The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper

I saw in one of Angry Arab's recent posts from Lebanon that he was given a tour -- by Joseph Samaha no less -- of the new Al Akhbar offices there. He said he was pleased by what he saw. Al Akhbar is a new project headed by Samaha -- former editor of As Safir and generally considered one of the best, or at least most-read, editorialists in Lebanon -- that is getting talked about in Arab journalistic circles even here as far as Morocco.

I've had a few conversations about it recently (nothing more than gossip really) because people are wondering what it's going to be like. Some see it as an answer the media behemoth of Hariri Inc., headed by the likes of Al Mustaqbal. (Incidentally, I spent a few days last month with two senior journalists from Al Mustaqbal's weekly cultural supplement, Nawafez, who were very nice indeed and rather ashamed of the daily they're attached to. They're under a lot of pressure to toe the line, they said, but are being kept afloat by the fact that Al Mustaqbal's sales more than triple when Nawafez is bundled -- on Fridays, I think. But haven't read it myself.)

Anyway, several months ago the main rumor about Sahama's Al Akhbar was that it was being funded by Hizbullah or Iran as part of the emerging sectarianism/political games in Lebanon. In other words, that Hizbullah wanted its own quality daily to counter the Haririst media but didn't want it to be as crude a propaganda outlet as Al Manar and co. That all sounded rather unlikely to me, and more recently I've heard an alternative explanation. In this scenario, Al Akhbar is being funded by Qatar and constitutes a new development in the Qatari-Saudi media wars that started with Al Jazeera. This also sounds rather odd to me, but whether it's true or not the idea is interesting. What would a growing Qatari-Saudi media war look like if it reached major newspapers not only in Beirut, but also in London? What if there was a Qatari-funded competitor, with more or less the same editorial range as Al Jazeera, to go against Al Hayat and As Sharq Al Awsat? And why would Qatar actually do this?

These are interesting questions -- as is the question of who is funding Al Akhbar. Any ideas?