This week Al-Ahram Weekly celebrates its 30th anniversary amid heated domestic and world events. The year of the Weekly’s launch was not so very different, for on 28 February 1991, when the first issue of the paper hit the newsstands, the repercussions of the Gulf War were topping the political agenda.
The launch started with five zero issues after the idea of publishing an English-language weekly paper had been discussed by the board of Al-Ahram in January 1990. The late Ibrahim Nafie, then chairman of Al-Ahram, met with a group of prominent writers at the newspaper and discussed the publication of what was to become the Al-Ahram Weekly.
I remember that ahead of the Weekly’s first issue during a meeting with veteran journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, the idea met with Heikal’s applause. “During my chairmanship of Al-Ahram, I wanted to produce a publication that would address foreign readers while maintaining its Egyptian identity,” Heikal told the late Hosny Guindy, first editor-in-chief of the Weekly and its founder.
“The world needs to get closer to people in Egypt and to understand their traditions and values. I hope that you will be able to include a special ‘digest’ page that will review main topics covered in the Egyptian press throughout the week,” Heikal said. The meeting was attended by senior members of Weekly staff, including leading writers from Al-Ahram, as Hosny Guindy was keen to invite them to contribute to the paper.
When defining the identity of the new English-language newspaper, the Weekly’s founders agreed that the new publication should be different from other papers available in Egypt at that time. In fact, the new paper was to be unique, as the layout, editorial material and use of photographs all had a very special nature.
Nevertheless, since its creation, the Weekly has always presented a true image of Egypt to its readers. The world is eager to know more about Egypt, as is shown by the flourishing of studies of Egypt’s history and antiquities worldwide, and the Weekly has always been aware of this demand.
But truth and reliability are the main factors that readers look for in their newspapers, and they are the main reason behind the success and continuity of any publication. Since the 1990s, the world has been in a state of turmoil, with clashes and conflicts breaking out almost on a daily basis and stability being hard to find. Such challenges have been compounded by the digital revolution, meaning that newspapers have had to redouble their efforts to retain their readers. Truth, however, must remain a key word.
The Weekly has never abandoned its commitment to truthful reporting since its first issues 30 years ago. Five editors-in-chief have taken the helm of the paper since then, but under each truth and objectivity have always been key values. Pages covering politics, economy, tourism, heritage and sports have all followed policies set by the paper’s founders. The opinion pages, including articles written by prominent political and economic commentators, have added depth since the paper’s launch. Respect for diversity is another factor that has distinguished the Weekly, with space being found for different opinions as part of its balanced coverage.
Meanwhile, the paper’s staff, many of whom started their careers at the paper in their 20s, still discuss ways of developing their cherished paper in the light of the changes taking place in Egypt and in the world as a whole. In the present diverse age, Egypt needs media that is open to the world, above all because we are living through a period when Egypt is being reborn.
*The writer is a senior layout editor and journalist.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly