There’s few pan-Arab newspapers of note. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, or AAA as I and others so lazily call it, is one of those papers that is everywhere and which demands respect. The green-tinted paper, which only this week celebrated its 35th anniversary and which was one of the first to be printed offshore in London, is a must-read for anyone looking to understand politics in the Gulf and between the Gulf states and the rest of the Middle East.
Owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, the paper is set to again make history by being the first tier-one newspaper in the region to publish in Farsi. While I don’t have the full details on when or how (I’m assuming that the focus will be more on online rather than an actual print version simply to reach as many Farsi speakers inside and outside Iran), the move may mark the beginning of an effort by Saudi Arabia – the Saudi Research and Marketing Group is run and majority owned by the Saudi Royal family – to proactively communicate with Iran’s people directly in their own language.
The timing is also fascinating, coming as it does after the conclusion of Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s time in office and the election of the new President-elect Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani has been described as a moderate and one of his many tasks may include reducing the amount of censorship imposed on Iranians living in their own country; Iran has one of the most sophisticated web filter systems active globally today allowing the Government to block any external site at will.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s Farsi move may be long overdue. There’s been concerted efforts by the Iranian Government for some time to speak directly to an Arab audience, most noticeably through its television station Press TV. Will other Gulf governments follow Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s lead and print their own Farsi language paper or launch more Farsi-language websites?