Youthful Memories and the Harsh Reality of Life Abroad

When I think back to when I began working with Majalla 33 years ago, I remember the hardships I faced while settling in and adjusting to life in London. As a young man, I never thought that I would end up spending most of my life in this city.

In a way, Majalla served as my companion during the first few years of life in an alien city away from home where I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on or enough knowledge of the English language to manage my daily errands and communicate with others, particularly coming from a francophone country. So I couldn’t help but bring all my burdens with me to work, but working at the Majalla office every day made life abroad easier. The office became a surrogate homeland. I believe the most valuable thing I have learned from this “nationhood” is that the Arab World’s ambition to strengthen ties among each other was, to a great extent, was accomplished through our daily interactions with each other whether in Majalla or its sister publication the pan Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, since each one of us came from a different Arab country. For me, it was a great advantage to my journalistic experience in comparison to my previous job at a local publication which had journalists from the same background who spoke the same language.

When I look back at my beginnings with Majalla and my archive of articles, investigations, and interviews, I feel wistful. Going down that memory lane means a great deal to me since it narrates a long history of events in the Arab world which left impressions on our lives today, whether it’s the spark of the Iranian revolution or the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan and the effects that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of “the Arab Afghans” phenomenon which alarmed the region and the world on a political and security level for many years. Also, the Iraqi- Iranian war, the invasion of Kuwait and the repercussions that left a great mark in history.

It is worth mentioning my first article in Majalla’s pilot issue which never made it to print. The article was about president Marshal Josip Tito’s illness and how it could lead to the breakdown of the Yugoslav federation. I remember writing this article a decade before the destructive wars that ignited between the regions of the country which ended in dismantling the area into six entities.

In the early 1980s, the Majalla and Asharq Alawsat offices were located in a small street named Gough Square, just off of Fleet Street which headquartered most British newspapers back then. A few years ago, I went to that building after a long time, I can’t pretend that the scene brought tears to my eyes as the building was unrecognizably renovated, and nothing was preserved apart from the building’s number ‘4’. Nonetheless, I was nostalgic, not only because I had spent a big part of my life in that building, but also because of our battle to succeed and our daily struggles with pen and paper before the existence of the internet and computers. During that time, our magazine faced significant competition from a considerable number of Arab magazines. Majalla had several editors-in-chief during my time there and each one of them left a mark, whether that be on the magazine’s management or on the work atmosphere among us. (I enjoy using the term ‘family’ when talking about our team, and I am not sure if such an atmosphere still exists in other Arab prints.)

It is important to mention the founders of Majalla and Asharq Alawsat, Hisham Mohammad Ali Hafez, who were the reason that the magazine continued to thrive since its inception, and also the work of my friend, the former editor-in-chief Abdul Karim Aboul Nasr, who gave Majalla its unique political identity.