Having recently made my first venture into the Middle East, I thought I’d provide a brief overview of the pan-Arab newspapers that are read by exiles, businessmen, and intellectuals in Arabia and the diaspora.
Intellectually the pre-eminent pan-Arab newspaper, al-Hayat is considered the newspaper of record for the Arab diaspora. Its motto — إن الحياة عقيدة وجهاد (“Life is belief and struggle”) — is taken from a line by ‘the Prince of Poets’ Ahmed Shawki (1868–1932). Kamel Mowra founded the newspaper in Beirut in 1946 and even named his daughter (born Hayat Mowra, now Lady Palumbo) after the newspaper.
Mowra edited al-Hayat for twenty years before he was assasinated in 1966 while leafing through the final revisions of the day’s edition. The Lebanese Civil War forced the closure of the paper ten years later but it was refounded in 1988 and sold to Saudi prince Khalid bin Sultan in 1990.
Staffed by Muslims, Christians, and Druze, most of its editors hail from Lebanon though it has been based in London since 1988. The opinion pages of al-Hayat are open to a broad spectrum of Arab thought, including radical fundamentalists, secular liberals, Arab nationalists, and conservatives.
Founded in 1989, al-Quds al-Arabi is known to take a strong line in its defence of the Palestinian cause; understandable as it was founded by and is owned by Palestinian expatriates.
Based in London, half the newspaper is devoted to coverage of world news (with a focus on the Arab world), while the remainder covers opinion, culture, business, and sport.
‘The Middle East’
This newspaper is known for its uniquely green-tinted pages and generally speaking is the most conservative and devotedly pro-Saudi of the pan-Arab newspapers. It is owned by Prince Faisal bin Salman through the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.
Asharq al-Awsat claims to be “the leading Arab daily newspaper”. Its chief rival for prominence is al-Hayat, while al-Quds al-Arabi is considered its polar opposite politically.
Al-Ahram is the granddaddy of Arabic newspapers, but more Egyptian in focus rather than pan-Arab. The newspaper was founded by two Lebanese brothers in Alexandria in 1875 and moved to Cairo in 1899. In 1950 it was described as being ‘what The Times is to Englishmen and The New York Times is to Americans’. Al-Ahram has been influential in setting the standards of writing style in Arabic, a highly dialectised language.
Owned by the Egyptian government, it has been widely censored over recent decades but is also traditionally granted substantial leeway in what it prints provided it neither breaks taboos nor stirs trouble in sensitive areas. It prints three Arabic editions (for Egypt, the Middle East, and the world, respectively) with weekly editions in French and English.