Last month distinguished Saudi journalist Khaled Almaeena stepped down and handed the editorship of the Saudi Gazette to his colleague, his nominee for the position, Somayya Jabarti. The choice made news as Ms. Jabarti is the first woman in Saudi Arabia to take on such a position. [See Thomas Lippman's article.] There’s also news in the story about Mr. Almaeena’s significant contribution to the evolution of journalism in Saudi Arabia. As he noted in a farewell column, “An editor-in-chief is like a platoon commander. He has to make hasty decisions, shoot from the hip and improvise without turning to press rules and regulations.” He added, “For our team, red lines often were very thin and blurred.” SUSRIS and its forerunner GulfWire can testify to that philosophy having been evident in Mr. Almaeena’s work in the Saudi Gazette and in his earlier role as Arab News editor-in-chief, both leading English language dailies in print and online. There is no question that the current media environment in the Kingdom would be unrecognizable 15 years ago when we started following Saudi press content. Khaled Almaeena is a champion of that effort to open up the reporting of news in Saudi Arabia and has been a key part of its transformation.
Today we are pleased to present for your consideration a tribute written by Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi who was mentored by Mr. Almaeena in earlier days. We are also pleased to add our congratulations and thanks to him as he completes his daily work in running the Saudi Gazette newsroom and starts a new phase.
The Knight Alighted
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
“Today I proudly leave my nominee, a female journalist — Somayya Jabarti — who will take the helm of the paper. She has been associated with me for almost 13 years, and I’ve had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in-chief. It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity. I am proud to have played a role in her career. She is determined and dedicated, and I can assure her and the team that I will be there to assist and advise, so that Saudi Gazette further advances as a media unit in a highly competitive and digital age.”
With these words, Khaled Almaeena announced his decision to step down from Saudi Gazette as its editor-in-chief after handing over the top post to Somayya Jabarti, who has thus become the first-ever woman editor in chief of a Saudi daily newspaper. This would be, perhaps, the finest example of choosing a woman to take the helm of this prestigious newspaper and thus adding to its glory, in addition to proving that a woman, like man, can shoulder any responsibility.
Almaeena recalled that Jabarti had been associated with him for almost 13 years and that he knew well about her talent and capabilities. He was also convinced that his endeavors to take the newspaper to new heights of professional excellence would be pursued by Jabarti, who has been well-experienced in journalism for a long period of time under the supervision of Almaeena, about whom the Oxford Asian Society president had said: “There can never be another Khaled Almaeena in English language media in the Arab world.” This comment was tweeted by the Indian journalist Shahid Burney.
Almaeena has set an excellent imprint in journalism in general and English journalism in particular not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the Arab world as a whole. He has held the top editorial post at Arab News for nearly three decades and the credit for what the newspaper has achieved mainly goes to him. Almaeena was removed from the post of editor-in-chief for the first time in Arab News for a flimsy reason. He had to leave the newspaper due to a mistake committed by an editor under him.
However, he returned to Arab News to take over the post again and continued holding it until two years ago when he left the newspaper and was determined to turn to writing books. During that time, my guess was that he had intended to write a book about his long experience in the media field. But Almaeena was influenced by the charm of journalism once again to take over the top editorial post of Saudi Gazette when he was asked to do so. He worked hard to upgrade the newspaper from a stagnant state after picking a group of journalists who are known for their efficiency, caliber, dedication and sincerity. All the new and old editorial staff members, who are true professionals, have worked together under the captaincy of Almaeena to take the newspaper to the level that it has reached now.
Almaeena is not such a media figure who is simply satisfied with the routine work of a journalist or sitting idle after instructing those who work with him to carry out the roles assigned to each one of them. But he used to write sober and serious articles about various pressing issues and was able to attract readers with different tastes and attitudes, as well as intellectual, cultural and academic levels.
Apart from all these, Almaeena has been a reliable reference for a large number of media figures from the Western television and radio stations, and they always contact him for his comments on major events pertaining to Saudi Arabia or the Gulf region or the Arab world in general. They considered his comments and observations as reliable and dependable source and reference not only for journalists but also for academics and researchers. This is mainly because when Almaeena speaks out, he sticks to objectivity and logic and stays away from exaggerations and falsifications. Therefore, he could win the respect of those who contacted him or sought any specific information or comments from him.
Almaeena’s astounding command in English language has made it possible for him to achieve this. Here, I recall the words of one expert: “Almaeena is the best among those who speak English language in the Kingdom.”
I was first introduced to Almaeena when he was a student at Karachi University. By that time, I had reached Karachi to work at the Saudi Embassy in Pakistan. I had a strong passion to complete my secondary education that I had to stop in the Kingdom before traveling to Pakistan, and therefore I searched out for one who could assist me in this regard.
I saw in Almaeena the guide who took me to the Pakistan’s Secondary Education Council. I could complete the admission procedures and enroll in the class, thanks to his support. He had chosen one of his classmates at the university as my teacher, who taught me all the subjects, and all these were under the supervision and guidance of Almaeena.
After passing the secondary phase of education, he took the responsibility of getting me enrolled for university education and continued assisting me, following up my case and encouraging me until even after my departure to Japan on a new diplomatic assignment. Therefore, I could not complete the university education as it was not possible for me to take a leave from the embassy during the time of examination and fly to Karachi.
Almaeena spent long hours with me to review my academic subjects and give me guidance. I bow to admit the pivotal role of Almaeena in my academic career. Together with this, I would like to point out that we were always not in harmony. Sometimes we differed and at other times we quarreled. However, we always followed the proverb: “Difference of opinion does not spoil the intimacy.” No matter, how much we disagreed or parted, we quickly turned to rapprochement.
Before concluding this article, I must point out the popularity enjoyed by Almaeena among the expatriate community in general and the community belonging to the Indian subcontinent in particular. This is mainly because of his humility, kindness, love for charity work and mentality to help others.
An Indian journalist, among those who worked with him for a long period of time, described Almaeena with the following words: “Almaeena, who is also the patron of the India-based Ummah First Foundation, had been a diamond, is a diamond and will remain a diamond. He always scores first in all issues.”
We wish Almaeena every success in his future endeavors and hope that God would bring him what he aspires for.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about this topic:
- Newspaper editor, another first for Saudi women – Thomas Lippman – SUSRIS – Mar 11, 2014
- The knight alighted – Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi – Saudi Gazette – Feb 25, 2014
- I was determined to have it our way – Khaled Almaeena – Saudi Gazette – Feb 16, 2014
- Beating the censor – the media in Saudi Arabia – Economist – Feb 8, 2014
- Saudi women celebrate 2014 – Samar Fatany – Jan 3, 2014