Part 3: Ten Days Around the Magazine World: Romancing the Magazines in LebanonDecember 24, 2009
When Rudyard Kipling wrote “OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” he either did not visit or heard of Lebanon. The capital of Lebanon, my birth country, the city of Beirut used to be referred to as the Paris of the Middle East. Today, it can easily be referred to as the Paris and New York of the Middle East. English, French and Arabic are the every day languages of all the majority of the people in Lebanon. A quick look at the country’s newsstands and one will be amazed by the number of titles in all the aforementioned languages.
Romancing a New Magazine
On my fourth day of the Ten-Day-Around-the-Magazine-World tour I landed in Beirut and headed 50 miles north to my birth town Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon. My first magazine activity was to speak at a new magazine launch party called Abjad (which translated from Arabic is the first four letters of the alphabet and is also short for the alphabets). The magazine is the brain child of veteran Lebanese journalist Bassem Bakkour. Abjad is a new magazine aimed at high school students and refers to itself as “an encyclopedia in a magazine.” The magazine combines history and science fiction, science and space, geography and lifestyle. The magazine is mainly in Arabic but have sections in English and French.
Bassem’s vision for the magazine is to fill a void in the Lebanese market place where, although there are hundred of magazines published, none is aimed at this audience, the 13 to 18 year olds. Bassem’s goad is to get the magazine distributed in all high schools in Lebanon. The magazine launch party at the See and Sea restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean sea, marked a dual celebration for me. The first, the celebration of the launch of a new magazine, and the second, the fact that this is my first-ever speech I give in my birth country since I left Lebanon 31 years ago. The launch of Abjad is a great example of how new magazines can be initiators rather than reflectors of society. The majority of magazines usually are reflectors of what goes on in our society. Only few magazines, the ground breakers, are more initiators of things to help educate, entertain and inform their readers. Abjad is such a magazine.
It is not all Good News
The same day when the celebration of the launch of the new magazine was taking place, another journalistic event was taking place in Lebanon. The fourth anniversary of the assassination of Gebran Tueni, the director general of An-Nahar one of the leading independent newspapers in Lebanon. Tueni, who was also a member of the Lebanese parlement, was assassinated on Dec. 12, 2005. Tueni’s family and the An-Nahar newspaper established The Gebran Tueni International Freedom of the Press Award that is giving annually to a journalist who is instrumental in his or her defense of the freedom of the press. This year’s recipient was Asos Hardi the director of Awene, a publishing and distribution firm in Iraq. An emotionally and intellectually executed special issue of the weekly supplement that Gebran Tueni established was distributed on the day of the event. Nahar Ash-Shabab issue number 578 is a keeper for me.
New Magazines in Arabic, English and French
The next day I went on my magazine tour of the newsstands. To say I was surprised by the number of new magazines will be an understatement. I found new magazines in Arabic, in English and in French. SoChic is a hefty 242 pages of fashion, elegance and beauty published by one of Lebanon’s best known women’s magazine Al-Hasnaa. The Arabic language magazine is a who’s who guide to some of the top fashion designers of Lebanon and the Middle East. Gala, the German import, is now being published monthly in Arabic from Beirut. The content of the magazine has been totally adapted to the Lebanese market with some infusion of the international world of celebrities. The third new magazine published is Fatafeat and is published in two separate editions: English and Arabic. The magazine is “the first and only food magazine of the Middle East,” published from Dubai and distributed through the Arab world. Fatafeat is a brand expansion of the Fatafeat Cable Channel that will celebrate its third anniversary on Dec. 26.
Another European import to Lebanon is the first issue of L’Officiel Levant, the Lebanese edition of the French leading fashion magazine by the same name. The first bimonthly issue also has a hefty 242 pages and is well designed and packaged. The remaining three new magazines that I have added to my collection were all in English. In magazine is the latest entry into the field of fashion and inspiration. The magazine promises to be a “source for trendy women and curious men and if you like vice versa.” Daring is the adjective that comes to mind to describe this magazine and its cover. The second new English language magazine is Eleganté, the “way to luxury and lifestyle.” The magazine combines lifestyle articles such as “If you think of cheating on your man, think again!!” to “Outrageous Hotels for the Mega Rich.” Last but not least is Absolute Beirut the magazine devoted to the “experience and entertainment” around the capital city of Lebanon: Beirut. Absolute Beirut can easily be a copy cat of Gotham magazine or Ocean Drive magazine. A lot of society and party scene pages scattered between all the luxury info-tainment.
As I stroll the streets of Tripoli carrying my loot of new magazines, a sly smile appears on my face as the funny thought of the prophets of doom and gloom that print is dead and the future is for something else. It is yet time again for some of those prophets to leave their cocoons and tour the world. An active and healthy magazine market still rules in a lot of places. All what you have to do is reach out and smell the magazines…they are out there.
Next on the tour, a Lebanese magazine called Jasad (Body) that is causing quite a stir in Lebanon and the Arab world and two futuristic newspapers in a world filled with traditional newspapers.