As 2019 drew to a close, we in Watani conducted our yearly evaluation of the content we offered our readers throughout the year. For us, this has become an end-of-year custom that allows us to review our performance and accordingly draw up a vision for the upcoming year. With this in mind, the editorial team of our Opinion Page met to assess the 2019 content and brainstorm for new ideas for 2020.
Watani’s Opinion Page has been offering its Arabic speaking readers a weekly selection of opinion pieces by prominent writers; incidentally, the page is managed by a young, ambitious all-female team. Watani International has throughout the years picked many of the pieces it saw as relevant to the English speaking reader, translated them into English, and published them. The Opinion Page has constantly invited new figures to join the page. It has also been printing a weekly article by Watani’s founder Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995) whose editorial graced Watani’s front page for the 20 years during 1975 – 1995. Mr Sidhom broached current events and issues that concerned Egyptians in general and Copts in specific, as well as various international issues. Many of his editorials are still timely and fresh, so much so that we now print them in our Opinion Page under the rubric: “How similar is today to yesterday”, a famous Arabic expression for deja vu or timeliness.
Watani’s Opinion Page also boasts a section for “Writings of a time long gone” which reprints opinions of prominent writers and intellectuals, that were published in Watani in the 1960s and 1970s, and include a wealth of intellectual, informative, enlightened thought.
Following one of the yearly evaluations of the page, a section was added featuring a weekly column written in rotation by one of the page editors.
Among the various ideas brought up during the most recent Opinion Page assessment meeting was one that was especially captivating: conducting interviews with the opinion writers hosted by the page. An interview would delve into the life and thought of the interviewee, focusing on formative experience. It would of course present the reader with a comprehensive review of his or her published works such as books or articles, and would moreover discuss with the interviewee opinions that approve or criticise his or her own.
The idea was discussed at length and was met with much enthusiasm by the page’s editors who agreed on certain measures to respect in order to ensure a rich outcome. A thorough research and study of the life, thought, development, and writings of the person to be interviewed should precede the interview; all points of agreement or disagreements with his or her thought would be discussed, and light would be shed on his or her convictions and beliefs. The title “Enlightenment Pillars on trial” was chosen for this section which, it was agreed, would figure on the Opinion Page quarterly, with all members of the page’s team joining in its preparation.
The work took off with gusto. It was not hard to select the writer with whom to start; even though all columnists of the Opinion Page are prominent, significant writers, the editors unanimously agreed it had to be Murad Wahba. Dr Wahba is
among the most distinguished philosophers of our time, and is famous for being an advocate of secularism. The editors eagerly prepared for an in-depth interview with him before setting out to meet him last March.
Regular readers may wonder whether they missed reading the interview with Dr Wahba in Watani. Not so; the interview was never published in the first place, and I am the one to blame for not printing it. Even though the interview was conducted and edited, ready to go into print, I decided to postpone printing it because of the raging outbreak of coronavirus, a topic that eclipsed all others. It moreover disrupted newspaper circulation, especially in the case of Watani which is widely sold in churches, but churches were closed on account of coronavirus. The reduced circulation meant that a large swath of Watani readers would be deprived of the interview with Dr Wahba, an interview which was proficiently made, is rich with interesting valuable information, and would be the first of the series of the “Enlightenment Pillars on trial”.
I have been waiting for the perfect moment to print the interview with Murad Wahba, to reach the largest number of readers and to do Dr Wahba justice. Now that Egypt’s daily figures of COVID-19 cases have declined—this week Egypt registered around a 100 daily cases and less than 20 deaths— the government has decided to lift the lockdown while implementing cautionary restrictions against the virus spread. Churches accordingly reopened, and hopes are high that much of our daily life would go back to normal as much as possible.
I feel the time has come to print the first interview of the series “Enlightenment Pillars on trial” in this issue of Watani, hosting the great Murad Wahba.
29 August 2020