Veteran journalist and celebrated publisher, Yasser Hawari passed away on Saturday, March 22. He was 85.
Known as “the father of Pan-Arab journalism”, Yasser Hawari boasted a career in media spanning more than 50 years. In 1951 he started his college studies at the Lebanese University’s faculty of Political Sciences, after a brief stint at Law school.
Passionate about journalism, he spent most of his free time reading and writing articles, so it was only natural that he enrolled at the prestigious London School of Journalism after he graduated. In 1955, Yasser Hawari caught the eye of Dar El Sayyad’s publisher Said Freiha who, quick to see his talent, appointed him editor-in-chief of weekly magazine Al Shabaka.
However, it was with the launch in Beirut in 1959 of Al Ousbouh Al Arabi that Yasser Hawari’s full potential flourished. This weekly magazine, which he headed until 1972, pioneered modern journalism thanks to an innovative editorial philosophy; designed around Yasser’s natural flair for in-depth, investigative reports and use of bold images, it quickly revolutionized the local press, both how it was produced and perceived.
Within its first year, Al Ousbouh Al Arabi enjoyed such success that it went beyond the Lebanese market to be distributed across the Arab world, from Casablanca to Muscat and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. For the first time in the region, the Egyptian press didn’t reign supreme. Under Yasser Hawari’s guidance, Al Ousbouh Al Arabi created a truly pan-Arab editorial approach and became a media that could shake regimes and influence the region’s march forward.
Yasser Hawari became a regional figure, honored by a number of Arab heads of state and leaders, most of whom were featured in the magazine in exclusive interviews. Based in Lebanon and aware that, in the early ’70s, the only way for the country to avoid the upcoming crisis was dialogue and understanding, Yasser Hawari created another weekly magazine in 1973, Al Diyar.
Its unique formula was based on consensus and civil society, involving more than 30 partners from all of Lebanon’s various regions, communities and sects, including lawyers, doctors, businessmen and college teachers – Yasser Hawari himself was teaching journalism at the Lebanese university between 1971 and 1976. The initiative was a success, and a positive display of national unity in the face of violence and hatred.
However, only 18 months after its launch, the whole project had to be aborted following an assassination attempt. On December 13, 1974, extremism forces tried to silence Yasser Hawari. More than 20kg of explosives, hidden in a flower vase, devastated both the magazine’s offices and the company. Hawari, who miraculously emerged unharmed, was not deterred. Threats to both himself and his family continued. Four months later Lebanon’s civil war started and was to last for 15 years. In such an environment, there was no choice but exile for a man who refused to compromise his values and editorial integrity.
In 1976 Yasser Hawari left Lebanon for France with a heavy heart, along with his wife and four children. A symbolic coincidence, perhaps, the Middle East Airlines flight that left Beirut that day turned out to be the last one before the airport was shut down. For a while, Yasser made several attempts to continue his work within the Arab press and managed a life between Europe and the Gulf; in 1979, he edited weekly magazine Al Hawadess, until its founder and publisher, Salim al Lowzi, was assassinated less than one year later.
Approached by various Arab publishing houses keen to benefit from his expertise, Hawari, considered the “architect of the Arab press”, was involved in Kuwaiti weekly Al Hadaf, Saudi weekly Al Sadah and Saudi daily Al Watan. In 1980, he contributed, with his friend Hasher al Maktoom, to the establishment of Al Bayan, a new publishing group in Dubai and its daily paper; he also took part in the launch of sports weekly Al Riyadah Wal Chabab.
However, it was in France – and in French – that Yasser Hawari found his next real opportunity. After his final return to Paris in 1982 and the creation of Kol Al Arab, a new genre of magazine that gave prominence to pictures alongside short, concise, more personalised articles, Yasser couldn’t fail to see the need in France for unbiased, objective and in-depth information about the Arab world, and the Gulf countries in particular.
In January 1987, to help nurture a better understanding between the Arab world and Europe, he launched Arabies, a monthly magazine with the purpose of bridging the gap between France and the French-speaking world, and the Middle East in all its aspects – political, cultural, economic and more. In a highly competitive environment and with little resources, other than Yasser’s determination, such a project wasn’t without risk. Against financial odds pitting one man’s and his family’s project against international players, Arabies was a success.
Focusing on the Gulf, Northern Africa, the Levant and France, its objective and constructive approach brought a fresh perspective, celebrating achievements, while also exposing failures and flaws. It is this rare balancing act that has held readers’ interests for almost 30 years. And still does. Trends, a monthly magazine focusing on Arab affairs, was launched in 1998 to reach out to English-speaking readers, the same way that Arabies did to French-speaking ones. Published in Paris, Trends met with great success, much to the dismay of London-based Arab publishers, long considered the experts in the Middle East.
In 1997 the ever-ambitious Yasser Hawari founded Mediaquest in a bid to expand his vision of bridging the East and West. This new publishing house was to cater not only to print but also television. In 2003 Mediaquest became the official representative for the Middle East of the highly successful French TV show Capital, which became, in Arabic, Saneou El Hadath.
This has since developed into an eponymous monthly magazine. Today, a leading regional player in print, digital and events, Mediaquest’s portfolio boasts prestigious titles, including Trends, Saneou al Hadath, Arabies, Communicate, Gulf Marketing Review, Haya, Marie Claire Arabia, AMEinfo, Kippreport, dotmena, MEmob and more. Along with his publishing accolades, Yasser Hawari also actively worked at bringing intellectuals from both France and the Middle East closer together.
Every Saturday morning, in a café near the Trocadero, he would set up informal debates between French and Arab journalists. Quickly, these casual discussions turned into a forum that took an official dimension when, in 1999, Yasser founded the Arab Press Club. The launch event gathered more than 120 journalists in the presence of the French Foreign Affairs Minister, Hubert Védrine. The club offered journalists from all horizons a place to meet, talk and exchange ideas and perceptions about the Middle East; it was also a place to liaise with officials and associations, set up important events and interviews and more. Today, the club is a pillar of France’s Foreign Press Club.
Yasser Hawari is survived by his wife Leila, sons Julien and Alexandre, and daughters Lynn and Johanna.