The date 22 December 1958 marks the day the first issue of Watani hit the news stands in Cairo. As this year—the Watani Jubilee year—furls its flag Watani International pays tribute to its mother paper for a half-century in the Egyptian press.
To wrap up its Jubilee year, during which Watani regularly presented its readers with a collection of material it had printed throughout its fifty years in the press, Watani family and friends joyfully gathered for a gala dinner last Monday to celebrate the Jubilee. The event was mainly concerned with honouring all the people who, throughout the years, in one way or another contributed to Watani .
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III attended the celebration which took place in the new Iris Ballroom attached to the Ghabbour-owned Sonesta Hotel. The Watani Jubilee event was the first to be held there, and Mounir Ghabbour asked the Pope to cut the ribbon as an announcement of its official opening. The Pope’s participation in the celebration made everyone especially happy; the Pope is one of the best-loved and respected figures in
Pope Shenouda has been contributing articles to Watani for some thirty years, and even before, when he was yet Bishop Shenouda. This, as Youssef Sidhom, the editor in chief of Watani pointed out in his official welcome to the Pope, makes His Holiness the earliest regular contributor to Watani .
Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth, also a regular contributor to Watani attended, as did the secretary of the Holy Synod and Bishop of
Mustafa al-Fiqi, head of Parliament’s Committee for Foreign Affairs, and Nabil Mirhom, head of the State Council—the highest administrative court in Egypt, was there to share in the celebration, as well as a group of Watani’s friends, among whom were the prominent Coptic figures Fakhry Abdel-Nour, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, Mounir Ghabbour, and Tharwat Bassili,
Antoun Sidhom’s family attended the celebration, headed by Samira Sidhom who appeared especially moved to be attending the Jubilee celebration of the paper her husband founded. Later in the evening her son Youssef divulged a secret: in a gesture of pure affection, she had insisted on sponsoring the event.
The speeches and honouring ceremony began. The honourees were handed the Watani shield, a brass plate on which the logo of Watani was inscribed in silver and golden metal hues, as well as certificates of appreciation for their efforts and contribution to Watani .
Mr Sidhom warmly thanked Pope Shenouda III, the first to be honoured. Mrs Antoun Sidhom was also honoured on behalf of her late husband, as were the bishops, each of whom have to their credit considerable efforts for Watani .
In a surprise departure from the official celebration programme and in an act of well earned gratitude, Watani staff honoured their leader Youssef Sidhom who had himself spent so much time and effort preparing for the celebration and honours, in absolute self-denial. On behalf of Watani staff, managing editor of Watani Safwat Abdel-Halim and managing editor of Watani International Samia Sidhom presented Mr Sidhom with a very special award of his own. It was a replica of a Watani front page inscribed on brass sheet. In the usual place of the editorial was a photo of Antoun and Youssef Sidhom, and in place of the main story was an acknowledgement of the younger Mr Sidhom’s role at the helm of Watani , his professionalism and his caring love for all who work with the paper. Mr Sidhom was both surprised and moved, yet commented that he believed he should not have been honoured in a different manner from all Watani ’s staff.
The honouring process continued, interspersed with further speeches. Samia Sidhom spoke of Watani International and Laura Hakim spoke of Watani Francophone
In a moving scene, Mr Youssef Sidhom invited his mother and sister Samia to join in cutting the Watani cake, all splendid in snow-white icing with the green Watani logo on top.
It was then time for Pope Shenouda’s address, which was more like an affectionate chat rather than a formal address. He congratulated Watani on its Jubilee and expressed his happiness that it had reached so far, reminding that many a newspaper has started well, then failed to live on in the Egyptian press field. He praised Watani ’s policy on dealing with different issues and on including Muslim and Christian writers and journalists, commenting that Watani has always been independent and the Church never dictated any policy or rule over it. His Holiness appreciated the diversity of Watani which now has English and French pages as well as an issue in Braille.
The attendants then enjoyed a delicious dinner within a family atmosphere, followed by the last batch of honours, which had involved everyone who had made any contribution to the paper, the writers and journalists, as well as the secretaries and office boys.
The party was over and it was time to go home. Yet everyone lingered on for photos, congratulations, exchanging notes and the last chat. It was incontestably an evening to remember.