Fifty years of Watani

30-11-2008 09:04 AM

Youssef Sidhom

WATANI International


30 November 2008






During its Jubilee year   Watani   has navigated its 50-year-old archive to offer its readers material recalling landmark events and issues the newspaper covered throughout the years. Stories on economics, politics, social affairs, sports, arts, as well as the main causes that   Watani   defended were reprinted. Issues of Copts, women and freedoms used to top   Watani’s   agenda for decades, until the cause of the day, citizenship rights, took the lead.


The tour in   Watani’s   archive illustrated how much the paper has developed in terms of editing, layout and printing techniques, to say nothing of the use of modern technology such as the Internet, picture editing, and graphics. The nostalgia stirred among the older generation of   Watani   staff could only be matched by the pride of the younger generation in how far   Watani   has come.


Last Monday saw   Watani   celebrate its Jubilee in a gala dinner which was attended by a bevy of public figures who had contributed to the paper since it saw the light on 22 December 1958 to this day.


  Watani   was honoured by the presence of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, who enjoys a very special status with   Watani  . First because he is head of the Coptic Church, well-loved and respected by all Egyptians, and second because he is an outstanding writer with the largest number of articles contributed to   Watani  . Similarly, the eloquent articles of Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth, which cover a wide range of interests have enriched   Watani   for years and have enjoyed great popularity among intellectuals, Muslim and Christian alike.


We were also happy to host representatives from the Supreme Council for the Press, the Journalists’ Syndicate and   Al-Ahram   corporation with which   Watani   has had strong bonds throughout its history, as well as the intellectuals and writers who thoroughly enriched   Watani   with their insightful works.


From the outset,   Watani’s   mission was not confined to covering news and events, but went further to disseminate a message of enlightenment and defend values of equality and freedom. It tackled society’s ailments and grievances, sought to raise people’s consciousness and urge them to assume active roles in the community. Moreover   Watani   worked to raise reader awareness in aesthetics and literature. Throughout its first 25 years,   Watani   performed as all Egyptian papers did, except for presenting a Christian address and covering the news of the Egyptian Church. It thus filled a vacuum in the Egyptian press, and played a role parallel to that of other papers which covered the news of al-Azhar and presented an Islamic address.


In the 1970s Egypt embarked on an odd and worrying course. It experienced a surge in extremist currents, emergence of a religious discourse that sowed division between Muslims and Copts, and a call for violence against Copts who were branded infidels. It was thought then that such thought and practices were exceptional, and that Egypt would soon enough return a homeland for all Egyptians as it always was. Sadly, violence evolved into terrorism, national unity and social peace were jeopardised, and the education and media became reflective of the climate of intolerance and extremism. It was incumbent upon   Watani   to redirect its message to stand up to that ruinous assault that threatened the entire society. It opened the file of Coptic grievances and exposed their sufferings due to discrimination and inequality. It spared no effort to expose extremism and fanaticism.


Again, over the past quarter century,   Watani   had to reinvent its message to focus on mending fences between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, no matter how grave the violence against the Copts or however bitter their suffering.   Watani’s   efforts turned to sowing the seeds of love in the hope of overcoming the current crisis, shedding light on incidents of affection and cooperation between Muslims and Copts in hopes that the original tolerance and peace characterising Egyptians would finally gain ground.   Watani   never viewed the sectarian events as a sign of massive confrontation between Muslims and Copts. On the contrary, it called upon all good Egyptians—who are actually the majority—to stand hand-in-hand to isolate extremists and keep them away from the national arena.


This mission was fulfilled through such activities as   Watani   Parliament and the Journalistic Formation Centre. The latter proved that Egyptian youth is innocent from accusations of apathy and fanaticism and showed that encouraging young people to express themselves and discuss their differences would protect society from hatred and extremism. It was an adventure that eventually resulted in amazingly positive effects in terms of raising young people’s consciousness and encouraging values of respect and responsibility among them.


The Jubilee celebration was an occasion to pay back the debt for those who enriched the newspaper with their contribution over a half-century.   Watani   seemed like an old tree with roots firmly in the soil and branches up in the sky. When any of the old leaves fall off we commemorate them lovingly, and when new leaves grow each spring, we rise to celebrate. Let us hope that the future would carry   Watani   onto new horizons of creativity and success.



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