By Munir K. Nasser
Newsweek today launched the first western-edited Arabic-language newsweekly, in a joint venture with the Kuwaiti publishing group Dar Al-Watan. The premier Newswsweek in Arabic, its fifth non-English-language edition, will be dated June 13 and will go on sale in Arab markets June 6.
Newsweek in Arabic (Newsweek Bil Logha Al-Arabia) draws on the editorial content and reporting provided by Newsweek's international network of news bureaus. It is published in Kuwait by Dar Al-Watan Publishing Group. Each week, Newsweek's international reporting is edited in New York, then translated into Arabic by translators and editors based in Washington and Kuwait. The magazine will be edited by Al-Watan's editor-in-chief, Mohammed A. Al-Jassem, with Newsweek maintaining editorial oversight.
The first cover story is on the "The New Arab Woman" featuring Jordan's Queen Rania who is leading the way for women in her culture to participate in public life and still be rooted in traditional culture. "I am an Arab through and through, but I am also one who speaks the international language," Rania tells Newsweek. "I feel I do represent a large segment of women in the Arab world ... I share with them their hopes and aspirations and the challenges they face."
The premier Arabic issue also reports on Hizbollah's successful efforts to drive Israelis out of south Lebanon and its new role of keeping the peace at the border. The magazine also reports on the ability of Hizbollah to use its military victory to bolster its political base in Lebanon.
Mahmoud Shammam, Washington's Bureau Chief of the Arabic edition, told Albawaba.com that Arabic Newsweek is not concerned about issues of censorship and political sensitivities in the Arab world. "If we are talking about political sensitivity, we are not going to compromise at all," he said. "We are going to publish the political story without any interference from any side, even if it is critical of some Arab regimes. We do not have the right and we don't attempt to impose anything in this matter. We will use the Arabic saying, "Naqil Alkufr Laysa Be Kafer", which means we are only messengers."
Shammam says there was an understanding with News week about cultural and religious sensitivities in the Arab countries. "We have a full understanding from Rick Smith, Chairman of the Board and Editor of Newsweek, that Newsweek will respect our religion, our culture, and our sensitivity to all that," he noted. "I don't think either Newsweek or ourselves are aiming to publish any offensive material towards our cultural and religious values. So we are not worried about it."
Describing the extensive effort put in producing the Arabic edition, Shammam said "Alwatan is giving full support for this effort which includes fifty people who are directly involved in the process of producing the magazine.
"On top of all of this we have a very fine and experienced team of editors and translators who are working from different capitals of the world," he explained. The new technology allowed us to select those top people wherever we find them. Those people are doing, in my judgment, an excellent job, by being very accurate in their translation, and producing a smooth text in Arabic that is easy to read and understand. They have also to adopt Newsweek style, which is originally addressed to domestic and international readers, and translate it to the mood of the Arab reader, which is not an easy thing to do."
When asked about the difficulty of producing the magazine, he said the time limitation imposes a lot of pressure, because it takes only 36 hours between the point that the material is received from Newsweek, to the point that magazine reaches the printer. "For the last 18 months we have been under the scrutiny of Newsweek reviewers who read every single word in our test issues and evaluate it on the basis of correctness of information, language and style. Now we are under the eyes of thousands of readers in the Arab world," he said.
He considers translating American cultural expressions a major challenge. "This is one of the difficult areas that we faced and we learned a lot in our test issues," he said. "I am not saying that we have solved all of it, but we are working hard to make it untreatable by using the Arabic equal of the American terminology, or by explaining its meaning. By time we will be able to deal with such cultural materials. We try to reach a balance between completely accurate and completely readable, and this is a hard combination."
Shammam expects the sales to be around 30,000 copies. The copy price will be lowered on newsstands so it will reach a wider audience of different education levels, income and backgrounds. "We are targeting every possible reader in the Arab world, but specifically we are targeting the people who cannot read in English language," he said. "For the first time they will be reading a foreign magazine directly, without a middleman. We are targeting the large majority of Arabs who are educated, but cannot read in English."
He said the magazine will circulate in selected cities in the West, but we will start with London, and later in the summer, it will circulate in major capitals in Europe. By the fall, he said, circulation will hopefully go to major cities in the United States.
Newsweek's three English-language editions, five foreign-language editions and The Bulletin with Newsweek have a total combined circulation of over 1.1 million and a combined readership of more than 3.5 million. Headquartered in
NewYork, Newsweek has 21 bureaus around the world. Its global circulation is over 4.2 million with a total audience in excess of 22.5 million - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)