Indispensable Clarification

My success and failure in my professional and private lives have been correlated with the press and publishing world since my childhood till the seventh decade of my age, when I, as well as my brother Mohammed, and our partner, sold 40% of our shares in the Saudi Research & Marketing Group and its affiliated companies which we established as a step towards turning it to a joint stock company.

My brother Mohammed and I quit our daily jobs. I was the president of all of the companies of the group and he was my deputy. These posts demanded ceaseless travel to seventeen cities in four continents, from some of these cities our publications are issued, and in all of them the Arab international newspaper, “Asharq Al- Awsat”, is printed.

We have resigned our adorable daily work which grew extremely exhausting physically and mentally due to our age and then to prevailing circumstances; and we ended up as members in the board of directors in the company.
My beginning was in 1939 in Al Madina Al- Munawara when I became eight years of age. The setting of my nascent career was the shop which belonged to my father and uncle with two desks occupying its front. It had a door which led to the print shop. You could see a few bamboo chairs in the ten square meter office. Its shelves carried books, of which some were printed, others were works of handwritings. An iron case stood there. It had two keys: one for my father, another for my uncle. The wall was decorated with frames of Quranic inscriptions which were gifts presented to my father and uncle by the calligraphers of Al Madina Al-Munawara on the inauguration of our newspaper. Next to that shop was another with similar space linked to the print shop which took the form of a long triangle. The two shops and the warehouse formed the setting in which the newspaper Al Madina Al-Munawara was produced and printed. There, I had a small corner in which there was a wooden table with a shelf underneath. I used the table to make tea, while the shelf carried my school books which I brought there to study or to read. My task was to serve tea and drinks to the guests of my father and uncle.

Their office was the culture and information centre in Al-Madina Al-Munawara. Thinkers, men of letters and politicians visited it. They were from all over the Arab world and had come to visit the prophet Mohammad’s mosque, peace be upon him. I remember that I served tea and cold water to Taha Hussein, Abbass Mahmoud Al-Aqqad, Hassan El Banna, Mohammed Hassanin Haiykal Basha, Shukri Al Qwatli, Al-Habib Bo Rqaiba and many others.

Two years later, I became a worker in the print shop. As years passed by, my knowledge of the press and printing professions accumulated, and my experience expanded in the world of publication, distribution, and advertising in daily and weekly press.

The promulgation of press institutions act in Saudi Arabia annihilated our ambitions. In accordance of the said act, journalism and journalists were dominated by the officials of Saudi ministry of information.

Before the act we owned and ran a first-class daily newspaper. Subsequent to it, and overnight, we found ourselves either outside the institution as what happened to me and my father Mr. Ali Hafiz- May he rest in peace - or inside it as members and employees who acted at the beck and call of officials to the Saudi Ministry of Information, as the case with my brother Mohammed and uncle Othman Hafiz- May he rest in peace. The government took it from us and gave it to other people without paying us in return.
The act was promulgated to suppress me. I take responsibility for turning Saudi press from one vying for freedom to one that yielded and found a resting place in the lap of authority represented by the Ministry of Information. It finally became “The single – readership” (authority) journalism, to quote Mustafa Ameen’s phrase - May he rest in peace - describing journalism in the Arab world. It was not me who dropped it in the bed of authority or on the swings of ministry of information. In fact, my brother Mohammed and I initiated in 1961 a new untraditional daily newspaper and acted bravely and spontaneously. We have never been a party concerned with interests to protect. Accordingly, we engaged in many battles in press, the most serious of which took place when I commented (in the daily column “ Good Morning” which I used to write alternately with my brother Mohamed) on king Faisal’s -May he rest in peace - act of appointing prince Mash’al Ibn Abdel Aziz as the governor of The Region of Mecca. I protested against this appointment and demanded that Mecca’s people, who have a better knowledge of Mecca’s affairs, should choose their own governor. Mecca’s people did not choose Prince Misha’l as their governor.

That article was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the famous Arabic expression goes. A calamity followed another and journalism lived in the shadow of ministry of information. Our dreams of a Modern and advanced journalism, which was made a reality by hard work and perseverance, became a nightmare that haunted our parents to their graves, may they rest in peace.
That short period was more like a sweet summer night’s dream. This was eventually shrouded by the nightmare of press institutions act. I returned against my will to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to avoid jail, because I had to choose between them and I chose to go to Geneva.

I spent seven hard years in Geneva as a member of the Saudi delegation to the European headquarters of UN. There, I was a first secretary black listed by authority. I remained unable to go back and work in my country till I met Sheik Kamal Adham – May he rest in peace-, who came to Geneva as the envoy of King Faisal to negotiate with Kahtan Al Sha’bi, leader of the national front in South Yemen and its coming president, who headed the delegate that negotiated with the British the questions of South Yemen independence and ending the armed resistance. Sheik Kamal Adham’s mission was to negotiate with Al Sha’bi the role of the political parties affiliated to the kingdom after independence.

The Saudi ambassador in Geneva or the head of the delegate to UN was not able to make a contact or appointment with Kahtan Al Sha’bi. I accidentally came to know this piece of information when I was introduced to Kamal Adham: “Do want to meet Kahtan and the delegations”? I asked. “Of course. That’s what I am here for”, he answered. Faisal Al Sha’bi, Kahtan’s cousin who became minister of foreign affairs and was assassinated later, was a friend and a colleague of mine in the faculty of commerce and political science in Cairo. Our friendship continued and we met constantly when he came to Geneva.

Kamal Adham was staying in the same hotel where the delegation stayed. The conversation between me and him took place in the hotel’s lobby in the presence of the ambassador. I called Faisal Al Sha’bi’s room from the telephone inside the hotel and informed him of Kamal Adham’s wish. He asked me to wait ten minutes so that he could call Kahtan. Faisal called me afterwards and the appointment was arranged to be the next day. Kamal Adham asked me to attend the meeting and ignored the ambassador. The meeting lasted from 9:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Subsequent to the meeting Adham offered me a job with him in external communication office. I never hesitated and accepted his offer without discussing any details urged by a yearning to return from exile to my country, for I was a lost wanderer in Geneva away from my ambitions.

My return and settlement in Jeddah marked the end of Al Madina Al Munawara newspaper phase with all of its disadvantages and new phases began.

The first phase was setting up “The Saudi Research and Marketing Company”: a joint liability company with a fifty-fifty share between me and my brother Mohammed. It aimed, as stated in the articles of incorporation – dated 15-2-1392 H, i.e. 32 years ago – providing research and marketing services -and everything related to them- by legal and regular ways to state apparatuses, businessmen, companies and establishments in the kingdom and abroad with a capital of ten thousand Saudi Riyals.

I went with my brother Mohammed to the bank and opened a company account and deposited in it all the money we had in our pockets, which was not more than seven hundred Saudi Riyals.

By the expression “everything related to them” in the company’s objectives statement we tried to re-enter journalism from its “window” after we had been expelled from its door. We supervised the publication of (Nida’ Al Janoub) and made the (Zero) issue of a newspaper we called “Al Wasat” with the slogan “And so we have made you a moderate nation of you”. But the newspaper never saw the light because of press institutions act.

The second phase really placed us back in journalism through its “window”. This phase was shaped by obtaining a license to publish “Arab News” newspaper with the help of Sheik Kamal Adham and prince Turki Al Faisal, and increasing the company’s capital from ten thousand Riyals to a million and two hundred thousand Riyals. Sheik Kamal Adham and prince Turki Al Faisal became partners. The four partners had equal shares.

In the light of this new step “Arab News” was issued as the first daily newspaper in English in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The company acquired “Central Press Photos” in “Fleet street”: the press street in London. We also occupied the building previously used by the oldest agency of photojournalism in the world. As a corollary, we established one of our bases in the most famous press street in the globe. The agency was on the verge of bankruptcy so we paid 50 thousand pounds to buy it.

From there, we began issuing “Ashark Al Awsat” newspaper. The idea came to my mind during a summer vacation in Madrid. In less than two years of that conception the newspaper saw the light. Its instant success stimulated us to pursue our unlimited ambitions.

The third phase was when prince Salman Ibn Abdel Aziz became a partner after each one of us (The four partners) sold him 5% of our share. Accordingly, we became five partners with equal shares.

After increasing the company’s capital to five million Riyals, prince Salman bought the shares of Sheik Kamal and prince Turki which gave him the ownership of 60% of the company leaving the remaining 40% to me and my brother Mohammed.

Coming back to journalism through its “window” turned the Saudi Research and Marketing Company, which aimed at providing research and marketing services and everything related to them, into the largest press foundation in the Arab world with a wide publishing base that produces a group of daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, each one of them is the first of its kind in its field. The Foundation is supported by its powerful distribution arm, that is, “The Saudi distribution company”. It also has a production and printing arm, namely, “Al Madina Al- Munawara printing co.” Which is the oldest printing company in the Kingdom, est. 1930, and last but not least, the strong advertising arm: “Gulf Advertising Company”.

Ceaseless work and years of traveling between Jeddah and London paid off seven daily newspapers, a weekly newspaper and ten magazines.
The Fourth phase was incorporating the group company which owned the companies. The companies’ assets were reappraised. Thus, the capital of this group of companies, which are represented by the owner company (The Saudi Research and Marketing Group), increased to six hundred million Riyals. The new company became owner of:

- The Saudi Research and Publishing Company
- Al Madina Printing and Publishing Company
- The Saudi Distribution Company
- The Gulf Advertising Company
- Al A’foq for Information Technology
- The Saudi Public Relations co.
Add to the above a number of sister and affiliated companies owned by the companies of the group in England, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Morocco.

The Saudi Research Group became one of the elite companies in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For years it has been rated as one of the biggest one hundred companies in the country.

This has been an indispensable clarification that is meant to be attached to my biography which tells a story of a life that rotated around journalism and publishing and everything related to them.

Hisham Ali Hafiz