld the newspaper’s legacy and unique approach along with the Weekly family of correspondents and writers and one of the founding fathers of the newspaper, Samir Sobhi. The latter designed the newspaper’s original layout according to a template that has been retained until the present day. Sobhi is an iconic figure who has the sensibility, taste, compass and experience that adds and innovates.
Like the rest of the press today, the Weekly is facing serious challenges with the retreat in the value and influence of print newspapers around the world. It relies on its legacy and credibility to ensure reader loyalty, carving out a niche that facilitates future growth.
The newspaper has long understood the need to pivot towards the new technology, to have a digital presence, and to use the latest publishing media. It has done these things through the AhramOnline website, which was part of my dream for the newspaper that was not achieved at the time – namely, to produce a daily edition of the newspaper to stay abreast of events and developments on a daily basis.
As I write this piece, my mind is filled with the events, faces and figures who have participated in the unique Weekly experiment. They are the founders and innovators, those who advanced and shouldered responsibilities. They are the partners in the paper’s success and guardians of its values.
Although some of them have passed from our world, their legacy continues, and they include Ibrahim Nafie, Hosny Guindy, Hani Shukrallah, Mursi Saad El-Din, Graham Usher, Fayza Hassan, David Blake, Fouad Al-Gohary, Wadie Kirolos, Mamdouh Al-Dakhakhny, Hamdi Saadeddin, Maurice Guindi, Nehad Selaiha, Nagui Kamel, Steven Nimr, Jenny Jobbins, Bahgat Badie, Shohdy Sorour and Gamil Shafik.
Still among us are those who have given selflessly to the Weekly and continue their work in other spheres, including Mohamed Salmawy, Mona Anis, Assem El-Kersh, Makram Henein, Gamal Nkrumah, Ghada Ragab, Aziza Sami, Hala Halim, Jill Kamil, Randa Shaath, Pascal Ghazaleh, Nur Elmesseri, Amina El-Bendary, Peter Snowdon, Tarek Atia, Hala Saqr, Fayza Radi, Fatemah Farag, Dahlia Hammouda, Nevine Khalil, Injy El-Kashef, Rana Allam, Nashwa Abdel-Tawab, Samia Nkrumah, Doreen Briggs, Yasmine Al-Rashidi, Omayma Abdel-Latif, Rehab Saad, Rasha Saad, Mariz Tadros, Sherine Nasr, Sahar Al-Bahr and Soha Abdel-Aty.
They also include Dena Rashed, Tamer Youssef, Ian Douglas, Lamis Andoni, Inas Hamam, Reem Nafie, Ahmed Kamal, Amira Ibrahim, Nermine Nizar, Mohamed Waseem, Nadia Abou El-Magd, Rashda Ragab, Yasmine Fathi, Magda Al-Ghitany, Eman Abdel-Moeti, William Kopycki, and Nyier Abdou.
The writer is former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Weekly (2012-2017).
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly