Saudi women raising the bar – Somayya Jabarti becomes the first female newspaper editor in the Gulf

Somayya Jabarti has become the first female editor-in-chief in the Gulf region. She’ll be leading the Saudi-based Saudi Gazette following Khaled Almaeena’s departure (image source:

Saudi Arabia often gets a bad wrap when it comes to how it treats its women. However, for those of us who have lived in the Kingdom, we know of the strength and abilities of Saudi women. They’re tenacious, eloquent, hard working and, in my view, a wonderful bunch. The latest media announcement coming out of the Kingdom has made headlines the world over.

On Sunday, the English-language newspaper Saudi Gazette announced that its editor-in-chief Khaled Almaeena would be stepping down from his role with immediate effect. Almaeena, who joined the Saudi Gazette in October 2011, penned his own farewell letter which was published on the newspaper’s front page. It’s a wonderful read and spells out Almaeena’s views on how a newspaper should be run and why editors should be pushing the boundaries when it comes to reporting contentious issues.

Unarguably the most important announcement made by Khaled and the Saudi Gazette that morning was the promotion of Somayya Jabarti to the top editorial position in the newspaper. I’m going to quote directly from Khaled’s piece:

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.

I’ve known of Somayya for many years and I’ve interacted with her on a number of occasions. She’s tenacious, independent and determined that she and her team cover the news without self-censoring the editorial (this is still a common trend in the Gulf). I’d go further however, and say that Somayya is representative of today’s Saudi women. Saudi women are often viewed from outside the Kingdom as oppressed, as in need of help and support.

However, my own experiences have often shown the opposite to be true. If anything, Saudi women are the most independent in the Gulf when it comes to wanting a career and earning a living. If anything, Somayya is proof of what Saudi women are capable of and how the Kingdom is changing. For me, what’s most telling is that this first didn’t happen in other Gulf states which often tout how they’re advancing women’s rights, but in Saudi. I often feel that the pressures Saudi women face mold them, make them become stronger and more focused. Saudi women have learned to fight and they’re no longer willing to wait for change or to accept what they’re being given with platitudes.

In the Kingdom all top editorial positions at the country’s newspapers are approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture and so Somayya’s appointment would have been given the government’s blessing. I’ll leave the last word to the lady herself, for an interview she gave with Al-Arabiya. I’m sure she’ll do her fellow Saudi women proud!

“There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door. This is a first for a Saudi daily… A mold has been broken where editors-in-chief of Saudi daily newspapers are concerned. Being the first Saudi woman [newspaper editor] is going to be double the responsibility… One’s actions will reflect upon my fellow Saudi women.”


ImageThe past couple of months have been unusual for the Kingdom’s English language media sector. First, Saudi’s leading English language newspaper by circulation appointed a new Editor-in-Chief Abdulwahab Al-Faiz in October 2011. Al-Faiz, who was previously Editor-in-Chief of the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Eqtisadiah, replaced the long-standing incumbent Khaled AlMaeena.

Since then, Arab News has changed some of its print layout and pulled more news from Arabic-language newspapers particularly those owned by its publisher the Saudi Research & Publishing Company. Al-Faiz was known at Al-Eqtisadiah for increasing advertising revenues through supplements and special reports.

AlMaeena has been associated with Arab News for over twenty years. He built the editorial team. For many reader AlMaeena was the newspaper, he was as much Arab News as Arab News was him. Even after he’d left the Arab News in October of last year, AlMaeena still held the title of Editor at Large for Arab News (even on Wikipedia he’s still listed as their Editor-in-Chief).

The announcement of AlMaeena as the Saudi Gazette’s Editor-in-Chief two weeks ago was a shock to many. However, the decision by Okaz, the publisher of the Saudi Gazette, may be a masterstroke. In many ways AlMaeena is just as much of a brand as is the Arab News. He has always supported issues associated with the expatriate community in Saudi Arabia, especially Asians.

In those two weeks at the helm of Saudi Gazette AlMaeena has already hired a number of his team. The ex-deputy Editor at Arab News Somayya Jabarti and Laura Bashraheel among others are now plying their trade at Saudi Gazette. I for one hope that AlMaeena keeps doing what he does best, namely focusing on editorial quality and running stories that are in the interest of the expatriate community. Already people have been writing into the newspaper wishing AlMaeena and his team success.

A letter written by a Saudi Gazette reader from Toronto congratulating AlMaeena and his team on the news of their appointment at the newspaper.

So what now for the Arab News? For me, it wasn’t a natural decision to appoint Al-Faiz who had never edited an English-language paper. The announcement hinted at the publisher wanting to increase advertising and other non-advertising revenues. The danger to Arab News is that with a lack of good editorial their readership numbers will fall, and consequently their advertising revenues.

My other hope is that Saudi Gazette will start adopting more social media channels to promote the newspaper. AlMaeena is a social media enthusiast who has embraced Twitter. Let’s hope that the bold move by Okaz will raise the standard of English-language media in Saudi Arabia. I can’t wait to see what AlMaeena and his team do at the Saudi Gazette.

PS for a fascinating insight into Khaled AlMaeena by one of his Arab News writers, read this blog post by Siraj Wahab