Al Hayat’s new lease on life

Al Hayat has undergone a financial crisis, leading to the suspension of journalists’ salaries and the closure of the London and Beirut offices.
Friday 23/11/2018
On a new journey. A 2017 file picture shows a man reading Al Hayat newspaper at a cafe in Riyadh. (AFP)
On a new journey. A 2017 file picture shows a man reading Al Hayat newspaper at a cafe in Riyadh. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Media sources in Beirut reported Al Hayat newspaper has become the property of the “Saudi Arabian state,” which took on the responsibility of covering the outstanding arrears of the paper’s former owner, Prince Khaled bin Sultan.

The news offered a sense of relief to the newspaper’s editors and staff, the majority of whom are in Beirut.

The same sources revealed that Al Hayat’s board chairman, Brigadier-General Ayed Al-Jeaid, contacted the paper’s editor, Zuhair Qusaybati, to inform him that “the ownership of the newspaper has been completely transferred to the Saudi state and that all of Al Hayat’s outstanding debts will soon be paid to their creditors.”

Jeaid’s call led to the cancelling of a strike organised by Al Hayat’s editors and staff in the newspaper’s Beirut offices to protest not being paid for five months.

A Saudi source indicated that Al Hayat, originally a Lebanese newspaper that ceased publishing in Beirut in 1976, is now held by the Saudi Arabian Royal Court. It intervened to prevent the bankruptcy of a press institution that is well regarded and important to conveying news from the kingdom to the outside world.

During the past few years, Al Hayat has undergone a financial crisis due to its owner’s deteriorating finances, leading to the suspension of journalists’ salaries, the closure of the London and Beirut offices and the termination of its paper editions everywhere except in Dubai and Riyadh.

Prince Khaled took over the newspaper in 1988 and began reissuing it from London with the aim of creating a strong media presence for Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, then Saudi defence minister, and his family.  Al Hayat’s success at the time, especially after its reporting of the invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and the withdrawal of the Iraqi Army in February 1991, led to Prince Sultan’s acquisition of the ownership rights from Jamil, Karim and Malik Mrowa. The three are the sons of Al Hayat founder Kamel Mrowa, who was assassinated in his office in Beirut in 1966.

Mrowa had enjoyed a very close friendship with Saudi King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and had a strong relationship with most of the senior Saudi princes, including the current king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. As a prince, he showed great interest in the media and frequently visited Lebanon in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, the new owners said the paper’s editorial staff members, who were recently notified that their salaries would soon be paid, do not know what the takeover will mean for the newspaper’s editorial line. In the past, Al Hayat stood out from its rival, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, on account of its Lebanese origins, liberal slant and nonconformity with Saudi Arabia’s official policy.

The sources said a decision would need to be made on whether Al Hayat’s print editions would resume publication in Beirut, Cairo and London or whether the focus would be on strengthening the newspaper’s website.