In 1988, a special banquet was held in celebration of Asharq Al-Awsat’s founding. During the proceedings, British minister David Mellor gave a speech that started with the satirical line: “Welcome to the world’s largest Arab capital”. In a sense though, he wasn’t really joking. One has to remember that at the time Beirut was ravaged in civil conflict, Cairo wasn’t appealing for everyone, and Dubai wasn’t the megacity that we know today. As a result, London had become the largest refuge point for the Arab diaspora during this period in time.
London, and Britain as a whole, also had another special aspect, the fact that it granted all its residents a cornucopia of liberties, among which was freedom of the press. It was this freedom which made the famous Fleet Street, which was home to a number of press publications, the press capital of the world. The late Prince Ahmad bin Salman bin Abdel Aziz respected the press freedom of Britain and always used to say: “We (Arabs) need to maintain the press standards of this country, as such we should not transfer our journalistic standards to London. On the contrary, we should be bringing London’s standards to the Arab world.” Despite being a successful young man in the world of business and enterprise, Prince Ahmad bin Salman sought to go into another venture: press media. It is often said that a person can seek success by “standing on the shoulders of giants”, thereby implying that “smaller individuals” need to rely on superiors to gain success. However, the late prince understood that wasn’t the case in press journalism, case in point Asharq Al-Awsat was a costly venture and maintaining its quality and expanding the scope of readership was no easy task. As such, when Asharq Al-Awsat started founding its other sister publications, it did so with the idea that all said publications were equal. The fact that Asharq Al-Awsat was the first periodical did not make it the most important one.
This sounds fantastic on paper, but Prince Ahmad bin Salman understood that it was paramount that the readers, not just the management, saw the publications in equal light. Upon taking over Majalla, the Prince insured that it had a unique political voice that gave readers distinctive perspectives on the current affairs rocking our world. The late Prince never underestimated the potential Majalla had to become one of the major Middle Eastern publications, during monthly meetings he would always say: “I want to hear everyday people say ‘I read that in Majalla’, as often as I hear them say ‘I read that in Asharq Al-Awsat’”. The success of Majalla put Asharq Al-Awsat’s philosophy of placing writers and editors-in-chief on an equal playing field into practice, and there are three major examples that demonstrate this, namely Othman El Amir, Abd El Rahman El Rashid and Adel El Tareqy’s respective transitions from Majalla writers to editors-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat's, and it was these magazines that were circulated all over the region. Although Prince Ahmad wanted Majalla to be the first Arab Gulf political magazine to be a household name around the region, he did not want to compete directly with the Egyptian and Lebanese counterparts which published stories that appealed mostly to their respective readers, he wanted a magazine that enticed those living both within and outside the Arabian Gulf. He did not want Majalla to feature just political pieces, he knew that there were other topics that attracted readers, as a result, Majallahad a balanced mixture of political, economic, cultural and societal articles that attracted an avid readership throughout the region.
This variety of topics, writers and guest writers gave something different to both Arab readers living in the Gulf and outside the Gulf. The latter was presented with topics that go unnoticed in their local publications, while the former was given the opportunity of discovering new writers, thinkers, and journalists that they might not have heard of before. That way Majalla became more than just a weekly magazine, it became a means of cultural exchange.
This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Majalla’s first publication. It was during that time when a new era of Arab press had emerged, an era in which Arabic publications started to operate outside the Middle East. We now embark on another new era of press publication, and this digital era is a tough one since attracting new readers has become a much more difficult task. The emergence of digital press has pushed Majalla to make necessary changes to its operations and circulation, however, the magazine still operates under Prince Ahmad bin Salman’s three basic principles: the variety of topics, the balance of opinions and the drive towards a creative vision.